Python Challenge Leaves 21 Snakes Dead and Counting

First Posted: Jan 20, 2013 05:45 PM EST

The Python Challenge 2013 contestants have already caught and killed 21 snakes since the competition kicked off on January 12 in a bid to get rid of invasive Burmese pythons from the Florida Everglades, according to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

The giant snakes, a popular exotic pet often released into the wild, are notoriously hard to spot in the dense undergrowth. Florida wildlife officials say they are wreaking havoc among the native species, and hope that information gathered from the contest will help with management plans for the Everglades.

According to the Python Challenge rules, once a python is killed, usually by a gunshot to the head, they turn the specimen over to officials at designated check stations where researchers gather biological information in the hopes of learning how to better combat the quickly reproducing nuisance species.

Hunters who don't want to keep the python can sell it over to buyers for $150 a piece which are then turned into bags, shoes and other accessories.

Biologists are unclear as to why there are so many pythons living in the Everglades, roughly 2,050 pythons have been harvested in Florida since 2000. Eleven snakes were caught in the first three days of the contest.

"Rabbits were like rats. Growing up, you saw them everywhere," said Jim Howard, a Miami native and a python permit holder participating in the contest, according to the Associated Press.  "I haven't seen a rabbit in 20 years. I don't see foxes. I hardly see anything."

He has caught a python in the Everglades in each of the last two years, though. Each was more than 12 feet long and contained more than 50 eggs.

He returned to those locations Wednesday, poking under ferns and discarded wooden boards with a hook at the end of a 3-foot-long stick. All he found were the sheddings of some large snake - each transparent scale was the size of a fingertip.

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