Can the Florida Python Challenge make this invasive species hissssstory? – The Boston Globe

Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission representatives McKayla Spencer (left), Jan Fore and Sarah Funk carry a Burmese python at a media event in June announcing the 2022 edition of the Florida Python Challenge.Lynn Sladky/Associated Press

Most pythons are hunted bare-handed, with hunters usually carrying pistols or knives, and the bagging process is out of hand. You know, breaking glass in an emergency? Don’t worry, dear reader, your trusty Second Thoughts columnist will be firing back like Yosemite Sam, who just saw the tiniest dragonfly.

Florida’s snake problem isn’t going away anytime soon, and unfortunately, it’s not going to be solved. FPC alone will not dramatically change the course of Mother Nature’s python problem. There are too many pythons and not enough hunters, licensed or otherwise. The total population is unknown, but some estimates run into the hundreds of thousands. It can be in millions.

Only 500 people live in the Everglades, by the way, pythons check every day.

“The war we’re fighting,” Donna Kalil, one of the state’s best-known python hunters, told PBS two years ago, “is bigger than the battle we’re winning.”

If nothing else, the FPC hunt at least draws attention to a troubling problem, the biggest of which is that pythons — once sold in pet stores as cute, exotic and mysterious — have decimated all wildlife in the Everglades except alligators. .

Imagine, we are down there, thankful for alligators? Yet it’s Florida right now, specifically the swampy, buggy Everglades, where gators and pythons sit atop a once-strong food chain that big snakes had but are otherwise on the verge of extinction.

Yes, Burmese pythons are mostly hand-caught.Joe Cavaretta/Associated Press

In recent years various state agencies have reported that snakes have killed virtually every rabbit, deer, fox, panther, bobcat, bird, opossum … you name the species, and 90 percent of those critters have been 86 off the menu. Unlike the woodchuck, which is always questionable about how much wood it can chomp, pythons are relentless eating machines, even small gators usually lose out when the constructor decides it’s dinner time.

The FPC, launched in 2013, is a noble effort by the state to eradicate all pythons large and small, but it specifically targets the invasive Burmese pythons, the world’s largest slithers, with adults weighing more than 20 feet and 200 pounds. .

The good news: pythons aren’t poisonous, and they don’t look all that good. Hunters appreciate both qualities.

The bad news: The python has a mouth full of sharp, needle-like teeth, and every year on or around April 15th it removes its coiled and choked prey alongside an IRS agent. Hunters typically begin their takedowns by grabbing the pythons by the tail and closing the deal by pressing an open hand behind the snake’s head.

A large snake typically drenches its attacker in urine, something curiously omitted from the FPC sign-up sheet. If you are going, add “raincoat” to the list of pistols and knives.

The python, which is indigenous to Southeast Asia, first appeared in the Everglades in the late 1970s. It’s generally believed that they were introduced to water and weeds by pet owners who didn’t have the space or courage or courage to keep a killing machine ready in the family room to spit and laugh.

“You’re not doing your pet a favor,” Kalil noted in the PBS special, “Here, be free!’ It doesn’t work that way.”

The problem, already more than a decade old, dates back to August 1992, just 30 years ago, when much of South Florida was wiped off the map by Hurricane Andrew, a ferocious storm with 175 mph winds. per hour.

The storm destroyed several exotic pet operations adjacent to the Everglades, a building southwest of Miami that had been a python breeding center, according to reports.

“And just beyond Chrome Avenue,” noted Florida outdoorsman Bill Booth recalled during a 2017 interview with Tampa’s WEDU, “millions of acres of wilderness.”

Down the road they went, their idyllic house with the front door wide open. “A cute little snake,” Booth added, “turns into a monster.”

Booth, 57, figures maybe only nature can change things. He grew up in the Everglades and can remember the days when the occasional freeze would hit the area. He thinks the return of those cold days may kill the snakes and their eggs. Ongoing climate change doesn’t seem to help those odds.

A mature female python can lay 100 or more eggs a year. That math spreads over 1.5 million acres 30 years after Andrew, so 800 hunters in the last 10 days won’t solve the python problem.

Donna Kalil shows off a bag of python eggs in 2021. Bobcats love them.Patrick Connolly/Associated Press

A New York Times report in March hopes that bobcats, some not yet listed among the missing wildlife, can help. According to a team of ecologists, according to the NYT, there is evidence that bobcats eat python eggs. If the bobcats weren’t chickens, they would get the eggs first and maybe the problem would be solved.

But for now, the ecological glory of Florida’s colossal snake pits is left virtually in the hands of individual brave women and men who try to take them down one snake at a time. Officials were scheduled to print $2,500 checks Saturday night, one to the brave soul who brings in the longest python and another to the hunter who gets the most snakes in 10 days.

They will all return at the same time next year, hunter and prey, with no end in sight. The snakes are slithering down Paradise Lane again, and heaven knows, the price gets even steeper.


Kevin Paul Dupont can be reached at [email protected]

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