Floridians are heading to the Everglades to battle it out in this terrifying challenge

Jun 10, 2024

The Everglades National Park is the largest tropical wilderness in the United States.

But this fragile ecosystem is under threat from an invasive species.

And Floridians are heading to the Everglades to battle it out in this terrifying challenge.

Burmese pythons threatening the Everglades

The flooded grasslands and swamps of the 1.5 million-acre Everglades in South Florida are one of the natural wonders of the United States.

But the area’s ecosystem is being threatened by an invasive species, the Burmese python.

Originally imported from southeast Asia as pets, they have been released into the wild in Florida after they became too much for their owners to handle.

They started wreaking havoc on Florida’s ecosystem.

Burmese pythons eat deer, raccoons, foxes, and other wildlife in the Everglades.

South Florida Water Management District’s governing board member “Alligator” Ron Bergeron told the Florida Phoenix that Burmese pythons “can get 200 pounds and 20 feet long and absolutely destroy the natural food chain of the Everglades.”

“And without a natural food chain, you cannot have a natural environment,” Bergeron added.

During Hurricane Andrew in 1992, countless pythons were released into the wild in South Florida during the Category 5 storm.

No one is quite sure how many are in the Everglades because of how well they have adapted to the environment.

To eliminate the threat posed by Burmese pythons, Florida began hosting an annual hunt for them in the Everglades that has been held since 2013 for cash prizes.

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and the South Florida Water Management District organize the annual Python Challenge which draws in reptile hunters from around the country.

The 2024 Florida Python Challenge announced

Florida Lieutenant Governor Jeanette Nuñez announced that registration is open for the 2024 Florida Python Challenge that runs August 9-18 in the Everglades.

More than $25,000 in cash prizes are up for grabs based on who can catch the most Burmese pythons.

“The Burmese python, as many of you know, is an invasive species that has wreaked havoc on our Everglades ecosystem, and it’s a threat to native life wildlife,” Nuñez said at a press conference. “They prey upon native species. They compete with native wildlife for food and habitat, and they can also spread non-native diseases and parasites.”

Nuñez said that last year’s challenge saw more than 200 pythons removed.

And more than 1,000 people from 35 states competed in the event.

“Since we took office, I’m proud to announce that Governor DeSantis and I, we’ve been able to remove 13,000 pythons, but we know there’s a lot more,” Nuñez said. “We are really excited about this year’s challenge, and we hope it surpasses even last year’s goals and numbers.”

All participants must take a python training course before they are cleared to take part in the hunt.

Pythons are nonvenomous but their bites can still cause an infection.

South Florida Water District professional python hunter Donna Kalil told Field & Stream that it is a more hands-on experience than traditional hunting.

“I can tell you that basically all the hunters I’ve taken out were not prepared for python hunting, because it’s not even close to the same thing as hunting,” Kalil explained. “In traditional hunting, you’re using a gun or bow to kill your prey from a distance. Python hunting is hands on. You have to catch them first, then dispatch them after you get them under control. It’s totally different.”

Python hunters will have their chance to earn cash prizes and help rid the Everglades of an invasive species in the annual hunt.

DeSantis Daily will keep you up-to-date on any new developments in this ongoing story.

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