The Burmese Python, native to South-East Asia, has established a healthy breeding population where they are not welcome, in Florida. This is thanks to the exotic pet trade which led to several of these giant constrictors escaping or being released into the wild over the course of the 20th century. It is now estimated that between 30,000 and 150,000 Burmese Pythons call the Everglades National Park their home meaning all sorts of trouble for the native inhabitants.
While Burmese Python populations continue to grow in Florida, declines have been recorded in potential prey species such as racoons, rabbits and opossums, a clear indication that this invasive species means trouble. They also eat birds, fish, amphibians, other reptiles and the older and larger Burms have been known to feast on deer. In response to identifying the Burmese Python as an invasive species it is now illegal to release exotic animals into the wild in the State of Florida and special hunting permits can be obtained to hunt listed invasive species and sell them for their skin and meat.
The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) have recently initiated a new “plan” to control the number of Burmese Pythons: The Python Challenge. After registering, paying a $25 entrance fee and completing a 30 minute online training session anyone over the age of 18 can participate. Over 1000 people have signed up and are now equipped with a special hunting permit which allows them to hunt Burmese Pythons between the 12th January and the 12th February and submit their catch to be measured as part of the competition. The FWC figured this would make a great dent in Python numbers and increase awareness of the problem. So how are they doing so far?
One week in and so far 21 Burmese Pythons have been killed. This doesn’t even scratch the surface of the problem, never mind the probability that the majority of people doing the killing are just “regular Joes” out for a bit of fun. It is not hard to imagine that most of the Pythons killed will not go, for lack of a better word, “peacefully”. While I am all for species control and conservation, and recognise the seriousness of the problem in Florida, in my opinion, this was a terrible idea. As well as raising awareness to the problem of invasive species in Florida, this campaign is also increasing the popularity for hunting. Will all 1,000 + of these participants adhere to the rules and only kill Burmese Pythons in the requested way? I doubt it. The Python Challenge provides a lovely disguise for avid hunters to bag themselves some additional animals in the strict “no hunting zone” that is the Everglades.
The FWC need to sit down and come up with some better ideas, as it would appear that this one is already proving itself as a failure.
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