UPDATE: Florida Wildlife Spokesperson Carli Segelson said the python hunt has, in fact, accomplished its intended goals. Organizers primarily wanted to raise public awareness concerning the Everglades' python epidemic. "We definitely had success," she said.
The Great Python Hunt of 2013 may have been the greatest publicity stunt in the history of the Everglades. When the Florida Fish & Wildlife Commission sent us its first python news release months ago, we wrote an introductory story about the fracas and received a huge response. As did the Sun Sentinel, the Miami Herald, or just about any other outlet that wrote something about pythons.
So we kept at it. Writing more stories, wringing out more interest, because it all seemed too gratuitous to be true -- knife-wielding men plodding into the Everglades to kill snakes without training or supervision? -- and we didn't yet know the truth.
We didn't, but we're pretty confident Florida Fish and Wildlife did: Pythons are almost impossible to find. They're remarkably easy to capture once spotted. But it turns out, discerning the brown-and-black creatures in a brown-and-black landscape is an ocular challenge more daunting than the bottom line on an opthamologist's test.
Yep, we've all been had.
Here's what happened: The python hunt story went bonkers, going national, getting spots on CNN, the New York Times, et al., and more than 1,000 hunters spanning the Union arrived to kill them some snakes.
Pause. Reflect. Comprehend.
What was the motive behind the hunt? Ostensibly, to winnow the number of pythons, an invasive species allegedly decimating the habitat's natural fauna, but now, that doesn't seem all that convincing. If anything, the python hunt was something similar to an awareness drive for child abuse. Or a 5K walk for breast cancer.
The actual walk doesn't do anything to cure cancer, but the act of organizing the walk, and then walking, should engender greater public concern for cancer -- or so the logic goes.
But can we honestly say that the state and the nation is now more concerned about pythons in the Everglades? Or did this all instead become a farce, and the only ones being laughed at is us, Florida?
The subcontext behind every national story concerning the Python Challenge: Florida's CRAZY. The hunt fit every national stereotype of our state -- that we're simply one big face-eating, strange-crime-producing, Schmorgus Board of oddity and quirk.
So now, 41 snakes are dead. More than 1,000 hunters have hunted. And, really, nothing has changed. The number of snakes remains level, and those same natural species that were threatened by the snakes' invasion remain endangered.
So score a fantastic publicity stunt for Florida Fish & Wildlife.
They duped us good.