An experimental program to reduce the population of invasive Burmese pythons in the Everglades will pick up again later this month and expand to two additional counties.
South Florida Water Management District governing board members agreed Thursday to continue the innovative hunt, which ended June 1 with 158 snakes killed and about 2,000 eggs taken out of the ecosystem.
A formal vote was not taken, but board members gave the go-ahead to expand the program on district lands in Collier and Broward counties. It was previously only in Miami-Dade County. The new hunt will begin June 17 and run through Sept. 30.
“We had one hunter who was able to collect more than $5,000,” said Rory Feeney, the district’s land resources bureau chief. “He was out there day and night, and got more than 30 snakes. It was amazing.”
The heaviest snake killed weighed 144 pounds. About half were female.
Final python tally through June 1:
- Total pythons: 158
- Total length: 1,369 feet
- Total weight: 3,725 pounds
- Total hunting hours: 3,003
- Hourly pay: $24,054
- Cash bonuses: $24,450
- Total cost: $49,504
- Remaining budget balance: $125,496
“This might have very significant impacts,” said board chairman Dan O’Keefe about the 2,000 eggs that were taken.
Twenty-five hunters were chosen for the program, which began March 25. They earned minimum wage — $8.10 per hour — and were paid bonuses based on snake length.
Hunters earned a total of $49,504, including $24,054 in hourly pay and $25,450 in bonuses.
That’s just 40 percent of the $175,000 budgeted for the hunt.
“All the wildlife guys said it was going to be a big bust,” said district executive director Peter Antonacci last week. “I think it exceeded our expectations.”
Frustration over the unbridled spread of the Burmese python, which eats everything from mice to alligators and has no natural predators in the Everglades, spurred the creation of the district’s program.
Since the program’s start, the FWC created a similar plan to pay contract hunters minimum wage. It also launched a drop-off program that awards prizes for pythons caught by residents.
Last year more than 1,000 people from 29 states registered for the python contest, which netted 106 snakes, including one that was 15 feet long.
Antonacci said the Water Management District’s program was met with skepticism.
“All the wildlife guys said it was going to be a big bust,” he said. “I think it exceeded our expectations.”