Top hunter captures 28 invasive Burmese pythons during summer contest in the Everglades
The winners in this summer’s come-one, come-all Florida Python Challenge were announced Thursday in a contest that drew nearly 1,000 professional and amateur hunters from 32 states, Canada and Latvia and removed 231 invasive Burmese pythons from the Everglades.
Matthew Concepcion captured 28 Burmese pythons and won the $10,000 grand prize for most pythons caught. Dustin Crum won a $1,500 prize for the longest python, measuring just over 11 feet.
Donna Kalil, who is one of the first state python hunters for the South Florida Water Management District’s Python Elimination Program, won second place in the professional python hunter’s division last year with 19 snakes and won the same award this year with six.
The one that got away from her this year, Kalil said, was so long it would have bested Crum’s.
“In my over 700 caught, one of the biggest pythons I’ve had my hands on was during the challenge,” Kalil said Thursday. “My daughter and I had it by the tail and we never saw the head being it was in the water and the weeds were waste deep. It slipped through our hands and got away.
Burmese pythons are not native to Florida, are found in and around the Everglades ecosystem, and negatively impact native species. A female Burmese python lays up to 100 eggs at a time.
Since 2000, more than 17,000 wild Burmese pythons have been removed from Florida.
“Every one of the pythons removed as part of the challenge is one less preying on our native birds, mammals and reptiles,” said Rodney Barreto, chairman of the Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission. “This is a win for the Everglades and a win for the people of Florida.”
The Florida Python Challenge doesn’t make a huge dent in the roughly 150-thousand Burmese pythons estimated to be on the loose in the Everglades. But the increased awareness of the more than 500 invasive species – animals, plants, fungi, bacteria, and viruses -- throughout South Florida is just as important.
When it comes to Burmese pythons those threats include crowding out native species. The snakes’ voracious appetite means they will eat almost anything include alligators, other pythons and even whole key deer. The python has nearly wiped out the marsh rabbits, cotton tails rabbits, and foxes throughout South Florida.
“Our python hunters are passionate about what they do and care very much about Florida’s precious environment,” said “Alligator Ron” Bergeron, a board member of the South Florida Water Management District. “We are removing record numbers of pythons and we’re going to keep at it.”
Anyone can remove and humanely kill pythons any time on private lands with landowner permission and on 25 publicly-owned land managed by the FWC throughout south Florida.
People who see invasive animals or plants in the wild are encouraged to report the sighting to the FWC’s Invasive Species Hotline at 888-IVE-GOT1 (888-483-4681), or at IveGot1.org online.
Next year’s Burmese python hunt is already in the works. No word whether the hunters from Canada and Latvia will be back.
Environmental reporting for WGCU is funded in part by VoLo Foundation, a non-profit with a mission to accelerate change and global impact by supporting science-based climate solutions, enhancing education, and improving health.
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