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Florida wildlife officials introduce python killing challenge

Posted at 6:32 PM, Dec 06, 2012

Looking for a challenge in the New Year, coupled with a winter trip to Florida and a chance to win $1,500 dollars?

Well the first-ever Python Challenge in Florida might be your thing.

It’s an opportunity to participate in what the Simpsons called “Whacking Day,” back in 1993—except 20 years later, it’s real life imitating art

“We are hoping to gauge from the python challenge the effectiveness of using an incentive-based model as a tool to address this problem,” says Florida Wildlife Commission spokeswoman Carli Segelson.

A grand prize of $1,500 will be awarded to the person who kills the most pythons, and $1,000 will go to the person who bags the longest one. According to the rules, road kill will not be eligible.

Participants will pay a $25 registration fee and complete an online training course. The training focuses on safety while hunting pythons.

“It’s very difficult to find these animals and we don’t really have a good strategy on how to contain this population,” said Linda Friar, spokeswoman for Everglades National Park. “This is a pilot to see if it will gain public interest.”

There are some rules though, so make sure to read all the find print about the month-long competition here:

The Burmese python is native to Southeast Asia and was first found in the Everglades in 1979, according to researchers at the University of Florida.

These snakes were determined to be an established species in 2000. It is believed that the snakes were originally pets that found their way into Everglades National Park.

The Everglades, known as the river of grass, is a vast area with a climate perfect for the pythons to hide and thrive. And thrive they do: The largest Burmese python on record was found in the Everglades in August, its 17-foot, 6-inch carcass weighing in at 164.5 pounds. Researchers at the University of Florida found 87 eggs inside the snake.

Friar told CNN earlier this year that it is believed “tens of thousands” of Burmese pythons live in the Everglades.

The snakes prey on native wildlife such as the endangered Key Largo wood rat and the endangered wood stork. The largest prey, Friar told CNN, was a 76-pound deer that was found in the stomach of a 16-foot python a few months ago.

Earlier this year, researchers at Virginia Tech University, Davidson College and the U.S. Geological Survey reported that populations of rabbits and foxes have disappeared and numbers of raccoons, opossums and bobcats have dropped as much as 99%.

In January, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service instituted a ban on the importation of Burmese pythons — along with three other species of exotic snake — and their eggs.

The Python Challenge has laid out four specific areas where the snakes can be harvested, and the park is off-limits to the general public.

“The park is very restricted on what it can do as far as animal captures and removal,” Friar said.

The python problem has spread to other wildlife management areas in the state besides the Everglades.

“We’re supportive of the state exploring various measures in order to reduce the populations outside the park,” Friar said. In the end, she said, “it will also reduce the population of the snakes that get into the park.”

According to the rules of the contest, reducing the population means killing the snakes.

“We want to make sure this is done in a humane way,” Segelson said. The competition’s website lists several ways to kill a python “in a humane manner that results in immediate loss of consciousness and destruction of the brain.”

It suggests shooting the snake in the head with a firearm or decapitating it with a machete.

Wildlife officials say the 2013 Python Challenge is not only about killing snakes. “One of things that is very important to us is to educate the public about the Burmese python and how this species is impacting the state of Florida,” Segelson said.

“We’re hoping to inform people … if they do have exotic pets that they understand the importance of not releasing them into the wild.”

The contest begins January 12 and ends at midnight on February 10.

Check out the challenge for yourself:

**Reporting from CNN contributed to this report.

Python and alligator encounter. Photo credit: National Park Service

Python and alligator encounter. Photo credit: National Park Service