Python Pileup: Hunters Try to Dent Invasive Population

If you lined up all of the Burmese Pythons captured in Florida over the past year, they’d stretch to more than a mile long. The problem is - there are dozens of miles worth of pythons still slithering through the Everglades.

Local officials worry the population is growing too fast. A single python can produce hundreds more in her lifetime. The reptiles eat birds and small mammals and have no natural predators except for one – humans who are hired to catch them.

While most people run away from the animals, Jason Leon runs toward them.

“It’s a nice little thrill,” said Leon.

He’s one of a group of python hunters who captured 941 of the carnivorous reptiles over the past year. It’s part of a program through South Florida Water Management District.

Leon captured the largest python to date last year, measuring in at 17 feet and 134 pounds.

“It’s not so much being nervous, it’s more like an excitement,” Leon said about catching the snakes.

NBC 6 traveled along with Leon as he hunted for pythons in the Everglades.

He only hunts at night, when the snakes come out. He uses a light to try and spot them, but it’s difficult.

“It almost looks like a piece of plastic or something that doesn’t belong,” he said. “Their eyes don’t reflect the light the way alligators do but their skin kind of does.”

Hunters like Leon get paid by the length of what they catch.

In his record-setting case – he earned $375.

But for him, it’s not about the cash.

The prize money barely covers the cost of gas. He and his crew can travel more than 100 miles in a night in his pickup truck.

“It’s not what drives me at all,” he said. “It’s more so being able to come out here and find a snake that’s native to Southeast Asia that can grow up to 20 feet and potentially kill you.”

The Burmese Pythons are originally from Southeast Asia.

Researchers don’t know exactly how they got to Florida or how many of them exist.

“We only have guesses right now,” said Michael Kirkland, who’s in charge of the Python Elimination Program. “I’ve heard anywhere between 10,000 and 200,000 pythons.”

It’s difficult to get the population under control because a female python can lay up to 80 eggs at a time.

“When the pythons hatch from the egg, they’re already 12 to 18 inches long and there are only a few predators out there,” said Kirkland.

Even though Leon holds the record for the longest python, the night NBC 6 followed along on his 3-hour long journey, he came up empty-handed.

He says some nights you can catch several in an hour and some nights nothing.

“It’s not exactly what we wanted but it’s literally how it goes,” said Leon.

He keeps going back for more, hoping to outdo the size of the pythons he has caught before.

“You now that they’re out there and the fact that you know at any minute you can see one is what keeps bringing you back out,” said Leon.

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