Today, you’re lucky if you see a mammal in the area, according to wildlife experts.
Who is to blame for this decline in wildlife? The invasive species known as burmese python.
To help combat this problem for the Florida ecosystem, snake hunters congregate by the hundreds in the Florida Python Challenge (Challenge of the Florida pythons). The event, created by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, began in 2013.
“I love snakes. I hate that we have to do this, but they are invasive and they are changing the entire ecosystem,” professional python hunter Amy Siewe told CNN.
According to the commission, these reptiles were detected starting in 1979 in Florida.
“They were introduced to Florida through accidental and intentional release through the pet trade,” a commission spokesperson told CNN on Friday.
They have since killed and remain a major threat to wildlife.
The event brings together hundreds of professional snake hunters in the Everglades to hunt and kill reptiles. As of Friday, more than 850 people had signed up, according to the commission.
Thomas Aycock explores the Everglades while hunting Burmese pythons in the 2020 challenge.
On August 5, this year’s 10-day challenge began.
To participate, members had to complete an online training course and pay a US$25 registration fee. The hunter who brings in the most pythons will win US$2,500.
Last year, participants killed more than 200 pythons.
Aside from the challenge, year-round removal efforts are still underway. Since 2000, more than 17,000 pythons have been removed and reported, according to the commission.
Michael Kirkland, a biologist with the South Florida Water Management District, told CNN that pythons have been “decimating wildlife for years.”
“The challenge is designed to remove as many pythons from the area as possible,” he said. “Detection and removal by humans are the most efficient and effective tools in the toolbox right now.”
Contractors working with the water management district work year-round and participate in the challenge to capture the creatures.
Kirkland said there has been a decline of up to 90% of the animals in the area due to the pythons.
Donna Kalil has been hunting pythons professionally since 2017. She has killed more than 670 since then.
a full time job
Among the many participating in the challenge this year are siewe Y Donna Kalil.
Kalil told CNN that he has been hunting the reptiles professionally since 2017. Siewe was hired in 2019.
Combined, the two have killed more than 1,000 pythons: Kalil with more than 670 and Siewe with close to 400.
They share a love for the creatures, but understand the importance of this challenge. “Hunters are the best way we have right now to help with this problem,” Siewe said.
Kalil grew up in Florida and said that when she went to the Everglades as a child there were “so many rabbits you couldn’t count them all.” Flash forward to the 2000s, when Ella Kalil said that she had virtually no rabbits, opossums, or raccoons as a result of pythons.
In last year’s challenge, Kalil took home the $2,500 prize for eliminating the most pythons with 19. He has been participating since 2013.
This will be Siewe’s third year. In her first year, she won second place for heaviest snake.
Both will base their hunt on factors such as weather, time of day, and sleep schedule. “This time of year, night is the best time to go out,” Kalil said.
“I love snakes. I hate that we have to do this, but they are invasive and they are changing the entire ecosystem.” Amy Siewe told CNN.
And hunting is not easy.
Throughout his career, Siewe has suffered many python bites and says he doesn’t recommend it.
“It’s like a hot knife going through butter,” Siewe describes. Pythons, while not poisonous, have hundreds of very sharp teeth, according to Siewe.
These creatures can grow to massive sizes and it’s quite a feat to take them on. Siewe said that his biggest catch He was 5 meters tall and weighed 50 kilos.
Kalil shares that you can’t catch all of them. “Throughout my career I’ve missed four,” she says. “It can be difficult at night in the water and brush.”
Florida Governor Ron DeSantis has been an avid supporter of the python challenge. In a June press releaseHe said, “I’m proud of the progress we’ve made, and I look forward to seeing the results of this year’s Python Challenge.”
In fact, his wife, Casey DeSantis, told a news conference Friday that her 10-year gift to the governor was a pair of python-skin boots.