Nearly 800 participate in python hunt in south Florida


DAVIE, Fla. - Hundreds of people were participating in a first-of-its-kind python hunt that started Saturday in South Florida.

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission is holding a month-long "Python Challenge" and offering cash prizes to whoever brings in the longest python and whoever bags the most pythons.

FWC officials hope that an invasion of exotic snakes can be solved through an invasion of snake hunters.

Fish and Wildlife is paying people from across the country to go into the Everglades and kill Burmese pythons.

The hunt started at 1 p.m. Saturday and will end at midnight February 10.

Not everyone thinks that recruiting untrained hunters is the best way to handle the problem.

"I've got a special gun that I want to bring out. It's a Colt Python .357," said Chris Burton.

The irony of using a Python to hunt a python isn't lost on Chris Burton. He and four friends will be among the more than 570 snake hunters in the Everglades this weekend.

"The only thing that can hunt a gator in Florida is one of those snakes, so it'll be fun to try and catch one of those," said Burton.

Neither Burton nor anyone in his party has ever hunted a python. That doesn't concern the state.

For the next month, anyone who pays $25 and watches a 30-minute safety video on the Internet can be a licensed snake hunter.

"I think the animal professionals have a great concern, and part of it is the safety of the people that are going to be down there," said Tim Williams of Gatorland.

Williams has worked with snakes for more than four decades. He said many hunters may not know what they're walking into. Burmese pythons grow large enough to kill alligators.

"It does not take a very large [python] to possibly strangle a person," said Williams.

The state has asked hunters to adhere to some specific standards for killing the snakes.  But FWC will have no direct oversight of the hunters as they hunt.

Florida currently prohibits possession or sale of the pythons for use as pets. Federal law bans the importation and interstate sale of this species.