The South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD) Governing Board's innovative Python Elimination Program hit a major milestone Thursday when hunters bagged their 500th Burmese python in less than five months.
Python Hunter Jason Leon, of Miami, killed the 500th snake, a 7-foot python caught around 5 a.m. Thursday. Earlier in August, Leon also caught one of the largest snakes the program recorded, a creature measuring 14-foot-9. Hunter Dustin "Wildman" Crum holds the record for the largest snake killed with a 16-foot-10 python. Hunter Michael Valcarce has the most pythons killed, with 52 snakes.
"The speed with which hunters are finding and eliminating these destructive snakes showcases not only their dedication to the effort, but also the enormity of this invasive predator problem in the Everglades," said SFWMD Governing Board Chairman Dan O'Keefe. "Every one of these 500 snakes killed helps ensure the lives of hundreds of native species essential to the Everglades ecosystem."
In total, the snakes eliminated through the program would stretch more than 3,300 feet in length and weigh more than three tons. Elected officials and celebrities ranging from U.S. Rep. Francis Rooney, R-Fla., to celebrity chef Gordon Ramsey have taken part in the hunts, bringing international awareness to the issue of invasive pythons and the District's efforts to eradicate them.
About the Program
The program began March 25, 2017 when professional python hunters were selected and given access to District-owned lands in Miami-Dade County for the pilot phase and later in Broward and Collier counties as the program expanded.
These independent contractors are paid $8.10 per hour, up to eight hours daily, to hunt in the Everglades. Depending on the size of the snake presented, they can also receive additional payments of $50 for pythons measuring up to 4 feet and an extra $25 for each foot measured above 4 feet. An additional $200 is given for each eliminated python nest with eggs.
The invasive Burmese python, which breeds and multiplies quickly and has no challenger or predator in the Everglades ecosystem, has decimated native populations of wildlife. Said the District in its press release, "the more of these snakes that can be eliminated, especially the females and their eggs, the better chance future generations of native wildlife can have to thrive in the Everglades ecosystem, which Floridians have invested billions of dollars to restore."