Nearly 800 people are registered and ready to compete to see who can bring in the most and the longest Burmese pythons from designated public lands in south Florida in the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission's (FWC) 2013 Python Challenge kickoff in Davie.
For competitors, the challenge is to harvest the well-camouflaged Burmese python, which can grow to more than 17 feet in the wild in Florida, with the chance of winning prizes of up to $1,500. Registrants are coming from more than 30 other states. They have until midnight on Sunday, Feb. 10, to find these nonvenomous constrictors.
For the FWC, the primary goals of the Python Challenge are to raise public awareness and increase the agency's knowledge base regarding this invasive species and how to better understand and address impacts on the Everglades ecosystem, including native wildlife.
"The 2013 Python Challenge is an unprecedented effort to focus public interest, support and direct involvement to help deal with Burmese pythons," said FWC Chairman Kenneth Wright at the kickoff news conference. "The FWC is pleased that so many people are joining this earnest effort to limit the impact of this invasive species on Florida's diverse native wildlife. Floridians and people from all across the United States truly care about the Florida Everglades, and they are clearly eager to help us better understand and solve this problem.
"When they harvest snakes, Python Challenge competitors will be collecting valuable data that will contribute to the current Burmese python research and management efforts of the FWC and its partners," Wright said. "We are grateful to Python Challenge participants, sponsors and partners for helping make this event happen."
FWC officials welcomed competitors and the public to the 2013 Python Challenge Kickoff last Saturday at the University of Florida Fort Lauderdale Research and Education Center in Davie. People attending the kickoff had the chance to get a close-up look at captive pythons, learn from experts how to identify these snakes and witness demonstrations of python-handling techniques.
The kickoff was the first of two public awareness events. The Python Challenge concludes with an awareness and awards event 10 a.m.-4 p.m. on Saturday, Feb. 16, at Zoo Miami.
There are two separate Python Challenge competitions: the general competition for the public and the python permit holders competition for people who have permits from the FWC and other agencies to regularly harvest these snakes. Both groups will be collecting data. When dropping off a harvested python, participants must submit data sheets providing information such as the snake's size, GPS location and habitat where it was found.
Grand prizes of $1,500 for harvesting the most pythons will be awarded to winners of both competitions, with an additional $1,000 prize for the longest python harvested overall. Funding for the prizes is provided by sponsors and through registration fees.
People can sign up for the challenge at any time during the Jan. 12 to Feb. 10 competition, even on the final day. Go to PythonChallenge.org for the required online training, official rules and registration, as well as information on the public events.
Florida prohibits possession or sale of Burmese pythons for use as pets, and federal law bans the importation and interstate sale of this species.