VIDEO: Wily python nabbed at tail end of Florida’s Python Challenge
About forty pythons were captured through Thursday in Florida’s revamped Python Challenge, but organizers are staying mum about updates until the awards ceremony.
The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission confirmed late last week that more than 700 people had registered for the 10-day contest, which ended Sunday at 5 p.m.
State-licensed python hunter Mike Kimmel said on Instagram he caught eight pythons through Sunday, including one in a canal near midnight that he had to wrestle out of the water before it disappeared into the slurry.
“The Python Bowl competition is over after this weekend. I really have to make these next couple days count!” Kimmel said in a social media post.
Carli Segelson, a spokeswoman for the FWC, said the number of participants and pythons caught will likely change ahead of the Saturday awards ceremony, but the FWC would not be updating the stats past Thursday. The ceremony begins at 2:30 at Miami’s Bayfront Park.
“The Python Bowl is the ultimate contest for bragging rights among Florida's python hunters, both for professionals and all the rookies,” said Dusty Crum, who has a show called Guardians of the Glades on the Discovery Channel.
The contest is happening in partnership with Bass Pro Shops and the Miami Super Bowl Host Committee. Participants win cash prizes for the heaviest and longest pythons killed. ATVs will be given to those bagging the most pythons.
The state has held two previous python challenges in 2013 and 2016, but Gov. Ron DeSantis pledged this year it would become an annual event with a focus on training more residents on how to capture and humanely kill a python.
In 2016, more than 1,000 people from 29 states registered for the challenge, which netted 106 snakes.
Three years earlier, a month-long contest included 1,600 hunters who bagged 68 snakes.
Since then, the Water Management District and FWC have initiated programs where trained hunters are paid to kill pythons. In September, the district gave a big boost to its python-hunting program, upping the annual budget of $225,000 by $750,000 — an increase that includes doubling the number of district-sanctioned python hunters to 50.
University of Florida wildlife ecology professor Frank Mazotti has said the paid hunting program has been the most successful removal efforts to date.
Since the district’s program began in March 2017, about 2,730 pythons had been removed by its hunters through early January.
"Getting people out there remains our most effective tool for removing pythons," Mazotti said in a fall interview. "However, it's still an open question whether or not it's really impacting the python population."
This story originally published to palmbeachpost.com, and was shared to other Florida newspapers in the new Gannett Media network.