The Sunshine State has been holding the Florida Python Challenge since 2013. Photo courtesy of Florida Python Challenge/Website
Oct. 21 (UPI) -- Officials said more than 200 invasive Burmese pythons were removed from Florida's Everglades ecosystem during a 10-day competition that aims to protect the rare habitat and the animals that live there.
The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission said Thursday that 997 participants from 32 states, Canada and Latvia removed 231 Burmese pythons during this year's Florida Python Challenge that ran from Aug. 5-14.
"Once again, the Florida Python Challenge has yielded impressive results with hundreds of invasive pythons being removed from the wild," Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis said in a statement. "Removing these snakes is one of the many efforts we are employing to restore and maintain the Everglades system."
According to The Nature Conservancy, a U.S. grassroots organization, the first Burmese python was found in the Everglades in 1979 and is believed to have been a former pet.
Since then, the population of this invasive snake native to India, lower China and the Malay Peninsula has ballooned to tens of thousands, according to the U.S. Geological Survey, with the U.S. National Park Service stating the Burmese python is the main reason behind the Everglades' sharp decline in mammals.
The state has taken measures to try and combat the growing numbers of Burmese pythons, which are not protected by state laws, allowing them to be humanely killed year-round without a permit or hunting license.
The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission announced Thursday that Matthew Concepcion won this year's ultimate grand prize and a $10,000 reward for removing 28 Burmese pythons.
Dustin Crum also won a grand prize of $1,500 for catching the longest python removed in the competition at 11 feet, 0.24 inches long.
Joaquin Vila caught the second-highest number of Burmese pythons at 15 and won $2,500 for the effort.
"Our python hunters are passionate about what they do and care very much about Florida's precious environment," said Ron Bergeron, South Florida Water Management District governing board member.
Other measures the state has taken to curb the population of this invasive species include prohibiting pet ownership of the snake in April 2021.
Since 2000, more than 17,000 wild Burmese pythons have been removed from Florida's ecosystems, the state said.
The inaugural Florida Python Challenge was held in 2013.