Meet The Florida Snake Hunters That Have Killed More Than 1,000 Invasive Pythons

Key Points

  • A classic example of invasive species, the Burmese Python is considered one of the five largest snake species in the world.
  • Native to South-east Asia, this species was brought to the US to be sold as pet. One or more pet owners released them in the Florida Everglades and that’s how it came to be in the wilderness.
  • Due to their large numbers now the natural animals and birds of Everglade are in serious danger.

Florida’s Burmese pythons are a textbook example of invasive species. They were first spotted in Florida in 1979, and now, 43 years later, they’ve transformed into a nightmare. You know it’s a huge problem when snake lovers come together to hunt snakes down, and that’s exactly what has happened in Florida. 

Each year, the Florida Python Challenge is organized with a grand prize of $2500 for the hunter who captures the most Burmese pythons. If you’d like to find out why Burmese pythons are such a concern to Floridians and would also like to meet two inspiring hunters in the game, then this article is for you.

How Did Burmese Pythons Get Into The Everglades?

burmese python swimming
The first Burmese python ever found in Everglades was spotted in 1979.

©Heiko Kiera/Shutterstock.com

The first Burmese python ever found in the Everglades was spotted in 1979. Experts suspect that it was a former pet that was released or escaped into the wild.

Why Are Burmese Pythons In The Everglades Such A Problem?

Burmese Python in Everglades
Burmese pythons in the Everglades are a threat to the native species and the ecosystem.

©Heiko Kiera/Shutterstock.com

Forty-three years after they were first spotted, Burmese pythons have multiplied greatly, and hundreds of thousands of them now live in Everglades. The first problem with this is in their size. Burmese pythons are one of the largest snake species; even in their natural habitats, they have only a few predators, such as crocodiles and larger pythons.

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However, as they age and become larger, the list of animals that can prey on or compete with them for food reduces. In their natural habitats, however, the ecosystem, as well as their predators, stop them from growing too large and hunting other species into extinction. But since this isn’t the case in the Everglades, Burmese pythons practically hunt prey into extinction. They aren’t wasting any time either, as most of these species are declining at an alarming rate.

Some particular species of concern that were commonly spotted before the year 2000 are Virginia opossums, bobcats, raccoons, red foxes, white foxes, and rabbits. From 2003 to 2011, researchers observed about 35,400 miles (57,000 kilometers), and the results published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences journal were devastating. According to the paper, compared to data collected from 1996 and 1997, opossum sightings decreased by 98.9 percent, bobcats’ by 87.5 percent, and raccoons’ by 99.3 percent. Worse still, they did not spot a single rabbit or fox.

If these pythons are allowed to continue this terror reign, some already-rare species could be lost forever. For those who have lived in the Everglades before the Burmese python invasion, the wildlife there is only a shadow of itself. Since none of Florida’s species can keep these pythons in check, they grow larger and live longer than average.

Some Of The Largest Burmese Pythons Caught in Florida

Burmese Python
The largest snake ever found in Florida was a Burmese python that was 18 feet long and 215 pounds.

©iStock.com/Lunatic_67

These are just some of the species on record. Without a doubt, if nothing is done, Burmese pythons will damage the Everglades’ ecosystem beyond repair.

The Florida Python Challenge?

The Florida Python Challenge is a 10-day competition that is hosted annually. Snake experts compete to hunt down as many Burmese pythons as possible in 10 days. This year, the competition started on August 5th, 2022, at 8:00 AM and ends on August 14th, 2022, at 5:00 PM.

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Novice and professional winners in the “Most Pythons” category will win $2500 each. There are other categories and other prizes to be won. They don’t just accept anyone, however. After a non-refundable $25 fee, participants must take an online training course and score at least 85 percent to be admitted.

Each year, hunters who care about the Everglades’ ecosystem get together to make a difference while engaging in some good-natured competition. However, other dedicated full-time hunters hold the fort down even when the competition isn’t going on.

Donna Kalil and Amy Siewe

Among the many past winners are Donna Kalil and Amy Siewe. Kalil, who has been participating since 2015, was last year’s winner in the “Most Pythons” category after capturing 19 Burmese pythons. In 2017, she became a full-time worker and began to hunt down pythons professionally. She is the leader of the Everglades Avenger Team, a team of dedicated python removal specialists fighting for the Everglades’ ecosystem.

Siewe is another professional python remover who joined the team in 2019 and won second place in the “Heaviest Snake” category in her first year. Her heaviest catch weighed 110 pounds and was 17 feet and 3 inches long! Kalil has a record of more than 670 captures, and Siewe is only a few shy of 400. Together, these Florida snake hunters have killed more than 1,000 invasive Burmese Pythons.

As one might imagine, extracting these pythons is a dangerous job. Even though Burmese pythons are constrictors, they bite, and hunters suffer many bites as they do their jobs. In addition, despite being professional hunters, they are snake lovers and hate to harm these creatures. However, they continue because they know that the balance of the Everglades’ ecosystem depends on it.

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Here’s How You Can Help

If you’d like to help get rid of the invasive Burmese python species in the Everglades but have no python-capturing skills, here is a list of practical ways you can make a difference:

Please spread the word: It’s important to spread awareness about the dire situation of the Everglades’ ecosystem. Not only will it reach more volunteers, but it will also create an awareness of the dangers of pet trade.

Donate: Donna Kalil has a great website you can check out for more information about her risky but important job. You can also donate to support the Everglades Avenger Team.

Buy Burmese Python Products: Many hunters make cool products from the skins of the pythons they catch. Not only is that a cool way to support them, but it also ensures that nothing is wasted. Amy Siewe’s store sells great Burmese python skin products, which you can shop to support her.

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