He made those calculations using past biological surveys and historic catch rates. The hunt was confined to state water conservation lands, representing about 60 percent of python habitat, with only 10 percent of that land easily accessible to hunters. In those areas, perhaps 10 percent of the snakes might be in spots where hunters would manage to see them. Perhaps 10 percent of those might actually be caught, a good rate even for experts.
Crunch all those numbers, Mazzotti said, and it produces about 60 snake captures, even using the maximum population estimate of 100,000.
“Snakes are notorious for having low detection percentages,” Mazzotti said. “They’re cryptic. They’ve active at night. They hide underneath things. They have a lot of habits that make them very hard to detect.”
Joe Wasilewski, a consulting biologist and veteran reptile wrangler based in South Miami-Dade who regularly works with Mazzotti on python captures, said he was pleasantly surprised by the result. The hunt was also hurt by an unusually warm January. There were no extended cold snaps to force the big constrictors out to sun themselves on rocks and levees.
“Actually, 50 snakes is a lot. I didn’t think they’d even get that many,” he said. “The main goal of this python challenge was to raise awareness and damn, it’s sure done that.”
Some hunters have expressed disappointment with the number of skins and some media critics questioned whether the python threat has been over-hyped.
But others like Amy O’Bryant, a Tampa restaurant manager, called the hunt a learning experience. After a six-hour hunt aboard an airboat with a veteran Central Florida guide, she said they didn’t see a single snake — or much wildlife at all other than birds, which she said was worrisome. O’Bryant, a veteran alligator hunter, said the Burmese python was a particularly difficult quarry.
“From what they say and how many are supposed to be out there, I was definitely expecting to see one and for sure to get one,” she said. “I’m sure we rode by plenty of snakes but we just didn’t see them.”
The FWC, said spokeswoman Segelson, has not yet decided whether it will hold another python challenge.