Florida opens python hunting contest

Jan. 12, 2013 at 1:27 PM

TALLAHASSEE, Fla., Jan. 12 (UPI) -- Florida Saturday opened a new hunting season, and it's not for alligators or feral pigs, it's for pythons, officials say.

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission announced a "Python Challenge" to help reduce the population of Burmese pythons in the Everglades, Bay News 9 reported.

The challenge, which started Saturday, will pay $1,000 to the hunter who kills the biggest python and $1,500 to the hunter who catches the most.

The contest ends Feb. 10.

Hopeful winners must pay a $25 registration fee and complete safety training online. More than 400 people have signed up so far.

Thousands of the constrictors are estimated to live on state lands, and the existing removal program hasn't been enough to keep the snakes from decimating native wildlife.

Pythons "are a top predator and because they are so efficient in an ecosystem that is not prepared to receive them, they have potential to have a devastating impact," said Dr. Frank Mazzotti, a wildlife ecologist at the University of Florida and a member of the team behind the hunt, on BBC Radio.

The largest python ever caught in the Everglades measured 17 feet and weighed more than 150 pounds, he said, almost most are between 6 and 9 feet.

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