South Florida water managers may amp up the state’s failing war against the Burmese python with a new weapon: a paid python posse.
On Thursday, the South Florida Water Management District will consider a proposal to hire hunters, paying them by the hour, plus a bonus for every snake killed, as part of a two-month, $175,000 pilot project. Hunters would patrol only district land in Miami-Dade County, which includes the vast water conservation area where remote tree islands offer hiding places perfectly suited for the well-camouflaged snakes.
The district declined to provide more details until after the presentation is made to the governing board.
Controlling the pythons has vexed biologists and wildlife officers who have been outgunned by the slithery invaders, which can lay clutches of up to 50 eggs at a time. The snakes started turning up in the marshes, either dumped by unhappy owners or escapees from breeding facilities, in the 1980s, and by about 2000 were firmly established. In September, state wildlife officers confirmed that pythons had also spread to the Keys after they found hatchlings for the first time.
The amount of money available for a two-month pilot program to pay hunters to slay pythons on state land in Miami-Dade County.
Over the years, biologists have tested a variety of strategies to contain the snakes, including releasing females outfitted with radio trackers to act as ‘Judas’ snakes, snake-sniffing dogs and an iPhone app that lets people immediately report a snake sighting. This past year, the state hired a pair of Irula tribesmen, whose ancestors helped hunt pythons to extinction in India, to track down snakes. And, while it failed to significantly reduce the number of snakes and was largely meant to enlighten the public, the state’s Python Challenge drew the most attention, with headlines around the world.