Snake sets SFWMD python program record

WEST PALM BEACH — A record-setting catch earlier this week is moving the South Florida Water Management District’s (SFWMD) Python Elimination Program closer to another significant milestone.

Kyle Penniston, of Homestead, made the solo capture of a 17-foot, 5-inch female Burmese python while hunting on SFWMD lands in Miami-Dade County late Monday night. The mammoth snake weighed in at 120 pounds. It’s the third caught as part of the program that measured more than 17 feet.

With the record catch, SFWMD’s python hunters have now eliminated 1,859 of the invasive snakes on district lands, stretching a combined length of more than 2 miles and collectively weighing more than 11 tons. Mr. Penniston is currently second among the hunters, with 235 snakes eliminated. Brian Hargrove, a Miami native, has dispatched the most, with 257.

Special to the Lake Okeechobee News/SFWMD
Kyle Penniston, of Homestead, made the solo capture of a 17-foot, 5-inch female Burmese python while hunting on SFWMD lands.

“Just six months after eliminating the first 1,000 pythons from district lands, this program is about to double that total because of a true team effort,” said SFWMD scientist Mike Kirkland, project manager for the Python Elimination Program. “With the governing board’s unwavering support, district staff and a dedicated group of hunters are working to help control this invasive species and protect native wildlife.”

Eliminating invasive species such as Burmese pythons is critical to preserving the rare Everglades ecosystem. Florida taxpayers have invested billions of dollars to restore the water quality and hydrology of the Everglades. Reducing the populations of invasive plants and animals is necessary to ensure this investment results in meeting the shared goals of the overall restoration plan.

SFWMD’s Python Elimination Program facilitates the elimination of the invasive snakes on district-owned land. The SFWMD Governing Board has financed the program for the entirety of the 2018-19 budget year. A similar, successful program is managed by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, the Python Removal Contractor Program. This program pays qualified individuals to survey other specific areas of state-owned land for the pythons, humanely euthanize each python they catch in the field (according to American Veterinary Medical Association guidelines) and then deposit them at designated drop-off locations.

Special to the Lake Okeechobee News/SFWMD
The massive python caught Monday night, Nov. 5, weighed in at over 120 lbs.

Elected officials and celebrities ranging from U.S. Rep. Francis Rooney, R-Fla., to superstar chef Gordon Ramsey have taken part in the hunts, bringing international awareness to the issue of this invasive species and efforts to eradicate them. Python hunters were also featured in a Discovery Channel television special highlighting the program.

A team of professional python hunters was selected from more than 1,000 applicants and given access to district-owned lands in Miami-Dade County for the pilot phase and later in Palm Beach, Broward and Collier counties as the program expanded. These independent contractors are paid $8.25 per hour, up to eight hours daily, to hunt in the Everglades. Depending on the size of the snake presented, hunters can also receive additional payments of $50 for pythons measuring up to 4 feet and an extra $25 for each foot measured above 4 feet. An additional $200 is given for each eliminated python nest with eggs.
The invasive Burmese python, which breeds and multiplies quickly and has no natural predator in the Everglades ecosystem, has decimated native populations of wildlife. The more that can be eliminated, especially females and their eggs, the better chance future generations of native wildlife will have to thrive in the Everglades ecosystem that Floridians have invested billions of dollars to restore.

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