'Python Challenge' draws over 800 hunters to US

An armed mob set out into the Florida Everglades on Saturday to flush out a scaly invader. It sounds like the second act of a sci-fi horror flick but, really, it's pretty much Florida’s plan for dealing with an infestation of Burmese pythons that are eating their way through a fragile ecosystem.

Nearly 800 people signed up for the month-long “Python Challenge” that started Saturday afternoon. The vast majority — 749 — are members of the general public who lack the permits usually required to harvest pythons on public lands. “We feel like anybody can get out in the Everglades and figure out how to try and find these things,” said Nick Wiley, executive director of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.  “It’s very safe. People do it all the time.”

Twenty-eight python permit holders also joined the hunt at various locations in the Everglades. The state is offering cash prizes to whoever brings in the longest python and whoever bags the most pythons by the time the competition ends at midnight Feb. 10.

Dozens of would-be python hunters showed up for some last-minute training in snake handling on Saturday morning at the University of Florida Fort Lauderdale Research and Education Center in Davie.

The training came down to common sense: Drink water, wear sunscreen, don’t get bitten by anything and don’t shoot anyone.

Many of the onlookers dressed in camouflage, though they probably didn’t have to worry about spooking the snakes. They would have a much harder time spotting the splotchy, tan pythons in the long green grasses and woody brush of the Everglades.

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