Nowadays, you’re lucky if you spot one mammal in the area, according to wildlife experts.
“I love snakes. I hate that we have to do this, but they’re invasive and changing the entire ecosystem.” professional python hunter Amy Siewe told CNN.
According to the commission, these reptiles were detected as early as 1979 in Florida.
“They were introduced to Florida through accidental and intentional release through the pet trade,” a spokesperson with the commission told CNN Friday.
Since then, they’ve killed and continue to pose a major threat to wildlife.
August 5 marked the start of this year’s 10-day challenge.
To participate, members were required to take an online training course and pay a $25 registration fee. The hunter who brings back the most pythons wins $2,500.
Last year, participants killed more than 200 pythons.
Aside from the challenge, year-round removal efforts are still in play. Since 2000, more than 17,000 pythons have been removed and reported, according to the commission.
Michael Kirkland, a biologist with the South Florida Water Management District, told CNN that pythons have been “decimating wildlife for years”.
“The challenge is designed to remove as many pythons from the area as possible,” he said, “Human detection and removal are the most efficient and effective tools in the toolbox right now,”
Kirkland said there has been up to a 90% decline of animals in the area due to pythons.
A full-time job
Kalil told CNN has been professionally hunting the reptiles since 2017. Siewe was hired a few years later in 2019.
Combined, the two have killed more than 1,000 pythons — Kalil at more than 670 and Siewe at close to 400.
Both share a love for the creatures but understand the importance of this challenge. “The hunters are the best way we have at this moment to help with this problem,” Siewe said.
Kalil grew up in Florida and said when she went to the Everglades as a kid there were “so many rabbits you couldn’t count them all.” Fast forward to the 2000s when Kalil said there were practically no rabbits, possums or raccoons as a result of the pythons.
In last year’s challenge Kalil took home the $2,500 prize for removing the most pythons at 19. She’s been participating since 2013.
This will be Siewe’s third year. In her first year, she won second place for heaviest snake.
The two will base their hunting on factors like weather, time of day and sleep schedule. “This time of the year, the nighttime is best to go out,” Kalil said.
And hunting doesn’t come easy.
“It’s like a warm knife going through butter,” Siewe described. Pythons, while not venomous, have hundreds of teeth that are razor sharp, according to Siewe.
Kalil shares that you can’t catch them all. “I’ve had four get away from me during my career,” she said. “It can be difficult during the night in the water and weeds.”
In fact, his wife, Casey DeSantis, shared in a press conference Friday that her 10-year anniversary gift to the governor was a pair of python skin boots.