Floridians keen to protect the fragile ecosystem of the Everglades will have their mettle tested next month as the wildlife service seeks help in eradicating the giant Burmese python.
The public has been asked to join in a month-long hunt for the invasive species, which, lacking natural predators, snacks on native birds, deer, bobcats and other large animals, some of them protected.
Cash prizes as high as $1,500 will be up for grabs when January 12 kicks off a month-long program of “harvesting” the giant snakes, organized by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.
“Increasing public awareness about Burmese pythons and how this invasive species is a threat to the Everglades ecosystem, including native wildlife, is the goal of the 2013 Python Challenge,” a statement said.
The high-octane environmental challenge is open not only to “python permit holders” but also ordinary members of the public, the press release stipulated.
First found in Florida’s Everglades swamp in 1979, where it may have been abandoned by a pet owner, the Burmese python (Python molurus bivittatus) took only 21 years to become an established species there.
Current estimates indicate there are now hundreds of thousands slithering across southern Florida. In August, University of Florida scientists examined a record 5.36-metre (17-foot-seven-inch) specimen that had 87 eggs.