JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- For one month, 1,600 Florida hunters trudged through 1 million acres of Everglades swamp, searching for Burmese pythons, an invasive species that the Florida Wildlife Commission says is taking over the ecosystem by eating native animals.
The total number of snakes caught during the month-long competition was 68.
“Obviously that speaks for itself in that there aren't that many down there,” says Lisa Brezil, Owner of Blazin' Reptiles in Mandarin.
Many of Brezil’s customers took part in the competition, but she doubted it from the beginning. Especially after reports estimated as many as 100,000 Burmese living in the Everglades.
“I find it hard to believe. You’d be stepping all over them if you're down there, which is not what people are finding.”
Blazin’ Reptiles is home to a 12-foot, 30-pound Granite Burmese named Mojo. Despite Mojo’s calm personality, Brezil says most people are scared of Burmese.
According to National Geographic, Burmese pythons are the largest snakes on Earth, capable of reaching 23 feet and weighing up to 200 pounds. They are native to Southeast Asia, but may have been released into the wild during Hurricane Andrew, when many of South Florida’s exotic animal farms were destroyed. In the spring, they can lay as many as 100 eggs, leading to high reproductive rates, even though only about 30 percent of the eggs hatch and even fewer mature into adults.
Those that do, Brezil says, are often intimidating to the average person. She thinks the state took advantage of that fear to pump up attention and make money.
“I think they did it for publicity, personally. They’re putting fear into people that is unfounded.”
The FWC tells Action News a profit was never the goal. Roughly $40,000 was raised from participant registration fees, but most of that, they say, covered marketing instead of using taxpayer dollars. Even with only 68 pythons, they call it a success.
Brezil, however, calls it sad, and she hopes the first python challenge is the last.
“They're just part of the environment now. It would be nice if they could just leave them alone.”
Most of the snakes caught during the 2013 Python challenge are at a lab in Gainesville where scientists are studying what they eat and how they reproduce. A full report is expected later this year.