If you have 30 minutes and $25, and you can make your way to the Everglades, you can be a snake wrangler.
The Sunshine State is hosting a month-long "Python Challenge" beginning Jan.12 with cash prizes of up to $1,500 for the biggest snakes caught. Wildlife officials urge caution, but beyond the online course and the fee, there are no other requirements to hunt down the Burmese pythons, which can reach nearly 18 feet in length and have devastated much of the southern Florida ecosystem.
"Aside from the obvious goal of reducing the Burmese python population in the Everglades, we also hope to educate the public about Burmese pythons in Florida and how people can help limit the impact of this and other invasive species in Florida," said Carli Segelson, a spokeswoman for the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. "We are also using the Challenge to gauge the effectiveness of using an incentive-based model as one tool to address a challenging invasive species management problem.
The unorthodox approach is evidence of Florida wildlife officials' desperation as much as their innovation. Since the Southeast Asian species was introduced to the region by irresponsible pet owners, the population of wild pythons has exploded. Experts believe there could be tens of thousands of the giant snakes living in an 8,000-square-kilometer region of southern Florida. The voracious predators have devastated the native species like deer, bobcats and raccoons.
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