Longform

Military Vets Heal PTSD by Capturing Burmese Pythons in the Everglades

The python -- a speckled four-footer who'll go down in the books as "Ibzan" -- twists viciously in Tom Rahill's gloved hand like a downed power line. Rahill sucks in his gut, stretches out his arm, and grips the snake's tail. Wiggling furiously, the angry animal releases a shower of foul-smelling musk. As Rahill likes to say, that's the smell of victory.

"Come to papa!" he says, his smile buried under a thick beard. The snake quickly burns out its energy and lies docile in its captor's hands. Rahill bags it in a pillowcase.

A fat full moon bobs against gauzy clouds in the eastern sky above Chekika, a stretch of the Everglades west of Krome Avenue in Homestead, while Rahill explains, "This was hatched this year. He's feisty too." Just an hour after the sun has slipped under, Chekika looks like a Walking Dead landscape: cracked pavement, abandoned ranger stations, gurgling swamps, and nail beds of sawgrass running to the dark horizon.

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Kyle Swenson
Contact: Kyle Swenson