A Burmese python. Photo courtesy Kevin Enge/FWC
MIAMI, FL (CBSMiami) - Are you ready to go on a snake hunt? The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission will hold its 2013 Python Challenge beginning the weekend of January 12th.
The two main goals are to increase public awareness about Burmese pythons and how they're disrupting native wildlife in the Everglades and allow hunters to remove as many as possible.
Nearly 400 people from 17 states have signed up for the month-long python hunt which features prizes of $1,000 for catching the longest snake and $1,500 for catching the most snakes.
"The FWC is encouraging the public to get involved in helping us remove Burmese pythons from public lands in South Florida," said Kristen Sommers, head of the FWC's Exotic Species Coordination Section. "By enlisting both the public and Florida's python permit holders in a month-long competitive harvesting of Burmese pythons, we hope to motivate more people to find and harvest these large, invasive snakes. The Python Challenge gives people a chance to sign up for a competition to see who can catch the longest or the most pythons.
GALLERY: SOUTH FLORIDA WILD PYTHON ENCOUNTERS
Many experts believe the python population exploded after Hurricane Andrew when small pythons used as pet trade animals escaped from several warehouses in South Dade. While these constrictor snakes can kill, it's our environment, experts say, they're hurting the most.
Pythons, native to southern Asia, are known to prey on native wading birds, deer, bobcats, alligators and other large animals such as full-grown deer.
The Burmese is one of the deadliest and most competitive predators in South Florida. With no known natural predator, population estimates for the python range in the thousands.
The largest one caught so far stretched 17 feet, seven inches and contained 87 eggs.
Hunt participants do not need hunting licenses, unless they're under 18 and all required training can be done online.
The FWC, which is supervising the hunt, said the recommended killing method is a bullet or shotgun blast to the head, or the use of captive bolt, a device use in slaughterhouses that drives a metal shaft into the brain.
The FWC will also have extra law enforcement officers on the ground for the event and will provide training on identifying venomous snakes and avoiding harm to native wildlife.
The kickoff of the event will be Saturday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the University of Florida's Fort Lauderdale Research & Education Center in Davie, which will hold an invasive species open house that day.
The challenge will conclude with a free Awareness and Awards Event on February 16 at Zoo Miami. On that day, winners of the General Competition and Python Permit Holders Competition will be presented with their awards.
To register for Python Challenge 2013 or find out more about this problem, visit the website.