The Python Challenge, which began on August 5 and will run until August 14, is a Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission-sanctioned competition based in the Everglades, where participants attempt to capture and kill as many Burmese pythons as they can.
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Burmese pythons are invasive in the Everglades, and have severely impacted the populations of other native animals in the region by outcompeting them for food. Previous attempts at controlling the invasion have been ineffective, mostly due to the fact that the pythons are well camouflaged and exceptionally difficult to find. The Python Challenge is an attempt to eradicate large numbers of the pythons that started in 2013.
The exact population of Burmese pythons in Florida is unknown, but is estimated to be over 100,000.
Participants have been sharing their experiences on social media, uploading pictures and videos of the snakes they've captured.
"First night out for the Florida python challenge, we got a 8'5" big ole son of a b*tch!!!! Vince Poole and I pulled this sucker out of the bushes and wow was it one heck of a fight!" said Andrew Tiernan Schulz, alongside a video of the huge snake.
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"Well the 2022 python challenge has certainly been a challenge! It's been a awesome adventure and learning experience. I just wanted to thank Bill Dunlap The legend for giving me this opportunity. We didn't get a big one but amazing experience!" wrote another participant, Shawn Standifer.
This year's contest has seen a rise in interest from 2021, which saw 600 participants.
"As of the kickoff of the competition on August 5, we had over 800 people register for the 2022 Florida Python Challenge. This included people from 32 different states, as well as Canada," Lisa Thompson, a spokesperson for the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, told Newsweek.
The cash prize has also increased. According to a social media post by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, the grand prize for catching the most pythons this year is $10,000, due to a donation by the Bergeron Everglades Foundation. In 2021, there was a $2,500 prize for the largest number of catches, which went to one person who captured 223 pythons and a $1,500 prize for whoever catches the largest snake. Last year, the winning python was 15 feet long.
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Pythons must be killed humanely or they won't be counted. After catching a python, officials may observe the killing, which should be done by pithing: this involves using a sharp instrument to completely destroy the brain.
"The Everglades is one of the world's most prized natural resources, and we have invested record funding for Everglades restoration projects, including record funding for removal of invasive Burmese pythons which wreak havoc on the ecosystem," Governor Ron DeSantis said in a news release in June. "Because of this focus, we have removed record numbers of invasive pythons from the Everglades. I am proud of the progress we've made, and I look forward to seeing the results of this year's Python Challenge."
It is feared by some experts that despite all the hunting generated by the challenges, the number of pythons killed will make little dent in the total population in the Everglades.
"The presence of invasive pythons in the Everglades has been ecologically disastrous and must be addressed. Hunting helps, but it may just reach the tip of the iceberg," Dale R. Jackson, a senior research zoologist at Florida State University, previously told Newsweek.
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As the competition is still ongoing, the total number of snakes killed this year is as yet unknown.
"The total number of pythons captured will not be available until our partners with the University of Florida have tabulated and verified this information. We will announce the total number of pythons removed at a future 2022 Florida Python Challenge Awards Ceremony. Details for the ceremony are still being developed," Thompson told Newsweek.
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