Last week I was telling you folks about the northern spread of the Burmese Python in Florida and how in recent weeks they’ve been popping up in some really, unexpected places. Since my last column, two different presumably wild pythons, as they wore no microchip, were captured near Orlando and Miami; one a ball python and the other an Indian red-tail. Things are definitely a bit wilder out there in our wilds these days!
In order to learn more about the problem, I’d driven south to the Everglades for a weekend hunt with America’s number one python man, the Wildman, Dusty Crum. Dusty’s hit show on Discovery, Guardians of the Glades, has really shined a spotlight on the invasive species problem here in Florida, creating enough public awareness that Governor, Ron Desantis has pledged to double the current budget for fighting back against the invasion. Currently, there are two teams of hunters organized to combat the spread of these destructive reptiles and they surely have their hands full.
First, is the twenty-five members of the South Florida Water Management District’s, Python Elimination Program. This program, having begun in March of 2017, has proven to be the most successful by far, having captured an amazing 2,300 Burmese pythons as of August 2nd of this year. The overall length of these snakes has been measured nearly fifteen thousand feet; twice the maximum depth of the Grand Canyon and them some!
Having hunted with members of the Python Elimination Program’s team of hunters, Dusty Crum, Gregory Morris and Mike Kimmel, I can assure you that it is not at all an easy task. Once spotted, the hunters move in with great caution and skill to subdue the snakes barehanded and capture them alive. With years of experience behind them, they have trained their eyes to the task and can spot the tiniest piece of python visible in the jungle-like wetlands of our Everglades. And, the difficulty in spotting the big reptiles is why there has been a fair turnover in talent for the program.
According to Dusty, “A lot of guys get really amped up and excited to come down here to hunt pythons, but never find a snake. After a while, they just grow frustrated, give up and quit. It takes a lot of patience and commitment.”
I asked what the odds are of a new hunter just showing up on the job, finding success.
“It’s happened,” Dusty noted with a shrug. “People get lucky, but most struggle at first. For instance the Python Challenge that was last hosted a few years ago, we had sixteen hundred hunters signed up, but only turned in sixty-eight snakes. And forty of those were turned in by myself and Rueben Ramirez (a fellow licensed hunter in the PEP). So, out of the rest of the sixteen hundred amateur hunters, only eighteen found a python.”
The second program active in fighting back the Python invasion is ran by our Florida Wildlife Commission. They maintain a team of nearly fifty licensed hunters contracted to eradicate as many snakes as possible. Unfortunately, any requests to join their hunters and learn their uber-scientific techniques have been denied and it appears that for the time being, their program is thinly-veiled. Perhaps it’s due to their high-dollar lack of comparable success, having finally removed their five-hundredth snake out of the wilds in recent months.
Now, aside from the Burmese python, having recently been found in Hernando County, there have been a number of unconfirmed sightings of Burmese pythons as far north as the Swanee River. So, where will the population end up? That’s the million dollar question. There are a lot of conflicting opinions amongst members of the scientific community, but please be aware out in the field this year.
Wherever you happen to be, keep your eyes open for the Burmese python. And, if you should encounter one, by all means kill it and report it to the Florida Wildlife Commission, MyFWC.com, or the United States Geological Service, USGS.Gov. Know this…. we outdoorsmen are the greatest asset that they can have for tracking the northward expansion of the Burmese python, so remain vigilant and report any encounters. If you have any feedback, give me a shout at [email protected].