Everglades, F.L. — The Burmese python, one of the largest snakes in the world, is running amok in Florida.
Well, more like slithering amok.
So much so that on Saturday, state officials kick off a month-long competition designed to remove as many of the colossal constrictors from the Everglades as possible.
More than 600 people have signed up for the Python Challenge, according to Carli Segelson, a spokeswoman for the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, which organized the event.
A cash prize goes to the hunter who captures — dead or alive — the most Burmese pythons, as well as one for the longest one.
Why? Because the Burmese python, which can be as large as 23 feet long and weigh up to 200 pounds, doesn’t belong in the Everglades, in Florida — or even in this hemisphere for that matter.
The native Southeast Asian snake is “wreaking havoc on one of America’s most beautiful, treasured and naturally bountiful ecosystems,” U.S. Geological Survey Director Marcia McNutt said of the 1.5-million-acre Everglades National Park in a 2012 report. “Right now, the only hope to halt further python invasion into new areas is swift, decisive and deliberate human action.”
But that is no easy feat; the unwelcome guests are thriving in the habitat and climate provided by the Everglades.
“Even though it seems like such a large snake would be easy to find or see, only a very small fraction of pythons present in the park are ever detected,” the USGS says on its website. “Their cryptic coloration; hide, wait, and then ambush behavior; the dense low vegetation that helps conceal them; and seasonal inundation of the landscape, (are) limiting human access.