On top of “Florida congressman,” U.S. Rep. Francis Rooney plans to add a new line to his resume: python hunter.
On Monday, Rooney announced he would leave the hustle and bustle of D.C. behind and head to the swamp-ridden Florida Everglades to participate in the South Florida Water Management District’s annual python hunt, taking out the invasive species wreaking havoc on the Florida Everglades one snake at a time.
Rooney will be the newest hunter in the SFWMD’s “Python Elimination Program,” which incentivizes members of the public to hunt and kill pythons, an invasive species with population numbers topping 150,000 in South Florida.
Pythons are devouring virtually everything that moves in the Everglades, including native Florida alligators. Marsh rabbits, raccoons, opossums, bobcats, deer, great blue herons, wood storks all have disappeared as a result of the feverish appetite of the pythons, leaving behind a desolate ecosystem.
“Innovative ideas such as the Python Elimination Program incentivize members of the public to assist in removing this invasive species and remind us that we all have a vested interest in restoring the Everglades,” Rooney said in a statement.
Rooney said he hopes his participation in the hunt will lead to more publicity about all issues affecting the Everglades, not just the area’s massive python problem.
Python hunting isn’t a walk in the park, either -- hunters spend countless hours, for days on end, in the hot Florida summer sun, searching for pythons which may not even appear.
Hunters head out early in the morning for the best chance at spotting a python and will scour the sawgrass-filled marshes all day long for the snakes.
Since there is no other way to eradicate pythons, SFWMD has to get rid of them the only way they know how: with their bare hands. The aim of the program is to kill pythons, but killing female pythons is slightly more lucrative since they carry eggs to hatch more pythons causing problems in the Everglades.
"Eliminating one snake from the Everglades is much more than a single kill.” said Dan O’Keefe, SFWMD Governing Board Chairman. “It's the prevention of 40 to 50 more snakes by destroying a large female carrying 40 to 50 eggs and it's the countless number of native Florida animals spared from the jaws of these killing-machines."
SFWMD initially only opened up the python hunt to 25 professional hunters, but recently expanded the hunt to include amateurs and average Joes who just want to bag a snake.
Rooney won’t be the first Florida politician to head out on a python hunting excursion. In May, Lieutenant Gov. Carlos Lopez-Cantera embarked on the snake hunt, ultimately killing a 15-foot python with a pocketknife.
Rooney will head to the Everglades Aug. 10 for the hunt.