A Burmese python. Photo courtesy Kevin Enge/FWC
MIAMI, Florida (AP) - A public hunt for Burmese pythons in Florida's Everglades won't be repeated next year, a Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission spokeswoman said Monday.
Instead, the state is beefing up established programs that train licensed hunters and people who regularly work in areas known to contain pythons to kill or report exotic snakes.
"Certainly our work is not done with pythons," said wildlife commission spokeswoman Carli Segelson.
The state-sponsored Python Challenge attracted roughly 1,600 hunters in January and February and made headlines worldwide. It netted 68 of the invasive snakes, the longest measuring more than 14 feet, but officials said the number of pythons caught wasn't as important as the data collected during the hunt. University of Florida researchers still are analyzing that data.
Segelson said the hunt met the commission's primary goal of raising awareness about Florida's problem with pythons and invasive species, and there will not be another python hunt next year.
It's unknown how many pythons live in Florida's Everglades. Researchers say the large snakes are among the invasive species that are eating native wildlife at an alarming rate.
State and federal wildlife officials are exploring other ways to manage the python population, including radio tracking devices, snake-sniffing dogs and specially designed traps patented by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
During the Python Challenge, experienced hunters had more success than the hundreds of amateurs who signed up, so the state is focusing on honing their expertise to harvest pythons in the wild, Segelson said.
The state wildlife commission already allows people with special permits to remove pythons and other non-native snakes from designated wildlife management areas. A partnership with The Nature Conservancy and Everglades National Park will continue to train people who regularly work in areas known to contain pythons - such as law enforcement officers, utility workers and students doing research - to kill or report non-native snakes, Segelson.
The state also will reach out to licensed hunters to train and encourage them to harvest pythons while they're out in search of other animals during open hunting seasons on designated lands, Segelson said.
Florida prohibits possession or sale of the pythons for use as pets, and federal law bans the importation and interstate sale of the species.
The wildlife commission urges people to report sightings of pythons and other exotic species to 888-IVE-GOT-1 or www.ivegot1.org.
People also can surrender exotic animals with no questions asked as part of the state's pet amnesty program. Since 2006, 70 pythons have been handed over, including three at an amnesty event over the weekend, Segelson said.