Since 2013, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission has involved the public in fighting the invasive Burmese python. But the animal rights group PETA is criticizing the effort.
Burmese Pythons have been stirring up trouble in Florida since the 1980s. Growing to over seven feet long, these large snakes have few predators. Carli Segelson with FWC says the snakes are a danger to the ecosystem.
“These snakes are able to prey on native wildlife including small mammals, other reptiles and birds. So it’s definitely something that we want to minimize their impact and remove as many as these snakes from the population as possible,” she said.
In 2013, FWC introduced what it calls a Python Challenge. With thousands of dollars in prize money, the contest encourages Floridians to remove the pythons from public lands. But Carli Segelson says the challenge isn’t just about catching snakes.
“The Python Challenge for 2016 is going to have a variety of components, not just the Python removal competition. We’re going to have social media contests as well as hands on training opportunities and a couple of events as well to really get the word out about invasive species in Florida,” she said.
While the goal is to restore Florida’s native wildlife, the contest does have some critics. The animal rights organization PETA is criticizing the commission, which allows participants to decapitate the animals. PETA’s Lori Kettler says the practice is unethical.
“If the pythons have to be removed from the Everglades then it shouldn’t be left in the hands of amateurs. It should be done by people who are well-trained and skilled and can ensure that the animals will be killed as quickly and humanely as possible,” she said.
Experts say it's important to kill the pythons quickly and properly because they can survive up to an hour after decapitation. According to the American Veterinary Medical Association, decapitation can be humane, if done properly by trained personnel. FWC does require participants to complete online training but Lori Kettler says it’s not enough.
“Again PETA’s preference would be that laypersons aren’t involved in this process at all, that it’s left in the hands for people with the proper training and expertise,” she said.
FWC representatives are also emphasizing the importance of handling the animals ethically, but have not announced any changes to the euthanasia protocol. The Python Challenge begins January 16th.