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Everglades python haul low, but scientists envision wealth of new data

The numbers are relatively benign, and they didn’t change much in last weekend of the Florida Everglades great python hunt, but event sponsors are calling it nothing short of a great success.

Reports as of Friday were that 50 Burmese pythons had been captured during the month-long chase that ended at midnight Sunday, and Sunday evening, Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission spokesman Jorge Pino said he wasn’t aware whether the total had increased.

Still, he called ridding the Everglades of any of the hugely invasive predators that have caused havoc with the ecosystem, and which have been seen challenging top-of-the-food-chain alligators for supremacy, nothing short of fantastic.

“We’ll have a better handle on the exact numbers by late Monday or Tuesday,” Pino said. “But undoubtedly for us, it’s a complete success. You can argue it’s not a huge number, but its 50 pythons not in the ecosystem causing havoc.”

Hunters had to register with the wildlife commission, take a quick online course, and follow specific humane rules the commission determined were best fit to kill the Southeast Asian native monsters that can grow to close to 20 feet long. The pythons can be legally killed only by a gunshot to the head or by beheading with a machete.

Hunters have until 5 p.m. Monday to turn in what they have captured. They can keep the skins to do with as they wish. Prizes of up to $1,500 for the most pythons caught, and $1,000 for largest python captured, will be awarded at Zoo Miami on Saturday.

No one knows exactly how the Burmese python made its way to South Florida, but it has been around for decades, and multiplying at an alarming rate. It’s not uncommon to find females carrying dozens upon dozens of eggs. The largest python caught to date was 17.5 feet long and weighed 164 pounds, though six to nine feet is more typical in the Everglades.

Scientists estimate there are now tens of thousands of slithery reptiles — that used to be common as pets — in the wild. Though they are large, they are extremely difficult to spot, often hiding among weeds or in dark water.

Last year the Obama administration banned the importation of four species of constrictor, including the Burmese pythons. It is also illegal to keep them as pets unless you can produce paperwork showing you had the creature prior to July 2010.

Pino said by Monday night his agency should have a better feel for the totals, but, he said, that really doesn’t matter.

“The data we’ll get will be unbelievable,” he said.