While a big chunk of the country is embroiled in a political and philosophical discussion about the role of guns in civil society and the role of government in regulating those guns--some are even thinking we should make a conscientious effort to pare down the gun violence--Florida is inviting you to drop in, grab a rifle and go shoot yourself some snakes. As many as you want, it turns out--and you don't have to be a resident of the state. The Florida government will even pay you for your trouble, if your catch is big enough.
So goes the state's Python Challenge 2013, a fun-loving, all-American, wholesome hunt fest that kicked off Saturday. Through Feb. 16, armed US citizens will be traipsing through the state's vast everglades to bag as many Burmese pythons as they can, with the hopes of nabbing a $1,500 cash prize the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission is offering to whomever hauls in the most and longest serpents.
The idea, apart from baiting Floridians into doing the commission's dirty work, is to "raise public awareness" about how the invasive Burmese python is essentially taking over the Everglades ecosystem.
The Challenge is "a pilot program that the [commission] will use to determine if incentive-based harvesting of Burmese pythons is an effective tool that will contribute to greater harvesting of this invasive species," the commission says.
Sidenote: See how he didn't mention the words "kill" or "dead" or "capture" or even "hunt?" This is the first state in the union to have adopted the "stand your ground" law--you know, the one being used to defend the man who shot and killed Trayvon Martin--which essentially absolves a person who shoots another person of wrongdoing, so long as they tell police it was self defense. For a state so seemingly blasé about gun violence, the commission's closely manicured language is kind of almost comical.
Details of the devastating impact and threat the python poses to the biodiversity of the Everglades was blown open in a New Yorker feature story published a few years back. In 1992, a nasty hurricane leveled parts of the sub-tropical state and, in the process, literally picked up and relocated an estimated 15,000 animals that had been in captivity--in an atrium, a lab, a cage, a backyard. Not surprisingly, a lot of those animals never came back and were never accounted for. The kicker? This could only have happened in Florida, an import hub of exotic animals, the exchange of which is highly lucrative and, in some cases, highly illegal.
In many other states in the continental US, the scattering of these animals might not have been as big a problem. After all, reptiles and amphibians are pretty sensitive to habitat changes. But it just so happens that Burmese pythons are particularly happy in the vast expanses of the Everglades. And they've flourished: In the past 10 years, the pythons have taken over. In the New Yorker article, tourists watch one of the massive snakes wrestle the life out of an alligator--kind of a microcosmic metaphor for the arrival of the new dominant species on the block.
Wildlife experts, including officials at the commission, have concluded that the only way to combat the spread of pythons is to exterminate them. But before waging war, they'll need some troops. That's essentially where the Python Competition comes in.
The serpents--as far as we know--can grow up to 17 feet in length. The contest entry fee to "harvest" them, as the commission likes to say, is $25 per person. Let the hunt begin.