Move aside Puppy Bowl…
Every year the NFL Championship is held in a different location and the host cities of the Super Bowl always stage a number of events in the weeks ahead of the contest. This year Miami is the location of Sunday’s game and in typical Florida fashion, there is a quirky dose of pre-game hype.
Florida staged a Python Bowl.
This was an organized hunt in which participants spent ten days going into the Everglades to seek out the serpents. They had categories separate for both professional and amateur hunters. The winner was Mike Kimmel, for bagging 8 of the pythons. Bonus cash prizes were handed out as well for catching the heaviest snake, as well as the longest — that winning length belonged to a 12-foot seven-inch predator. It was reported that 80 of the snakes were caught during the event.
Before you recoil and think this was a barbaric sporting lark, the entire event was government-sanctioned. The event was organized jointly by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and the South Florida Water Management District. They are partners behind the Python Elimination Program, an ongoing effort in the Everglades to deal with what has become a scourge to the ecosystem.
Pythons are a non-native species to Florida and their rapid expansion into the local environment has been nothing short of a disaster. These snakes came into the wild from pet owners releasing them, and from some animal sanctuaries that were destroyed by hurricanes. The result is that now these predators are of such a sufficiently sized population the Everglades ecosystem is on the brink. Estimates place the numbers of these snakes into the tens of thousands.
Pythons can lay nests with what is approaching 100 eggs at a time. Couple that with the fact they are thriving in the tropical climate and have no inherent predators and you can see how a population explosion is inevitable. The pythons are preying on birds to an immeasurable amount, and the local mammals are also under siege. It has been estimated the populations of raccoons, bobcats, foxes, opossums, and wild hares have been depleted by well over 90%, with some feared to be completely eradicated. White tailed deer are also endangered.
The pythons have even frequently been seen competing directly with the apex predator of the Glades — alligators. For this reason hunters are being paid to go after as many of these serpents as possible, with bounties paid out by the local wildlife commissions. Professional hunters are paid an hourly rate, and receive bonuses based on the lengths of those snakes caught.
While the Python Bowl itself is intended to underscore the issue it will now become an annual event, as the wildlife agencies are ramping up their programs and budgets are being increased for the issue. Just another detail of living in South Florida.