Snake hunters, get ready for Python Challenge 2016. The initiative is part of an effort to get the public involved in conserving the Everglades by helping to remove invasive Burmese pythons from the South Florida ecosystem.
The Florida Fish & Wildlife Commission is holding several sessions over the next several weeks to teach people to identify, locate, and safely capture the invasive species of snake.
"It's really important to remove them, to protect our native wildlife, to protect our natural resources," said Sarah Funck, Non-native Fish & Wildlife Coordinator with FWC.
Thursday at the University of Florida's extension office on Immokalee Road, representatives demonstrated how to capture a live python. Trainers showed members of the media how to pin the snake's head to the ground with the rubber handle of a snake hook, then grasp it behind its jawbone with one hand, and finally work a cloth bag over its head. Once the snake is in the bag, the top should be secured with electrical tape.
"The animal's pretty easy to capture by the hands if you know what you're doing," said Ian Bartoszek, a biologist and snake expert with the Conservancy of Southwest Florida.
The Python Challenge runs from January 16th through February 14th. Funck said that the real challenge might be just finding one.
"The time that it takes to actually locate one, I think averages about 15 hours per person - who's trained - per snake," she said.
Bartoszek said that the Burmese python - an apex predator - has decimated the population of marsh rabbits in the Everglades. It's unknown how much of a dent the Python Challenge will put in the population of the invasive snakes, but Bartoszek said that it could have an impact in certain areas if enough breeding pythons are caught.
"The Python Challenge's true value is raising the awareness, taking it national - global," he said.
The next public training is December 20th at the Olga Community Center in Fort Myers, and then January 19th at Rookery Bay near Naples.
To register for the Python Challenge, visit PythonChallenge.org and click on the "training" link at the bottom of the page.