JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - The state of Florida says it is offering cash prizes to whoever can bag the most Burmese pythons or can kill the longest snake.
There's no exact count on the number of Burmese Pythons in Florida, but experts believe there could be tens of thousands. The challenge is seen as a way to contain the spread of the species.
The hunt begins Saturday with a kickoff in Davie, and ends Feb. 16 with an awards ceremony.
A recruitment video, produced by Florida Fish and Wildlife, tells the story of how the snakes are destroying the Everglades.
"The Burmese Python is an evasive species threatening the Everglades ecosystem," says the video. "These snakes are capable of reaching lengths of more than 17 feet."
The Burmese Pythons were brought here as pets, but many grew too big and their owners released them into the wild. Now, with no natural predators, the snakes are taking over.
"Obviously, they are eating something down in South Florida so we know that they probably are impacting our native wildlife," said FWC Exotic Species Section Leader Kristen Sommers.
The solution? The 2013 Python Challenge. The state says it is offering $1,500 to the hunter who bags the most snakes, and $1,000 to the person with the longest python. However, precipitants will have to be on guard, as the snakes are huge and one misstep could turn the hunter into the hunted.
"Going out with somebody else is always a good option and making sure you are being cautions when you are out in these wild areas," said Sommers.
More than 640 people have reportedly already signed up. Participants must pay a $25 entrance fee and take a 30-minute online training course. The 2013 Python Challenge Kickoff is on Saturday.
Despite the precautions, the hunt is already drawing the ire of animal rights groups. Rules are complete with a chart showing how to kill the snakes, X marks the spot where hunters should shoot, but the rules also allow for decapitation.
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