More than 600 people in Florida have signed up to a python-hunting challenge to clamp down on the native Southeast Asian snake from growing in numbers and continuing to “wreak havoc” on the local ecosystem.
The month-long competition asks hunters to capture as many snakes as they can, dead or alive, to reduce numbers in the Everglades region.
The competition, organized by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, said a cash prize will go to the hunter who captures the most Burmese pythons, as well as for the longest snake found, as reported by CNN.
Although not native to Florida, the snakes, which can grow up to 23 feet long and are one of the largest snake species in the world, thrive in the Everglades climate. They were first introduced to the region as an exotic pet and ran amok after a breeding facility was destroyed during Hurricane Andrew in 1992.
The snakes are held responsible for decimating the population of raccoons, rabbits and opossums, and they have few natural predators.
Despite their numbers, they are difficult to detect, according to the US Geological Society website.
The python challenge in 2013 gathered 1,600 hunters but only 68 snakes.
Hunters must have a valid hunting license, and are allowed to sell the skin or meat, but Burmese pythons from the Everglades have high levels of mercury and are therefore not recommended for human consumption.