A Leigh Acres man is $1,000 richer today after killing the longest Burmese python snake - 14 feet, 3 inches - during this month's 2013 Python Challenge in the Florida Everglades, a killing program sponsored by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission to rid the Everglades of perhaps thousands of snakes, which is an invasive species that is killing small mammals in great numbers in the River of Grass.
Paul Shannon won the thousand dollar check on Saturday in a Miami ceremony at the conclusion of the 2013 Python Challenge that has been underway since Jan. 12. It ended Saturday, Feb. 10, but not before a horde of snake hunters trekked or used airboats through the Everglades looking for the evasive snake that can grow up to 14 feet long and attack and eat a deer.
State officials are concerned because the snake, not native to the area, has no predator and could kill many of the local species that populate the Everglades. The snake population apparently began with owners of pet snakes setting them loose when they became too big to keep at home.
Paul Shannon of Lehigh Acres shows the snake he shot and eventually won a thousand bucks for because it was the longest snake killed during the month-long Python Challenge in the Everglades.
Today, it is against the law to own a Burmese python snake and it is against the law to bring them across the state line.
Florida Wildlife officials said there may be as many as 100,000 Burmese pythons living in the vast swamps between Naples and Miami. So the killing of only 68 such snakes had to be a disappointment to wildlife officials, but they are spinning a positive reaction that the snakes, which will be studied, will help with future research - and likely for another Python Challenge next year, but no such hunt has yet been announced.
The winners were selected this past weekend in Miami at an event outside the Miami Zoo. Those who killed snakes in different categories were awarded checks. Before any of them could take part in the snake hunt, they had to get permits from the Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. They could use guns or machetes to destroy the snakes.
Shannon and a team of friends, including Brian Barrows of Fort Myers, led the competition for amateur snake hunters, winning $1.500 for killing six snakes. Shannon said he saw the big snake coiled up and then slithering through the mud. According to reports, the snake fought being pulled out and in defense lunged at a friend of Shannon.
But Shannon quickly raised his hands with a gun and put two shots in its head and that dropped the snake. Shannon said the snake when viewed as coiled up reached four feet and that the snake's head was as big as Shannon's hand.
"I have nightmares about that vision of it coiled up, ready to strike again," Shannon said.
Other snakes caught by Barrows and Shannon's team ranged from seven to nine feet in length. During the six days during the month-long hunt, Shannon's airboat was headed toward remote tree islands, in an attempt to find snakes sunning themselves on dry land.
Barrows said it was shocking to see the massive 14-foot snake.
"You don't think these things exist out there but they do ... they're out there and they're big," Barrows said.
Nearly 1,600 people from 38 states and Canada each paid $25 for a permit and finished an online training course to compete in the state-sponsored hunt.
Some people believe that if the large population of Burmese pythons is not eliminated, the snakes could eventually be found in people's backyards from Fort Myers, Naples to Miami and counties in between. The snakes can consume small pets and even small children. And if it can devour a deer, it could attack a human with lethal consequences.
Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission Executive Director Nick Wiley said at the zoo Saturday that the enthusiastic support from the public, elected officials, conservation organizations, government agencies and researchers gives hope that "we can make progress on this difficult conservation challenge by working together."
The group insisted it initiated the hunt to raise public awareness about the invasive species in Florida, to gain more specimens for lab study and to get GPS locations for known Burmese pythons.
Officials say female python snakes can lay up to 100 eggs, enough to speed up the population of the unwanted species very fast.
The winners were:
- The $1,000 First Place Prize for harvesting the longest Burmese python went to Shannon in the General Competition, and Ruben Ramirez, who harvested a 10-foot, 6.8-inch-long python in the Python Permit Holders Competition.
- The $1,500 Grand Prize for harvesting the most pythons went to Brian Barrows, who harvested six pythons in the General Competition, and Ramirez, who harvested 18 pythons in the Python Permit Holders Competition.
- The Second Place Prize of $750 in the most-harvested category went to Bill Booth, who harvested five pythons in the General Competition, and Blake Russ, who harvested five pythons in the Python Permit Holders Competition.
- The Second Place Prize of $750 in the longest snake category went to Rigoberto Figueroa, for a 14-foot, 2.3-inch-long python in the General Competition, and Ramirez, who harvested a 10-foot, 3.6-inch-long python in the Python Permit Holders Competition.