In a state more known for its alligators, there is a new job title: Pro python hunter.
An estimated 100,000 pythons living in and ravaging the Florida Everglades. They eat 160 animals in five years and have no enemies.
Even alligators are no match for the Burmese python. A 13-footer caught and killed recently had three baby deer in her belly.
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The invasive snakes got here after pet owners dumped them in the swamps and over the years, they have exponentially increased.
Florida Fish & Wildlife said the pythons have decimated the small mammal population. In Miami-Dade County, South Florida Water Management District decided Florida’s python problem is so big and so bad, the pay for a “python posse” to find and kill them could be the answer.
It is a two-month, $175,000 pilot program. Twenty-five python hunters get paid $8.10 an hour to drive, climb and crawl in the hot and humid Everglades, looking for snake dens and wrestle with the great beasts to the death.
“The nice thing for us, as Swamp Monkeys, looking for pythons in the first place, pythons are cool, man,” says Tom Rahill, one of the snake hunters. “They are big and I am a country boy and we get to jump on snakes.”
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Rahill founded “Swamp Apes,” a loose-knit club that specializes in not only removing pythons, but the take of veterans in Florida buggy backcountry to save the ecosystem and try to restore the natural Everglades.
Joe Detre fought in Bosnia. Now he is goals are well camouflaged constrictors.
“It is really relaxing, that is a good term to use, and only here, in nature and the search for the pythons,” he said, “there is nothing like it is.”
In seven weeks, the 25 pros have killed and removed 149 pythons. The longest was a 16-foot. Most are in the 7-, 8 – and 9-metre range. The hunters also get $50 for every snake that they pocket, and for each foot that is longer than 4, there is an additional $25.
As veteran Tom Aycock and his wife Melanie please note, it is a difficult and tedious mission.
“We can log in many, many hours, sometimes days and days without finding a python,” Aycock said. “And then there are the days we’ll be found, 13 in one day,” says Melanie.
Florida has twice held well-publicized “Python Challenges,” where the 1,500 amateur snake hunters from across the country put their argument skills to the test. But Water District Chairman Dan O’keefe said with the 25-experts, and pay them, turns out to be much more effective.
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“These are people who are passionate about the Everglades,” O’keefe said. “They are passionate about dealing with the problem of the pythons. They are here on a regular basis, they know where to look. They know where the snakes and they have good results.”
Because of that, O’keefe said he anticipates making the program permanent, which can generate one of the coolest business cards in the state, “professional python hunter.”
Rahill, of Swamp Apies, said that it is a no-brainer.
“They have no place for them,” he said. “They don’t belong here.”
About half of the pythons captured and killed were women. And any woman can lay about 40 eggs per clutch, which translates into thousands of extra baby pythons that will now never be born in the vastness that is the Florida Everglades.
Phil Keating joined Fox News Channel (FNC) in March 2004 and currently serves as FNC’s Miami based correspondent.