A Burmese python hunt in Florida bagged 80 of the big serpents as contenders vied for cash prizes in the state’s latest effort to eliminate the invasive species that has long devastated the Everglades’ delicate ecosystem.
The top professional and rookie hunters were each awarded in three different categories based on who caught the most, the longest and the heaviest pythons. The agency announced the winners in Miami.
Pro grand prize winner Mike Kimmel won a Tracker 570 off-road ATV for capturing eight pythons. Rookie grand prize winner Kristian Hernandez won an ATV for removing six pythons and $2,000 for catching an 11-foot, 6.5-inch snake.
Pro grand prize winner Tom Rahill won $2,000 for heaviest python, bagging a 62-pound snake, and an additional $2,000 for removing the longest python at 12 feet, 7 inches.
The competition also awarded active service members or veterans who took part in the hunt. Barry Offenburger, of the U.S. Army, won $1,000 for removing three pythons, while Dave Mucci, of the U.S. Air Force, won a total of $3,750 across several categories for capturing a nearly 50-pound, 11-foot-long python.
The hunt was designed to raise awareness about the invasive species and its effect on the Everglades.
Native to Southeast Asia, the Burmese python is one of the largest snakes in the world, growing to over 20 feet long. The serpent began appearing in the Everglades more than 20 years ago when the reptiles were imported as pets and released, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
The apex predator's insatiable appetite has resulted in the severe decline in native mammal and bird populations in the Everglades, including endangered species.
Wildlife officials estimate the Burmese python population may exceed 100,000.
Florida’s Python Elimination Program has removed more than 2,500 Burmese pythons since it began in March 2017, the South Florida Water Management District announced in September.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.