The battle to control Burmese pythons in the Florida Everglades has involved an array of tactics, including snake-sniffing dogs, GPS-equipped snakes and teams of state-licensed and trained reptile wranglers.
Now, Florida wildlife managers have a new approach: a snake-hunting contest offering cash prizes.
The Python Challenge, due to begin next month, will pay US$1,500 (HK$11,600) for the largest number of snakes and US$1,000 for the longest one in two categories. One would include 70 or so licensed python hunters and the other open to anyone willing to pay a US$25 registration fee, take a half-hour online identification course and - it probably goes without saying - sign a liability waiver.
The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission touts the month-long contest as a way to raise public awareness about the threat the exotic constrictors pose to native wildlife in the Everglades and potentially put a dent in their population. Scientists estimate possibly tens of thousands of the once-popular pets now live in the wild.
FWC spokeswoman Carli Segelson said the programme will teach neophytes how to identify and safely capture large, potentially dangerous snakes. The largest Burmese python captured to date in Florida was a 5.2-metre monster that weighed 75 kilograms. Typical pythons caught in the Everglades run from 2 metres to 3 metres, larger than most native species.
But Segelson cautioned that python catching is not a pursuit to take lightly. "We do expect people to maintain appropriate caution when dealing with any wild animal," she said.
The contest is likely to appeal mostly to seasoned hunters. The online course, for instance, includes tips for humanely dispatching the snakes, which is a contest requirement.
Some options include a gunshot to the head or decapitation with a machete, but that second method alone isn't enough to minimise pain, says the contest website.
"Regardless of the technique you choose, make sure your technique results in immediate loss of consciousness and destruction of the Burmese python's brain," the euthanasia guide notes. Even after beheading, a python's nervous system can remain active for up to an hour, producing twitches in the carcass and jaws.
The contest, from January 12 to February 16, also includes rules intended to prevent scammers from simply turning in unwanted pets. The hunting area is confined to four state-owned wildlife management areas in the Everglades - with Everglades National Park strictly off-limits. Contestants must provide GPS logs of search areas and data sheets documenting captures.