A trio of newly minted amateur snake hunters made the most shocking discovery of their young careers this month, when they encountered a “monster” 18-foot, 104-pound Burmese python slithering across a Florida highway. It turns out that August is all about snake hunting in the state, as the 10-day Python Challenge encourages hundreds of hunters to catch as many of the dangerous predators as possible. Read on to find out why.
On Aug. 6, three college students found the snake on Highway 41 near Big Cypress National Preserve in the southern part of the state. “Immediately as we spotted it, we all screamed and jumped out of the car,” said Josh Laquis, a student at nearby Rollins College, on Fox 35. He and two friends grabbed the creature’s head, body, and tail, and hoisted it into a pickup truck.
Snake hunting just for fun, the trio had driven around for about two hours before they made their surprising find. “We didn’t have high expectations to catch anything too big,” Laquis told the Miami Herald. “We were looking in the grass at the side of the road hoping to spot something when a monster slithered right in front of the truck.”
“With a snake this big, we were lucky there was three of us, because if it was just one person trying to fight it, it would have probably gotten away,” said Stephen Gauta, a member of the trio.
Laquis said each hunter held the snake on their shoulders for pictures and “could feel the power of it around their necks.”
“I’m really into extreme sports—skydiving, base jumping, paragliding—anything that could give me a scare,” he added. “When I heard they had such a big animal in Florida, I already enjoyed capturing snakes, even if they are a lot smaller, I thought that was something that could be exciting.”
The captured snake clocked in at 18 feet and 104 pounds. It isn’t the biggest Burmese python ever caught in Florida’s Everglades—that one was a 214-pound female which was incubating 122 eggs—but it may be the biggest ever captured by amateurs. Unfortunately, the three college students weren’t aware they could have qualified for other bragging rights. On Aug. 5, Florida launched its annual snake-hunting contest, the Python Challenge.
Florida’s “Python Challenge” is an annual 10-day contest in which people can hunt Burmese pythons, which are considered harmful to the local wildlife and ecosystem. The invasive species is believed to have been introduced to the area in the 1970s, as exotic pets released into the wild. It eats birds, mammals, and reptiles—even alligators and white-tailed deer. “In the decades since the Asian reptiles have been here, 90 to 95% of fur-bearing mammals in Everglades National Park and surrounding wildlands are gone,” the Fort Myers News-Press reported.
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More than 800 hunters have registered for cash prizes in this year’s Python Challenge. The top jackpot: $10,000 for the most snakes caught, while whoever nabs the longest python will get $1,500. Since 2000, more than 17,000 pythons have been removed via the contest (a mere drop in the bucket, as it turns out: It’s estimated there are more than 100,000 Burmese pythons in the state).
“The Florida Everglades is an iconic habitat in Florida and removing Burmese pythons from this ecosystem is critical to the survival of the species that live in this vast wild area,” Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission Chairman Rodney Barreto said in a statement.