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Florida 'python challenge' draws 800 hunters

AP
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Sinuous menaceResearchers at the Florida Museum of Natural History in Gainesville, Florida examine a 17-foot-7-inch Burmese python.File Photo: Reuters
Sinuous menaceResearchers at the Florida Museum of Natural History in Gainesville, Florida examine a 17-foot-7-inch Burmese python.File Photo: Reuters

An armed mob set out into the Florida Everglades on Saturday to flush out a scaly invader.

It sounds like the second act of a science-fiction horror film, but, really, it’s just Florida’s plan for dealing with an infestation of Burmese pythons that are eating their way through a fragile ecosystem.

Nearly 800 people signed up for the month-long “Python Challenge” . The vast majority, 749, are members of the general public who lack the permits usually required to harvest pythons on public lands.

“We feel like anybody can get out in the Everglades and figure out how to try and find these things,” said Nick Wiley, executive director of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. “It’s very safe, getting out in the Everglades. People do it all the time.”

Twenty-eight python permit holders also joined the hunt at various locations in the Everglades. The state is offering cash prizes to whoever brings in the longest python and whoever bags the most pythons by the time the competition ends at midnight on February 10.

The training came down to common sense—Drink water, wear sunscreen, don’t get bitten by anything and don’t shoot anyone.

Many of the onlookers dressed in camouflage, though they probably didn’t have to worry about spooking the snakes. They would have a much harder time spotting the splotchy, tan pythons in the long green grasses and woody brush of the Everglades.

“It’s advantage-snake,” mechanical engineer Dan Keenan concluded after slashing his way through a quarter-mile (400 metres) of scratchy sawgrass, dried leaves and woody overgrowth near a campsite in the Big Cypress National Preserve.

Florida currently prohibits possession or sale of the pythons for use as pets, and federal law bans the importation and interstate sale of the species.AP


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