With more and more pet pythons escaping from their owners, the wild Burmese python population in the Everglades continues to grow and compromise the swamp’s delicate ecosystem. In an effort to try to control this over growth and raise awareness of the issue, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission launched the 2013 Python Challenge where hunters raced to find and harvest as many pythons as they could. With a python body count of 68, the event was considered to be a success.
Burmese pythons are large beautiful snakes originating from Southeast Asia and reaching lengths of 23 feet or more. Because of their beautifully patterned skin, Burmese pythons are a popular choice of pet among reptile owners. However, most python owners are not properly equipped and prepared for long term Burmese python ownership. So, when the pythons get too big they either escape or are released into the wild and learn to adapt to their new environment. In warm swampy areas such as the Everglades, Burmese python populations have flourished and with no natural predators the pythons have made their way to the top of the food chain causing other swamp animal populations to disappear.
In Jan 2013 the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) held the 2013 Python Challenge to help control the python population and raise awareness. The 2013 Python Challenge was a one month long competition where hunters participated in the tracking and harvesting of as many pythons as they could. The FWC gave the hunters tips on where to look for the pythons and advised a humane method (decapitating or shooting straight for the head) for euthanizing the animals. At the end of the competition the snake body count amounted to 68, which was a little more than expected. Hunting and catching pythons is a difficult task. They are very elusive creatures. They can stay hidden very well in tall grass and are good at hiding out in the water. According to National Geographic pythons “can stay submerged for up to 30 minutes before surfacing for air.” Thus, finding 68 hidden pythons is a huge accomplishment.
The 2013 Python Challenge was about more than just killing off a few snakes, it was also about promoting awareness and education. The FWC’s mission statement is: “To manage fish and wildlife resources for their long-term well-being and the benefit of people.” This entails not only participating in actions to control species populations but also researching and collocating data about the ecosystems to understand the best ways to manage wildlife. Thus, the Python Challenge was also useful for collecting data about the non-native snakes locations in the Everglades to get a better understanding of their habits and trends.
Of course in cases like these there will always be opposing views as to whether or not snake hunting and killing (even humanely) is an ethical way to deal with this ecological problem. For opposing opinions about the 2013 Python Challenge check out this article from National Geographic and this article about PETA’s (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) opinion on the issue. Anyone in the Florida area who wants to help with the python issue but doesn’t want to harm or touch the snakes can go the I’ve Got One website and report their sighting online or over the phone. People in the Atlanta area who want to report a sighting of an invasive species can go to this web page and leave the details.
So, 2013 Python Challenge- ethical or not? Is there a better way to deal with the issue? Let's discuss it! Leave your thoughts in the comments section below. Also, remember to subscribe to the mailing list to be among the first to get animal and pet related news.