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Feb 07 2013

Florida's big python hunt going out with a whimper

* Invasive species notoriously evasive

* Just 50 snakes killed or captured with only days left in hunt

* Population believed to have grown to as many as 150,000

MIAMI, Feb 7 (Reuters) - A nearly month-long hunt for Burmese pythons in Florida's Everglades was wrapping up this week with little to show for the efforts of more than 1,500 would-be snake slayers armed with everything from clubs and machetes to firearms and spears.

A spokeswoman for the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, which organized the hunt, known as the Python Challenge, said on Thursday that only 50 Burmese pythons had been reported captured or killed as part of the event.

That means the hunt, which kicked off with great fanfare on Jan. 12 and ends on Sunday, barely put a dent in the population of non-native snakes that have made a home and breed in the fragile Everglades wetlands.

Officials have said previously that the population is believed to have grown to as many as 150,000. The snakes are one of the largest species in the world and native to Southeast Asia. But they found a home to their liking in the Everglades when pet owners started using the wetlands as a convenient dumping ground.

Wildlife biologists say the troublesome invaders, which are notoriously evasive and have no known predators in Florida, have become a major pest and pose a significant threat to endangered species like the wood stork and Key Largo woodrat.

"They are very well camouflaged and you can literally be practically right on top of them without being able to see them," said Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission spokeswoman Carli Segelson.

"They are very evasive," she added. "It's kind of luck of the draw, if you just happen to be in the right place at the right time when one of these things is out there."

The state wildlife agency was offering prizes of $1,500 for the most pythons captured or killed as part of the hunt and $1,000 for the largest python. The prizes are due to be announced at an awards ceremony set for Feb. 16.

Segelson said the Python Challenge, the first hunt of its kind, drew at least 1,567 hunters from across 30 states and Canada.

"I'm very happy to report that we have not heard any reports or injuries or people getting lost," she said.

A Burmese python found in Florida last year set a record as the largest ever captured in the state, at 17 feet, 7 inches. The snake weighed nearly 165 pounds (75 kg).

(Reporting by Tom Brown; Editing by Dan Grebler)

((thomas.brown@thomsonreuters.com)(305 810 2688)(Reuters Messaging: thomas.brown.reuters.com@reuters.net))

Keywords: USA FLORIDA/PYTHONS


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