Senator Bill Nelson Goes on Python Hunting Expedition Into Everglades

A team of hunters and wildlife experts found no snakes on a warm day

If Burmese pythons are the enemy, the cavalry is on the way: an army of hunters trying to kill as many of the invasive reptiles in the Florida Everglades as they can find.

Easier said than done.

"They are very well adapted and camouflaged to hide in there amongst the shadows, in the grasses and if you don't have a trained eye for it, even if you do, it's tough," said biologist Shawn Heflick, just before he jumped on an airboat.

U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, a native Floridian and lifelong hunter, tried his hand at python hunting Thursday.

"The question is, why are we out here? We're drawing attention to a problem that a non-native species is upsetting the ecological balance because they're eating up everything," Nelson said.

Nelson was joined by the commissioner of Florida's Game and Fresh Water Fish Commission, Ron Bergeron, on an expedition deep into the Everglades of Broward County.

So far, 800 hunters have signed up for the month-long 2013 Python Challenge, but only 11 snakes have been caught. The state is offering prizes totaling $2,500 prizes to whoever kills the most pythons and bags the biggest snake.

The team of hunters and wildlife experts who slogged through the wetlands and hammocks Thursday found no pythons. Not surprising, considering the warm temperatures.

"It's too warm, when it gets cold in the next few days, they'll find some more," Nelson said.

During cold snaps, pythons are often found basking on levees and roads, trying to absorb warmth. Estimates of how many of the giant snakes are actually living in the wilds of South Florida vary, from the tens of thousands to more than 100,000.

Wildlife officers brought a 13-footer to show off to the media, a python that was captured in the Everglades. Nelson used it as the poster child snake of ecological havoc.

"We of course are concerned about the natural endangered species such as the Florida panther, they found bobcats inside these things, so it's only a matter of time," Nelson said.

Wildlife officials know their contest won't solve the problem of having an exotic, apex predator reproducing in the Everglades.

"But we have to try something," Nelson said, "because these snakes are upsetting the ecological applecart."

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