After snake-killing successes, Florida python patrol gets more money

December 2017 python elimination program update

South Florida Water Management District presents a December 2017 python elimination program update.
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South Florida Water Management District presents a December 2017 python elimination program update.

Paying hunters to bag pythons is turning out to be a decent business model.

A popular program launched by the South Florida Water Management District, which has drawn celebrities and politicians and generated a good amount of positive buzz, has so far captured 753 invasive snakes, including a monster 17-footer snagged last week. The district cost? Nearly $160,000, or about $209 a snake.

On Thursday, the district governing board agreed to spend another $125,000 on the effort and expand the hunt, which covers Miami-Dade, Broward and Collier counties, to Palm Beach County.

“I don’t like spending another $125,000 of taxpayer money but I think this is a priority and it’s a good place to spend it,” governing board chairman Dan O’Keefe said.

ramsay python
Earlier this year, celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay and his son headed out with hunters hired by the South Florida Water Management District to remove invasive snakes from marshes. South Florida Water Management District

Land resources bureau chief Rory Feeney said Thursday that the effort ranks as the most effective attempt yet — although maybe not the most creative. Since they first appeared, wildlife managers have been struggling to find a way to control the elusive snakes blamed for gobbling up small mammals across the Everglades. The snakes are now considered the top predator in marshes also struggling with decades of flood control and facing new threats from sea rise.

They have sent “Judas” snakes equipped with trackers, hired tribal snake hunters from India and dispatched snake-sniffing dogs. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, which first introduced the idea of paying a bounty for snakes with its popular Python Challenge, also now pays hunters.

While the posse — hunters get paid $8.10 an hour plus a bounty for each snake — won’t likely dent the infestation, Feeney said the number of snakes so far captured could have consumed about 100,000 small mammals. The hunt is also turning up some interesting statistics on the elusive snakes: Most have been captured at night and been between eight and nine feet long. Hunters have also captured most along three Miami-Dade County levees and in the Rocky Glades.

The district is also in talks to include the 150,000-acre Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge in its push into Palm Beach County, Feeney said. Everglades National Park, where snakes have caused the most damage, runs a separate removal program because hunting is not allowed in national parks.

lopez cantera python
Lt. Gov. Carlos Lopez-Cantera tagged along on a hunt that snagged a 15-foot python in May. South Florida Water Management District

Follow Jenny Staletovich on Twitter @jenstaletovich