Wildlife officials are hoping the public will help curb the Burmese Python population in the Florida Everglades _ by hunting them.
More than 550 people have signed up so far to participate in the Python Challenge, which starts Saturday and runs until Feb. 10. The general public and python permit holders can register to compete at any time during the month-long competition.
There are two grand prizes for both categories of participants. The person who harvests the most snakes will get $1,500, and whoever gets the longest python will be awarded $1,000.
But just how many Burmese pythons are in the Everglades to harvest is not known, and it’s difficult to quantify, said Carli Segelson, spokeswoman for the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.
“Pythons are very well camouflaged. They are difficult to detect in the wild,” she said.
But they are breeding and impacting the local ecosystem, she added.
“They are able to breed in the wild, which is a concern, and at this point we are working to control that population,” she said. “It’s a concern because a they are not native to Florida, and they are detrimental to the environment because they can compete with native predators for food.”
The ultimate goal is protecting the Everglades.
‘They could have a negative impact,” Segelson said. “They are consuming animals that are native to the Florida Everglades. That’s a unique ecosystem and we want to protect that.”
The challenge kicks off Saturday at 10 a.m. at the University of Florida Fort Lauderdale Research and Education Center, where there will be training and other activities before the competition begins at 1 p.m. There is a $25 entry fee to register to harvest the snakes.