The state of Florida this week will stage its first ever "Python Challenge," a month-long hunt for a predator snake that has devastated much of the southern Florida ecosystem.
The contest encourages snake wranglers to capture the pythons, which are believed to number in the tens of thousands in southern Florida. The snakes are not indigenous to Florida, and since their introduction to the region they've ravaged other forms of wildlife.
The only prerequisite to become a snake wrangler is a 30-minute online course that costs $25, and the cash prizes for bagging biggest pythons are as much as $1,500.
"Aside from the obvious goal of reducing the Burmese python population in the Everglades, we also hope to educate the public about Burmese pythons in Florida and how people can help limit the impact of this and other invasive species in Florida," Carli Segelson, a spokeswoman for the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, told Fox News. "We are also using the Challenge to gauge the effectiveness of using an incentive-based model as one tool to address a challenging invasive species management problem."
Although nearly 400 people have registered for the challenge, at least one environment group does not like what Florida is doing. Melissa Coakley, a spokeswoman with the Florida-based Suncoast Herpetological Society, said that not only is the number of pythons exaggerated, the contest could produce savvy cheaters who bring in pythons from other states simply for the reward.
Coakley also said her organization is concerned with the relatively light requirements necessary to become a snake wrangler.
"Despite what has been portrayed in popular reality television shows, the Burmese pythons in the Everglades can be extremely dangerous when provoked," Coakley told FoxNews.com in a statement. "It takes a great deal of hands-on practice before one is able to master the art of catching and safely handling large constrictors. There is also the danger of hunters unwittingly killing native snakes while in the Everglades."
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