FT. MYERS, Fla. - A month-long state-sponsored python hunt in the Everglades that starts tomorrow is drawing some controversy from snake handlers.
More than 600 people have signed up for the hunt, which aims to cut down on invasive, non-native python populations that are taking over in the Everglades.
Four In Your Corner's Colleen Hogan is learning more about the snake problem from a Calusa Nature Center snake expert, who's also expressing some concerns about the hunt.
"People have been getting these snakes since the 70's," Steve Masek said, of the Calusa Nature Center.
Masek says when the pets get too big people dump them, many of them making their homes in the Everglades.
He says the other problem is during a hurricane, several research labs and stores near the Everglades got destroyed and the snakes were out in the wild in groups, allowing them to breed.
"It's putting a hard hit on the ecosystem," he said.
The snakes have no real predators.
Masek estimates there's thousands of pythons: Burmese, Indian, and the Reticulated varieties as well as Anacondas in the Everglades. The snakes can grown over 30 feet and weigh more than a person.
"Say you got a 30-footer, it's gonna make a mound that's three-foot high. So if you're out there stompin' around, you come across them and if you're a smaller person, you better be careful," he said.
Even though he thinks the state's contest will bring in enough snakes to slow down their growth, he worries about the almost 700 hunters signed up to take part. He says many are likely inexperienced and could easily get hurt, or worse.
"It don't take a big one to kill ya," he said.
The snake lover especially takes issue with the contest rules that say you must catch and kill the snakes. Contest rules say it must be done in a humane way.
"There's gonna be people out there with guns that probably shouldn't have guns, " he says. "They're out there shooting at these animals."
You can still sign up for the python hunt through the state.
If you go, Masek has some tips.
He recommends leaving the kids at home, go out in pairs, and bring a bottle of alcohol with you. He says if a snake latches onto you, if someones able to pour some alcohol down their their throat, that should get the snake off.
Colleen Hogan, reporter