ORLANDO, Fla. - Ready, set, hunt! The Florida Python Challenge kicked off Friday, where people can earn cash by finding and killing the massive snakes that are all over the Florida Everglades.
"They are one of the five largest snakes in the world. When they’re babies, they’re very small, only 18 inches long. They can grow to 18 feet and over 250 pounds," said Brandon Fisher, an animal expert at Gatorland.
We’ve seen photos of those big guys – some more than 18 feet long – come out of South Florida before. Experts say the invasive snakes are eating up all the native animals.
In some cases, the Burmese python is even eating one of the top predators in the everglades: the alligator.
"These snakes are destroying the natural food chain. You can’t have a healthy environment without a healthy food chain. So, it’s extremely important to the environment," said Ron Bergeron with the South Florida Water Management District.
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The state is also making sure no additional pythons get into the wild. Fisher says, at Gatorland, they follow strict rules to keep pythons in captivity.
"For one, the pet trade, you can’t have them as pets. You need to have special licenses just to have one and you really have to be some sort of educational facility, some sort of park," he explained.
As the python hunt gets underway, Florida Fish and Wildlife says people need to register online and do some training before they can take part in the competition.
There are prizes for the most and largest pythons.
"We are leading the nation in how to tackle invasive species. How? By making it not our agencies’ problem to solve – making it all of our problems to solve. The participation of every individual out there – everyone standing here," said FWC Exec. Director Eric Sutton.
Since 2000, more than 17,000 pythons have been removed from the Everglades ecosystem
The python challenge runs through 5 p.m. on Aug. 15. Cash prizes of up to $2,500 are available in both the professional and novice categories for those who remove the most pythons, officials said. There are additional prizes for the longest python in each category. Each python must be dead, with hunters facing disqualification if they kill them inhumanely or kill a native snake.