Pythons eat alligators and everything else in Florida. Snake hunters are ready to help.

The first python Siewe caught was over 10 feet tall. “I caught it by myself, wearing flip flops,” Siewe said, noting that she found it in the middle of a Florida highway.

She disoriented the snake by placing a pillowcase over its head, then put the snake in the trunk of her Camry.

The largest python Siewe captured was 17 feet 3 inches tall and weighed 110 pounds.

“I jumped on her in a ditch by the side of the road, all 17 feet from her,” Siewe said. “She had the biggest snake head I’ve ever seen. It was a real battle of strength.

Among those who will face Siewe in this year’s Florida Python Challenge: fellow professional python hunter and defending champion of the challenge, Dusty Crum. Florida native Crum, 42, caught the longest professional class python in the competition last year, catching a 16ft python. In 2016, he was part of a three-man team that took the challenge honors, catching 33 pythons.

“A lot of it is luck, but it’s also about being in the right place at the right time,” Crum said. “It’s anybody’s game.”

Snake hunters use a variety of equipment to do their job, from snake hooks to special carrying bags to an array of lights that can spot reptiles in the dark of night.

To prepare for this year’s challenge, Crum uses its carefully curated collection of snake-catching technologies.

“When it comes to challenge, it’s guns,” Crum said. “I try to use all my equipment: small geo-trackers, quads. I have swamp buggies, monster trucks with big tires on them. We equip them with lights on and I will be able to access places inaccessible to the general public.

Dusty Crum holds a snake in Florida in 2017.
Dusty Crum holds a snake in Florida in 2017.Courtesy of Lisette Morales McCabe

Python hunting, Crum and Siewe said, is not for the faint of heart. Although pythons are not poisonous, they are powerful and known to bite.

“They have hundreds of teeth, and when they bite you, it’s like needle sticks,” Crum said. “The worst thing that can happen is when the tooth breaks off and gets stuck in you, and it gets infected.”

Siewe said she had been bitten too many times to count. “A 14-footer bit me on the hand. I was bitten in the buttocks, in the calf. Luckily, I wasn’t bitten in the face.

Like Crum, Siewe says she is working on reusing parts of the pythons she catches. “I use the leather to make Apple Watch straps,” she said.

Both Crum and Siewe say they are “here to win” when it comes to this year’s challenge.

Neither plan to sleep much during the competition, as pythons are nocturnal, which means the best time to hunt is late at night.

Yet, they said, the real focus of the challenge has less to do with the individual victories they might achieve, and far more to do with the greater cause they fight and hunt for.

“It’s not trophy hunting or sport hunting,” says Crum. “It’s an environmental hunt. It’s the hunt to save our environment. It’s a special feeling when it’s man against beast, fighting for the environment.

No humans in the United States have been killed by pythons, but many pets have been, and wildlife officials fear pythons could destroy entire populations of native Florida species if they are not stopped. Among the mammals of the Everglades that the pythons decimate: marsh rabbits, raccoons, foxes, deer and bobcats.

“The Burmese python is one of the largest snakes in the world, capable of reaching 20 feet in length, and due to our climate, pythons are able to thrive in Florida preying on our wildlife,” said Kirkland. “In parts of Florida, up to 95% of furbearer populations have disappeared.

Pythons even eat Florida alligators.

Python incentive and education specialist Robert Edman demonstrates how to catch a python at an event promoting the Florida Python Challenge on December 5, 2019.
Python incentive and education specialist Robert Edman demonstrates how to catch a python at an event promoting the Florida Python Challenge on December 5, 2019.Al Diaz/Miami Herald via Getty Images File

“Pythons are generalists,” said McKayla Spencer, Florida Interagency Python Management Coordinator. “They eat anything. »

Pythons first appeared in the Everglades in the 1970s, likely following the release of a pet snake into the wild, but the population didn’t explode until the 1990s.

That’s when Hurricane Andrew hit Florida, destroying, among other things, several python breeding facilities. Kirkland said there is no definitive evidence that the destruction of animal farms is responsible for the explosion in Florida’s python population. “But that didn’t help,” he admitted.

There is no official estimate of the number of pythons in Florida, due to their stealthy nature.

“They’re very hard to find,” Spencer said. “For every python we find, there are 99 more.”

More and more, Spencer said, pythons are showing up in people’s yards and boats, as the snakes are literally swallowing up more and more territory in Florida.

This is where Human Hunters come in.

“I’ve always had this obsessive fascination with snakes and reptiles ever since I was little and my dad taught me how to catch fish,” Siewe said. “I thought, ‘Why isn’t this passion [for] puppies or kittens or something normal? It’s not… it’s snakes.

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