Landmark catch in Florida’s pay-for-python program

A nearly year-old program by the South Florida Water Management District that pays hunters for python kills hit a landmark number this week with the 900th invasive snake nabbed.

The python elimination program pays a team of trained hunters minimum wage plus bonuses based on snake length.

An average of three pythons have been eliminated per day from water management lands since the program began in March 2017.

Related: The Prince of Darkness goes on a python hunt

“This (water management district) Governing Board program has been enormously effective in killing this relentless predator in an effort to preserve native Everglades wildlife,” said district scientist Mike Kirkland, project manager for the Python Elimination Program. “The sheer numbers and the sizes of the snakes being caught demonstrate how massive a threat these predators are to our beautiful habitat.”

Related: Pythons ran amok in the Everglades until these guys showed up

According to the district:

Hunter Eric Bramblet dispatched the 900th python in Collier County, a 5.5-foot long snake. This record high total comes as SFWMD observes National Invasive Species Awareness Week, Feb. 26-March 2, which is meant to bring attention to the problem of exotic and invasive plants and animals that are wreaking havoc on ecosystems throughout the world.

In addition to the innovative program fighting the spread of Burmese pythons, the SFWMD Governing Board for years has budgeted millions of dollars in cooperation with other state and federal partners to eradicate and control invasive species such as Melaleuca, Brazilian pepper trees and the invasive fern Lygodium.

Dusty “Wildman” Crum with previous record python kill of 16-foot-10-inch snake in May. The image of the cat in the back is part of a trail head.

Python suffering? State responds to PETA concerns about video

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission has responded to concerns that state-sanctioned Burmese python hunts are cruel and may be causing undue suffering on the invasive species.

In a letter this month to People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, FWC defends the programs that encourage contractors and members of the public to remove the damaging snakes from the Everglades ecosystem.

“Members of the public are encouraged to lethally remove pythons to help reduce the threat of this species to our native ecosystem,” wrote Harold “Bud” Vielhauer in a letter to PETA dated Jan. 5.

Related: The Prince of Darkness goes on a #@$%$ python hunt. 

PETA complained about the hunts last month after articles were written about the record 17-foot snake captured by Jason Leon, a contract hunter for the South Florida Water Management District.

A video taken by water management district officials shows Leon explaining how he caught the python and shot it in the head and later in the neck.

PETA said the only humane way to euthanize a python is with a “penetrating captive-bolt gun or gunshot to the brain.

“Proper positioning for the penetration of the captive-bolt or firearm projectile is critical because of the unique physiological characteristics of reptiles, who require immediate destruction of the brain in order to avoid undue pain and suffering,’” wrote Lori Kettler, PETA deputy general counsel.

PETA requested an investigation into the water management district’s program, and others overseen by the FWC.

Since the district’s python elimination program began in March 2017, 877 snakes have been removed from the Everglades.

Vielhauer explains that the commission is committed to “engaging the public in Everglades conservation through invasive species removal,” and mentions no intent to initiate an investigation.

“The Burmese python is an invasive species that has become established in South Florida, including the Florida Everglades and poses a serious threat to native wildlife,” Vielhauer wrote.

Related: Pythons ran amok in the Everglades until these hired guns showed up. 

Florida invasive species experts have said the water management district’s python hunt has been the most successful in catching the voracious predators and bringing attention to the problem.

A native to Asia, the Burmese python is considered one of the largest snakes in the world. FWC’s website says it was likely introduced into the Everglades by accident or intentional releases by pet owners. While not venomous, “the giant constrictors have thrived, assuming a top position on the food web.”

Dusty “Wildman” Crum with previous record python kill of 16-foot-10-inch snake in May. The image of the cat in the back is part of a trail head.

In a statement, the district says all python killings “must be conducted in a humane manner.”

WATCH: Epic battle between python and alligator caught on video.

“Rules of the Python Elimination Program direct all participating hunters to follow American Veterinary Medical Association guidelines in the eradication of these snakes,” the statement said. “District staff review all claims/complaints levied against the program’s hunters and will continue to enforce the rules of the program.”

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Why this happened to the landmark python hunting program

Hunters paid to track and kill invasive pythons have taken 760 of the voracious snakes out of the Everglades since a landmark program began in March.

The South Florida Water Management District, which pays minimum wage plus cash prizes based on snake size, approved the plan only as a temporary experiment.

VIDEO: Watch Dusty “Wildman” Crum wrestle nearly 17-foot python. 

But with the bounty of snakes caught, which cumulatively weigh 11,643 pounds, the water management district’s board agreed to spend another $125,000 on the program to extend it.

The unanimous vote last week was made after a convincing presentation that outlined python hunt details, including that the total length of the snakes end-to-end was 5,211 feet, and that hunters earned cash payments of $97,475.

The longest python caught was a hefty 17-feet, one-inch.

Hunters, who have included celebrity chefs and politicians, have also earned a name for themselves for their tenacity and character.

Dusty “Wildman” Crum is well known for his barefoot hunting strategy and ability to wrestle snakes to submission.

WATCH: Python vs. alligator in epic battle for survival. 

Dusty “Wildman” Crum with previous record python kill of 16-foot-10-inch snake in May. The image of the cat in the back is part of a trail head marker.

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.

Florida is trying myriad ways to reduce the python population, which is estimated to be in the tens of thousands.

Celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay and his son, Jack, pose with SFWMD Python Hunter Kyle Penniston and Jason Catarineau and two of the three Burmese pythons they eliminated on Saturday. 

Geneticists work in labs identifying python whereabouts by testing water samples for their DNA. Expert snake hunters from the Irula tribe in India were hired by the University of Florida to search for snakes.

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission holds python-hunting contests in which cash prizes are won based on the quantity and the length of snakes.

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.

Florida Lt. Gov. Carlos Lopez-Cantera with 15-foot-4-inch python.

Video: Python kill tested Dusty “Wildman” Crum like never before

A massive python weighing 122 pounds was stalked and killed by Dusty “Wildman” Crum, who said the hunt tested him like no other has.

The python, an invasive snake that hurts the natural Everglades eco-system, was 16-foot-11-inches long. It was a record catch even for veteran serpent hunter Crum, whose previous record-holder was an inch shorter.

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Crum said he found the snake in the water at about 11 p.m. Oct. 26.

“It was an unbelievable match,” Crum said. “I’ve never been tested like that before.”

Crum, an orchid dealer in Venice, Fla., is hunting python as part of a program started by the South Florida Water Management District in March.

Video: Epic battle between python and alligator. 

Dusty Crum

The district pays approved hunters minimum wage – $8.10 per hour – to hunt and kill pythons. Hunters can earn incentives starting at $50 for a 4-foot-long snake and $25 for each additional foot above that.

Since the beginning of the program, district hunters have taken 638 pythons out of the Everglades.

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The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission has a similar program with 22 paid hunters who began their python pursuit April 15. In addition to the paid hunters, FWC launched its Python Pickup Program that encourages people to kill pythons by offering prizes such as T-shirts, $100 gas cards, Yeti tumblers, GoPro cameras and other gear.

To be eligible for prizes, people must send a photo of the dead python to pythons@myfwc.com with their name, address, T-shirt size and information on where the snake was captured.

Dusty “Wildman” Crum with previous record python kill of 16-foot-10-inch snake in May. The image of the cat in the back is part of a trail head.

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This celebrity joined the hunt for pythons in Florida, killing three snakes

Celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay joined the fight against Florida’s invasive Burmese pythons recently, cooking up his catch on a levee near where one of the snakes was found.

The Emmy-nominated chef tagged along with one of the South Florida Management District’s python hunters, catching three snakes in western Miami-Dade County.

A Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission spokeswoman said Burmese pythons from Everglades National Park have been found to have very  high levels of mercury.

“Therefore, meat from pythons harvest in Florida may not be recommended for human consumption,” according to the FWC website.

An email sent to Ramsay’s press agent was not immediately returned.

The python hunt was part of an upcoming segment for his latest series, The F Word with Gordon Ramsay, which airs Wednesday on Fox.

Video: Florida’s lieutenant governor digs up massive Everglades python.

Their kills bring the total number of invasive pythons eliminated by the SFWMD Governing Board’s Python Elimination program to 317 snakes in four months.

Celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay and his son, Jack, pose with SFWMD Python Hunter Kyle Penniston and Jason Catarineau and two of the three Burmese pythons they eliminated on Saturday. Ramsay went on a python hunt with Penniston for an upcoming episode of his live show, THE F WORD WITH GORDON RAMSAY, on FOX.

Video: Dusty “Wildman” Crum catches nearly 17-foot python in Everglades hunt. 

The South Florida Water Management District approved the python hunt earlier this year. The job pays minimum wage plus bonuses based on the length of the snake.

Ramsay hunted with Kyle Penniston and Jason Catarineau.

“It was a blast hunting with the Ramsays and they were very respectful of what we are doing here in the Everglades, fighting these invasive predators to save the ecosystem,” said Penniston, who has hunted snakes for years but tasted python for the first time this weekend when he ate Ramsay’s cooking. “What an honor to have my first taste of python cooked by Chef Ramsay.”

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Hunters average 3 python kills per day since program restart

Python hunters have averaged three kills per day since an experimental program to reduce their population in the Everglades restarted June 17.

In total, the 25 hunters chosen for the program have taken 234 invasive pythons out of the Everglades since the hunt began March 25.

The original program sunset June 1, but South Florida Water Management Governing Board members agreed to continue it through Sept. 30.

Check The Palm Beach Post radar map.

Python hunter Donna Kalil and one of her kills from the recent restart of the water management district’s python hunt.

One of the most successful hunters, Dusty “Wildman” Crum, brought in a snake on Monday that had 73 eggs in it, he told Channel 10 news in Miami.

Crum holds the record for the largest snake brought in with a python that was nearly 17-feet long.

VIDEO: Watch Dusty “Wildman” Crum stalk and catch nearly 17-foot python. 

In a video of the python takedown, Crum stalks the snake barefoot in a heap of underbrush and wrestles it out, ending up on the ground himself.

“That’s a big snake, boys,” Crum said into the camera. “That’s how we do it in the Everglades, son.”

Ruben Ramirez with one of his pythons caught since the program restarted June 17.

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Python kill reaches 100 and beyond as time runs out

More than 100 pythons have been killed since March 25 in an experimental program to cull populations of the invasive snake in the Everglades.

The South Florida Water Management District announced the milestone this week as after the 102nd snake was recorded.

Related: See map of where hundreds of gators were caught last year in Palm Beach County

Monday night alone, four pythons were killed, including during a hunt that Lt. Gov. Carlos Lopez-Cantera participated in.

The program, which pays hunters minimum wage plus bonuses based on snake length, is scheduled to end June 1 unless the water management district’s board agrees to extend it.

So far, 102 pythons measuring a combined length of more than 930 feet, the equivalent of more than two and a half football fields, have been eliminated from the Everglades by SFWMD python hunters. That is an average of nearly two snakes killed per day.
At least 40 percent of the snakes eliminated have been females, many found with 30 to 80 eggs inside that were also destroyed. This prevented the birth of more than 1,500 more of the invasive predators this year alone.
Kyle Penniston, of Homestead, captured the milestone 100th snake, a 4-foot-long python killed on the banks of the C-111 Canal in South Miami-Dade County. Penniston has killed more than 20 pythons in the last three years.
Hunter Kyle Penniston caught the 100th python. Courtesy South Florida Water Management District

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Video: Dusty “Wildman” Crum stalks, kills 16-foot-10-inch python in waning days of snake hunt

Hunters working for the South Florida Water Management District have killed 81 invasive Burmese pythons since the experimental program began March 25.

Dusty “Wildman” Crum kills 16-foot-10-inch python

But the plan, which pays hunters minimum wage plus bonuses, has a sunset date of June 1.

The district’s governing board heard an update this morning on the program, but no recommendations were given as to whether it should continue.

Related: Watch python vs. gator in epic battle 

Rory Feeney, the district’s land resources management chief, said the most recent snake caught was 16-feet-10-inches long and weighed 133 pounds.

It also had 73 eggs.

“By removing that pregnant female, you are removing that many more pythons from the wild,” Feeney said.

The program was budgeted for $175,000 and has so far spent an estimated $32,450, or an average of $413 per python.

Related: Read more about  python hunter Dusty “Wildman” Crum here. 

“While the $413 per python seems like a big number, it is dramatically less than if we would have to out there and catch all those pythons from those eggs,” said district board member Mitch Hutchcraft.

Here are some stats:

 

Burmese pythons are at the top of the food chain in the Everglades, with no natural predators and eating their way north and south.

“They are ambush predators,” said Nick Aumen, senior science advisor for the southeast region of the U.S. Geological Survey. “They lay in wait for their prey, buried in vegetation. Any pythons that we can remove is good.”

The Water Management District is paying 25 hunters minimum wage — $8.10 per hour — to hunt and kill pythons. They earn incentives starting at $50 for a 4-foot-long snake and $25 for each additional foot above that.

Related: “We had a fight, a real fight” python hunters say

Pythons aren’t venomous. They like to bite, hold and crush, suffocating their prey or pressing so hard on its rib cage that its heart stops.

Before the water management board approved the hunting program, they watched a Palm Beach Post video of a python attacking an alligator in Big Cypress National Preserve in December. The video drew international attention.

“Anyone who has seen the now famous python-vs.-alligator video can attest that the fight for survival of the Everglades is real,” said South Florida Water Management District Governing Board chairman Dan O’Keefe.

Just in: Dusty “Wildman” Crum catches 50th python in landmark snake hunt

Florida is escalating its war against Burmese pythons, nearly doubling the ranks of paid hunters, adding prizes for layman kills, and doling out bonuses worth $10,000 in a program that marked its 50th snake takedown Tuesday.

Dusty “Wildman” Crum, barefoot and wearing a homemade boar’s tooth necklace, was lauded by the South Florida Water Management District for catching the 50th invasive python in a population control experiment that began March 25.

Crum, an orchid dealer in Venice, Fla., has nabbed three snakes in the district’s program, including a 14.6-foot long, 70-pound female displayed during a live webcast from Homestead.

“I’m looking for the 16-footer. She’s out there somewhere waiting for me,” said Crum, who found two of his snakes near the ValueJet Flight 592 Memorial along the L-67 canal. “Sometimes you get lucky. Sometimes you go for days and don’t see anything.”

The water management district is paying 25 hunters minimum wage – $8.10 per hour – to hunt and kill pythons. They can earn incentives starting at $50 for a 4-foot-long snake and $25 for each additional foot above that.

On Tuesday, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission announced a similar program with 22 paid hunters who began their python pursuit April 15. In addition to the paid hunters, FWC launched its Python Pickup Program that encourages people to kill pythons by offering prizes such as T-shirts, $100 gas cards, Yeti tumblers, GoPro cameras and other gear.

To be eligible for prizes, people must send a photo of the dead python to pythons@myfwc.com with their name, address, T-shirt size and information on where the snake was captured.

Python hunter Greg Conterio holds up an 8-foot long python that he caught April 22, 2017 as part of the SFWMD experimental program.

People who want to learn more about how to find, catch and kill pythons can sign up for training through FWC. A class is being offered June 17 at Okeeheelee Nature Center in unincorporated Palm Beach County.

“We know many Florida residents and visitors want to help tackle this tough conservation challenge by going after pythons in the wild and removing any they can find,” said FWC Executive Director Nick Wiley. “We want to continue to encourage and support this important citizen conservation effort.”

Burmese pythons are at the top of the food chain in the Everglades, eating their way north and south and facing no natural predators.

In September, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission announced that python hatchlings had been found in Key Largo, while a 10-foot python was found on a levee at the Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge in Palm Beach County.

In December, researchers determined a 15-foot female python had eaten three white-tailed deer in the 90 days before its capture because their hooves were still in its stomach.

Greg Conterio, uses a hook to try and draw out a Burmese python, which escaped in a small pond in Homestead, Fla., on Thursday, Mar. 30, 2017. (Michael Ares / The Palm Beach Post)

“They are ambush predators,” Crum said. “The bird, the rabbit, the otter, they are going to lose every time.”

The largest snake captured through the water management program was 15-feet, 10 inches, and had 80 eggs in its belly.

“We are removing with that one snake, a generation of snakes in that area,” said Rory Feeney, the water management district’s bureau chief for land resources, during a meeting this month.

The district’s program, which has a budget of $175,000, is scheduled to end June 1.

Crum said he will take his snakes to a tanner in South Florida to make something out of their skin.

But there’s not a lot of money in individual snake sales, said Abram Mendal, vice president of Pan American Leathers, Inc., which has showrooms in Texas and New York.

Mendal said he buys python skins in bulk from Southeast Asia with as many as 500 skins purchased at a time.

Depending on quality, a raw skin can go for between $5 and $10 per meter in lenght (about 3 feet). If a small-time python hunter wants a skin tanned, he or she can take it to Pan American Leathers, but they will pay for the service.

“We are happy to do one or two at a time, but they would own the leather,” Mendal said.

Mendal said his company spoke with FWC officials when the Python Challenge first began, emphasizing the importance of collecting snake hides in quantity for the program to be commercially viable.

FWC has held two Python Challenges, where contestants compete for prizes awarded for snake quantity and size. Crum was part of a team that took home the most pythons – 33 – and longest snake – 15 feet – during the 2016 Python Challenge.

“They are on top of it,” Mendal said about FWC. “They know they have a problem and are addressing it, but most people aren’t experienced in hunting pythons and need to be trained or bring in a consultant.”

The University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Services and FWC have worked with Irula tribesman from India to hunt pythons.

Crum said he uses his bare hands to catch the snakes.

“I got bit last week, but it healed up in a couple days,” he said. “I got a little tooth stuck in my finger. I thought it was a splinter.”

Previous story: The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission is escalating the war against the invasive Burmese python in the state, offering prizes and T-shirts for kills.

The new Python Pickup Program hopes to encourage the public to remove and report wild Burmese pythons by giving them prizes.

Video: Python wrestles alligator in epic battle for survival 

People can win T-shirts, snake hooks, Yeti tumblers, Plano sportsman’s trunks, GOPro cameras and Badlands backpacks.

The grand prize is a Florida Lifetime Sportsman’s License.

Here’s how it works:

Anyone who removes a python needs to take a picture of the snake as well as submit evidence of where it was removed. the T-shirt is an automatic, and all submissions will be entered into a grand prize drawing held next year.

Monthly drawings will also be held.

This is the latest effort in the Sunshine State to reduce the harmful Burmese python population in the Everglades.

 

The South Florida Water Management District recently hired 25 python hunters for minimum wage in an experimental program to help reduce the population.

The job pays $8.10 an hour, plus incentives starting at $50 for a 4-foot-long snake and $25 for each additional foot above that.

Python hunter Nicholas Banos

A snake found guarding a nest with eggs is worth an additional $100. The district set aside $175,000 for the program.

“A lot of people are just sick that they are here in the first place,” said water management district spokesman Randy Smith about people who applied to be hunters. “There’s not a lot of sympathy for the python.”

Since late March, water management district hunters have killed 50 snakes.

There will be a Facebook live presentation at 11 a.m. today to weigh in the most recent kill.

Just in video: “She didn’t want to go down easy,” python hunter shows off kill

The South Florida Water Management District’s experimental python hunting program is up to 24 snakes weighing a total of 930 pounds.

In a video posted today, hunter Nicholas Banos describes killing two Burmese pythons, including one that weighed a whopping 82 pounds and measured 14 feet.

Related: Hunters paid minimum wage for full-time fight against pythons

The hunt, which began March 25 and ends June 1, is an an effort to reduce the population of invasive Burmese pythons in the Everglades.

The Water Management District pays hunters $8.10 an hour, plus incentives starting at $50 for a 4-foot-long snake and $25 for each additional foot above that.

A snake found guarding a nest with eggs is worth an additional $100.

But it’s no easy task.

“Burmese pythons are devilishly hard to find,” said Greg Conterio, who is one of 25 hunters chosen for the program. “They are perfectly camouflaged. They are experts at not being found.”

Python hunter Nicholas Banos