Python Challenge begins in the Everglades
DAVIE, Fla. (WSVN) -- Hundreds of hunters were let loose in the Everglades Saturday with one goal in mind: to catch a predator.
There's no hiding from it. The python problem in the Florida Everglades is growing, posing a big hazard to the South Florida ecosystem.
The discussion before the big hunt happened at the University of Florida Fort Lauderdale Research and Education Center. "It's an invasive species that unfortunately has become established in South Florida and our Everglades ecosystem," said Florida Fish And Wildlife Director Nick Wiley.
With these big predators slithering their way through the glades, 400 people from 17 states have signed up for the 2013 Python Challenge. "Let's hope we get some good weather," said Ron Bergeron. "This is a tremendous challenge. This is a very difficult hunt."
The event is being run by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. The mission: "We want to raise public awareness and understanding about pythons in Florida," said Wiley, "and how we can all limit the impact of invasive species in Florida."
This battle against the big Burmese has attracted attention from across the country.
People aiding in the challenge don't need hunting licenses.
The month-long event features prizes ranging from $1,000 for the largest python caught. Bring in the most snakes, and the prize jumps to $1,500. "The problem is they are hard to find," said Blake Freeman. "So we are here to hunt and kill python, but it's kind like a lottery. They are hard to find."
Those on the hunt are in it for the competition, money and to help save the environment. "I'm a Florida native," said Justin Matthews, "and I just seen all the damage that it has done to our ecosystem and also they are eating the native wildlife."
Wildlife officials are confident the effort to wrangle in these big pythons will have a positive impact. "The python does not belong here, and we are trying to do the best that we can to control the population," said Jorge Pino, "and if we can eradicate it, then that is something that we will try to do."
The Python Challenge runs through Feb. 10.
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