Competition Seeks to Manage Invasive Pythons in Everglades

By Nick Wesdock

Python patrol volunteer Jeff Fobb hosts a snake handling demonstration in front of a large crowd at the 2013 Python Challenge Kickoff. The 2016 Python Challenge will attempt to build on the success of the first competition, which removed 68 invasive Burmese Pythons from the Florida Everglades and engaged citizens through public outreach.

Image Credit: Doc Kokol/FWC

For one month next year, teams in Florida will compete to remove Burmese pythons from the Everglades. They’ll be there as part of the 2016 Python Challenge — an effort led by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) and the Fish and Wildlife Foundation of Florida (Foundation) to promote citizen participation in long-term management of invasive species in the Everglades.

Public interest in citizen science and incentive programs has prompted the second Python Challenge, which was started in 2013 as a way to remove invasive Burmese pythons (Python bivittatus) from South Florida and raise awareness about invasive species in the state. The competition focuses on public outreach and training so that participants can identify, report and safely capture the large snakes. The first Python Challenge™ was a success, removing 68 Burmese pythons from the Everglades, the most ever removed in that amount of time. This year, FWC and the Foundation will look to build upon that success.

“The 2016 Python Challenge™ will take place in a larger geographic area,” said Lisa Thompson, spokesperson for FWC. The competition will be expanded through cooperation with state and federal land management agencies, such as Everglades National Park, to grant participants access to additional public lands. “Expanding the area of the competition will provide more access for participants to find and remove invasive Burmese pythons.”

There will also be increased training and educational opportunities for citizens, as participants with more experience were more effective in locating and removing snakes during the 2013 competition.

The competition will run from January 16 through February 14. Competitors can sign up individually or as part of a team of up to five people. Each participant is required to take an online training course that will educate them on how to identify, report and humanely capture pythons, including how to differentiate between invasive and native snakes. Registration is expected to begin on the PythonChallenge.org website in October and will include the option to attend in-person, hands-on training events. Rules, prizes and events are still being developed but will also be posted on the website when they are finalized. In 2013, prizes were awarded for the longest python removed and the most pythons removed.

Burmese pythons continue to plague the Everglades region, but there are currently no reliable population estimates due to an exceedingly low rate of detection. For this reason, goals of the challenge are to raise public awareness and expand public participation by offering opportunities to actively participate in managing invasive wildlife, rather than determine the effects of the competition on python populations. However, data from the large sample size removed in 2013 were used by partners to better understand seasonal behaviors of the snakes.

Citizens are encouraged to participate in managing Florida’s invasive species in a variety of other ways as well. The Python Removal Program is a citizen science program in which trained and permitted individuals can remove snakes and other invasive reptiles from state lands, but is not a hunting or recreational program. Several state lands also allow hunters to remove Burmese pythons during open hunting seasons and some offer Conditional Reptiles Seasons. Burmese pythons and other invasive species can also be removed from private lands year round. The public is advised to report sightings of nonnative species in Florida to FWC’s Exotic Species Hotline 888-IVE-GOT1 (888-483-4681), and spread the message of responsible pet ownership.

As leaders in wildlife science, management and conservation, The Wildlife Society offers its position on a number of important wildlife issues across North America. Read The Wildlife Society’s position on invasive species here.

Nick WesdockNick Wesdock is The Wildlife Society’s Operations Assistant. You can follow him on Twitter at @nick_wesdock.

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