Hunt will put a squeeze on Everglades pythons

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FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — Nearly 400 people have signed up to enter the Everglades and do battle with Burmese pythons, the giant constrictors that have emerged as the latest and weirdest threat to South Florida’s wildlife.

The 2013 Python Challenge, which begins Saturday, has attracted participants and media interest from around the United States for a monthlong event that will feature prizes of $1,000 for catching the longest snakes and $1,500 for catching the most.

Participants do not need hunting licenses — unless they’re under 18 — or have experience with snakes. The only required training can be done online.

“This is a very serious threat indeed,” said Stuart Pimm, a prominent Everglades scientist who is professor of conservation ecology at Duke University. “It could radically change the composition of the species that we find in the Everglades, and the Everglades have enough threats without the snakes. I think extreme measures are extremely appropriate.”

Carli Segelson, spokeswoman for the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, which is supervising the hunt, said the commission will have extra law enforcement officers on the ground for the event and will provide training on identifying venomous snakes and avoiding harm to native wildlife.

“Of course any time you do something like this people are going to have concerns,” she said. “I think that overall, people understand that this is a problem that needs to be dealt with and are very supportive and understand that these actions are warranted.”

The FWC’s recommended killing method is a bullet or shotgun blast to the head, or the use of captive bolt, a device used in slaughterhouses that drives a metal shaft into the brain. Decapitation is considered inhumane, unless the brain is immediately destroyed, because consciousness in snakes can persist long after the head is separated from the body.

Burmese pythons, native to southern Asia, became established in the Everglades through the exotic pet trade. They consume small mammals, wading birds, alligators and full-grown deer. The largest one caught so far stretched 17 feet, seven inches and contained 87 eggs.

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