Good news for Gladesmen, snake-heads, reptile fiends, would-be reality-TV stars, and just about anybody else who gets his kicks chasing big, slimy, invasive species through the wild: The Python Challenge is back.
This is probably the best news we've heard in awhile. In case you weren't around for the Inaugural Python Challenge back in 2013, it was awesome. In an ingenious piece of marketing and hype-stoking, the contest was a way for the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission to tackle a very serious problem. Now, round two.
For the past 30 years or so, Burmese pythons have been slowly choking off the indigenous animals living in the Everglades. The snakes — which average 16 feet in length — are estimated to number around 100,000. A 2012 U.S. Geological Survey report showed that the raccoon and opossum populations in the park had dropped by 99 percent thanks to pythons — so obviously this is having an impact on the park.
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For some time, the state has issued permits to snake hunters. The 2013 Python Challenge, however, threw the doors open to anyone willing to sign up for a monthlong contest with cash prizes for the team that could bag the most pythons.
We were there for the first day of the event back in 2013 and later followed around hunters — and reality-TV crews — through the bush. It was... well, it was interesting. The main thing about the Python Challenge was the disparity between the excitement the concept stokes and the actuality of walking through sawgrass looking at your feet for speckled scales. Lots of walking. Not a lot of snakes.
It total, the winning team in 2013 racked up 68 snakes, landing the $1,500 prize. Around 1,600 hunters came out for the event. And reporters. Lots of reporters. From as far away as Russia. For a snake hunt.
The Florida Fish and Freshwater Fish Commission announced this week the contest would return in early 2016. Other than that, details are slim at this point. That does give you plenty of time to assemble your team and take some practice runs out in the swamp.