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Virtual Snake Contest Underway To Get More Involved In FWC’s Revived Python Challenge

FWC's facebook page

State wildlife officials are kicking off the 2016 Python Challenge to remove the invasive species from the Everglades next month. But, ahead of the month-long competition, they’re promoting a virtual contest that’s already underway.

As part of the 2016 Python Challenge, Florida wildlife officials are photoshopping toy snakes in or around Florida landmarks where Burmese pythons may roam, in hopes people will find them.

But, how did it all start?

“The Burmese Python is an invasive species threatening the Everglades ecosystem and its native wildlife. In Florida, these snakes are capable of reaching lengths of more than 17 feet and can produce more than 35 eggs at a time. You can help the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission limit the impact of Burmese Pythons by participating in the 2013 Python Challenge…”

That’s a video from two years ago, when the state wanted to spark interest in its first Python Challenge in South Florida to remove the nonnative species as part of the Everglades conservation efforts.

About 1,600 hunters from most states and Canada signed up, and 68 snakes were caught.

Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission officials are looking at a similar removal effort in 2016—as captured in this year’s kickoff video.

“…we’re building on the success on the 2013 Python Challenge, which raised awareness about the invasive Burmese Python. A lot was learned from that competition, and we’re using that knowledge to improve the 2016 Python Challenge: better training, better experiences, and more people effectively removing pythons from the environment...”

“Obviously, not everyone is going to be up for doing that, and some people just don’t have the ability to get to South Florida and take part,” said FWC spokeswoman Carli Segelson.

Segelson says that’s how the “Virtual Snake Finding Mission” came about.

“So, we were looking for ways to expand the Python Challenge to get other people involved,” she added. “So, among other things one of the elements that we’ve included for this year is to have a social media contest so anybody in the state, really anybody in the world that can see our Facebook page can take part in the challenge.”

She says she wants people to keep an eye out on their Facebook page, and look for days the FWC is conducting the contest that comes with clues.

“Whoever gets the answer correct the first time, they will win a Python Challenge prize pack, which will contain a variety of items, like a T-shirt, a tumbler, and a bag,” Segelson continued. “They’ll also be included or entered into a Grand Prize drawing, where they’ll be able to win a $100 Bass Pro Shop Gift Card.”

Because biologists see the species as a “cryptic species,” Segelson says there’s no way to give an accurate estimation of the Burmese Python population. But, she adds the FWC does know the pythons are reproducing in the wild—which is problematic. The former released pets have few natural predators and prey themselves on native wildlife. And, Segelson says that’s why the social media contest as well as the removal competition is important.

“We want to raise awareness to show people how they can help by reporting nonnative fish and wildlife in Florida,” she stated. “So, we want to remind people that they can report these sightings to our exotic species hotline and that number is 1-888-IVE-GOT1, or they can do it online at IVEGOT1.org, and we even have a smartphone app they can use.”

The FWC just wrapped up a Bear Hunt, in which hunters had a restriction on how many were killed. Segelson says there’s no such limit in this case.

As in 2013, hunters can win for different categories, like most pythons caught as well as the longest snake captured. The 2016 removal competition component of the 2016 Python Challenge takes place from January 16 to February 14th.

For more news updates, follow Sascha Cordner on Twitter: @SaschaCordner.

Sascha Cordner has more than ten years of public radio experience. It includes working at NPR member station WUFT-FM in Gainesville for several years. She's worked in both radio and TV, serving in various capacities as a reporter, producer and anchor. She's also a graduate of the University of Florida with a bachelor's degree in telecommunications. She is the recipient of 15 awards from the Associated Press, Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ), and Edward R. Murrow. Her award-winning stories include her coverage on the infamous “Dozier School for Boys” and a feature titled "Male Breast Cancer: Lost in the Sea of Pink." Currently, Sascha serves as the host and producer of local and state news content for the afternoon news program "All Things Considered" at WFSU. Sascha primarily covers criminal justice and social services issues. When she's not reporting, Sascha likes catching up on her favorite TV shows, singing and reading. Follow Sascha Cordner on Twitter:@SaschaCordner.