FORT MYERS, Fla. (AP) - One thousand down and another 100,000 to go.
The Python Elimination Program, run by the South Florida Water Management District, recently celebrated a milestone: the 1,000th Burmese python has been captured.
“We’ve got the best hunters this state has ever seen,” Mike Kirkland, the program’s project manager, said. “We also have a great team of district staff too and together we’ve formed this cohesive unit working together and that’s why this program has been such a success.”
Hunter Brian Hargrove captured the snake during the weekend of May 20. It measured 11 feet 2 inches long and weighed over 30 pounds. Hargrove leads the team of hunters in python eliminations with 115.
“I love looking for snakes,” Hargrove said. “I love snakes, actually. It’s kind of bittersweet on a successful hunt always, but I also love the Everglades.”
Hargrove grew up in the Everglades and said he has seen the deterioration of the ecosystem first hand. Experts say there are between 10,000 and 100,000 pythons in the Everglades. It is difficult to tell because the snakes are experts at hiding.
“I don’t know the exact numbers, but all I can say is that I’ve seen one rabbit and one deer and over 115 pythons,” he said.
The program began last April when a team of 25 professional python hunters were selected from a pool of over 1,000 applicants to eliminate pythons in Miami-Dade County. The initiative later expanded to Broward, Collier and Palm Beach counties after the pilot phase successfully eliminated 158 snakes in a little over two months.
Programs like the district’s and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission’s Python Removal Contractor Program are important to keeping the ecosystem in the Everglades intact. Burmese pythons are an invasive species that “breeds and multiplies quickly, has no natural predator in the Everglades ecosystem, (and) has decimated native populations of wildlife,” according to the district.