West Palm Beach, FL - Hunters for the South Florida Water Management District's (SFWMD) Python Elimination Program are closing in on another significant milestone, with the 2,000th invasive snake expected to be eliminated soon.
SFWMD's python hunters have now eliminated 1,971 of the invasive snakes on District lands, stretching a combined length of almost 2.5 miles and collectively weighing more than 11.5 tons. Brian Hargrove, a Miami native, has dispatched the most snakes with 279 eliminated. Kyle Penniston has the record for the longest snake at 17 feet, 5 inches.
Eliminating invasive species such as Burmese pythons is critical to preserving the rare Everglades ecosystem. Florida taxpayers have invested billions of dollars to restore the water quality and hydrology of the Everglades. Reducing the populations of invasive plants and animals is necessary to ensure this investment results in meeting the shared goals of the overall restoration plan.
SFWMD officials are now utilizing aerial drone technology to survey District lands from above to spot snakes and alert hunters where they have been seen to help find and eliminate them faster. SFWMD is also expanding GIS mapping technology to further enhance existing databases that collect information on where snakes are being found - giving hunters and scientists better data on their whereabouts and behavior in South Florida.
About the District's Python Elimination Program
A team of professional python hunters was selected from more than 1,000 applicants and given access to District-owned lands in Miami-Dade County for the pilot phase and later in Palm Beach, Broward and Collier counties as the program expanded. These independent contractors are paid $8.46 per hour, up to 10 hours daily, to hunt in the Everglades. Depending on the size of the snake presented, hunters can also receive additional payments of $50 for pythons measuring up to 4 feet and an extra $25 for each foot measured above 4 feet. An additional $200 is given for each eliminated python nest with eggs.
Pythons hunters humanely euthanize each python they catch in the field (according to American Veterinary Medical Association guidelines) and then deposit them at designated drop-off locations. A similar, successful program, called the Python Removal Contractor Program, is managed by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.
The invasive Burmese python, which breeds and multiplies quickly and has no natural predator in the Everglades ecosystem, has decimated native populations of wildlife. The more that can be eliminated, especially females and their eggs, the better chance future generations of native wildlife will have to thrive in the Everglades ecosystem that Floridians have invested billions of dollars to restore.
Elected officials and celebrities ranging from U.S. Rep. Francis Rooney, R-Fla., to superstar chef Gordon Ramsey have taken part in the hunts, bringing international awareness to the issue of this invasive species and efforts to eradicate them. Python hunters were also featured in a Discovery Channel television special, highlighting the program.