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Science & Tech

Scripps Howard News Service
Only 50 Burmese pythons have been killed since Florida’s 2013 Python Challenge began last month in an effort to thin the snake’s population.

Python hunters in Florida see kill chances slither away

They had guns, machetes and good intentions. That wasn’t enough for most of the 1,500 snake chasers who signed up for Florida’s monthlong Burmese python hunt, which ended Sunday.

Heading into the final weekend of the state’s Python Challenge, just 50 of the nonnative, nonvenomous constrictors had been wrestled out of the marshes and hammocks of the Everglades and Big Cypress swamp.

Scientists have estimated the South Florida python population at anywhere from tens of thousands to more than 100,000. The snakes, thought to be escapees from breeding plants or unwanted pets, pose a threat to native species and to an ecosystem that taxpayers are spending billions of dollars to restore.

The hunt, which kicked off Jan. 12, has had amateurs and experts from 38 states and one Canadian province scouring roadsides, levees, canals and tree islands accessible only by airboat – and has left them scratching their heads.

“This has really been an unprecedented amount of effort to catch Burmese pythons,” said Carli Segelson, spokeswoman for the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, which sponsored the hunt.

She said the Conservation Commission will survey hunters who signed up to see how many times they went out and for how long to get a better idea of the effort.

The low kill rate doesn’t necessarily mean the python problem has been oversold, Segelson said. Pythons are well-camouflaged and live in areas that are difficult to access. Besides that, Everglades National Park, the epicenter of the python invasion, is off-limits to hunting.

Some hunters theorized that warm temperatures kept their quarry concealed rather than out in the open or on roads sunning themselves to warm up after a chill. Trapping wasn’t allowed because of the risk to native wildlife.