The Python Hunter

Left: a python devours his prey. Wild pythons have become the scourge of south Florida. The recent tragic death of a 2-year old child strangled by a pet 12-foot Burmese python in Sumter County Florida shocked America (THE PYTHON OWNERS HAVE NOW BEEN CHARGED. CLICK HERE TO READ THE STORY). But pythons much larger than the one that killed and tried to eat that child are abundant and thriving in the wilds of South Florida. Some experts say that as many as 150,000 wild pythons are crawling the region, chiefly in and around Everglades National Park. But viable breeding populations of pythons extend well into the Florida Keys, according to LeRoy Rodgers, a scientist with the South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD) and the agency point man dealing with invasive species. Even more disconcerting, says Rodgers, is the fact that the remarkably adaptable python is capable of greatly expanding its range in the U.S. Burmese pythons could potentially spread far up the Atlantic Seaboard to Washington D.C., along the entire Gulf Coast, through Texas, on into New Mexico, Arizona and California. Burmese pythons are so big, bold and abundant in South Florida, that many outdoorsmen say they have greatly reduced native small mammal and bird populations in the area. Anglers and hunters who for years have driven before sunrise and after dark across Alligator Alley and the Tamiami Trail, now report seeing almost no rabbits, raccoons, opossums and other small wildlife species that in years past were commonly observed. South Florida wildlife authorities are so alarmed at the booming python population that some people have suggested placing a bounty on the snakes - something not done to control an invasive species in Florida in recent memory. South Florida pythons are so prolific, and are so dramatically impacting native species, that the SFWMD and even the Humane Society of the United States have petitioned the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to discontinue the legal importation of large constrictor snakes like Burmese pythons, but also including boas and anacondas. These large and fast-growing snakes are popular pets in the U.S. (over 1 million imported from 2002 to 2006). However, when such snakes get too large for pet owners to handle, they often are released into the wild. Since no zoos or nature centers want the constrictors, invasive and potentially dangerous wild pythons are being shot by SFWMD personal. Long-time South Florida outdoorsman and hunter Bob Hill is a structure maintenance technician for the SFWMD. Because he is afield daily mowing and maintaining the area's extensive levee system, Hill has likely dealt with more pythons than anyone. He has special authority to shoot pythons and collect road kill snakes, which are turned over to scientists at Everglades National Park for necropsy to learn more about the non-native species that has so taken over Florida habitat. "We don't enjoying having to kill Burmese pythons, but it's something that must be done because they are killing native animals," says LeRoy Rodgers. "Pythons are beautiful, but they are so big, and there are so many in Florida, they must be euthanized." Since 2004, Bob Hill has helped remove more than 300 large pythons from South Florida. It's unknown how many other snakes have been dispatched by farmers and outdoorsmen and not reported by. And these are only the pythons most easily seen and found on farm fields, roads and mowed-grass levees. How many snakes live in the wild outback of the Everglades and South Florida, is anyone's guess.
Bob Hill, LeRoy Rodgers and Dan Thayer (R-L) hold the largest python on record in Florida, an over 16-footer shot by Bob last May. The snake weighed 117 pounds, and was about 7 to 9 years of age. Bob spotted the snake basking in the sun on a levee, and discovered its den hole nearby. When examined later, the snake had 59 fertilized eggs in it, which would have been laid in about one month.
Keith Price wears a 15-foot, 8-inch, 138-pound python like a giant necklace. This immense female snake was taken by Bob Hill just before last Christmas. Inside its stomach, this snake had four hooves from a mature Florida whitetail deer. The hooves each measured about 1.5 inches in length, and the deer was estimated to have weighed 70 to 80 pounds.
Bob Hill is holding the claw from an adult bobcat, which was found inside the stomach of a 13.5-foot Burmese python he recovered from a farm field on the east side of Everglades National Park. Included among the many things commonly found in python stomachs are raccoons, opossums, rats, rabbits, muskrats, wading birds, back plates and claws from alligators and ducks.
Bob Hill shows another monster python, this one a 15-foot, 2-incher. He found it last November along a levee right-of-way outside Everglades National Park.
This python is huge by anyone's measure, especially when you consider Bob Hill is 6-feet tall and weighs 220 pounds!
Like most wild snakes pythons have remarkable camouflage coloring, blending in perfectly with Florida foliage, as shown by this 70-pound, 9-footer. Pythons are being captured in the Everglades area, fitted with radio transmitters and tracked so scientists can learn more about them. In tracking radio-fitted snakes, scientists commonly pinpoint a snake right at their feet, yet can't see the serpent because they are so well camouflaged.
Bob Hill has been careful not to be bitten by a python, which have a double row of pointed, sharp, and back-angling teeth to hold prey.
This 13-footer had remnants of a bobcat in it, which it had killed and eaten. The snake was found in a farm field during October. Pythons in South Florida often are found in fields that have grown high in vegetation, where they feed on rodents and other small animals. When farmers plow fields, they often kill pythons or locate them for Bob Hill to dispatch and recover.
This huge python is over 16-feet long, and dwarfs Bob Hill. The snake is perhaps 9 year old. Pythons can live to 25 years, grow to well over 20 feet, and weigh in excess of 200 pounds.
This 9.5-footer almost disappears in the sawgrass of the Everglades. This snake is not particularly old, since a python can grow to six feet in one year. At that age it's nearly apex predator size, only having to fear large alligators.
This was a banner day for python catching. Bob Hill captured these 7 heavyweight constrictors in just 90 minutes from a plowed South Florida agricultural field. He commonly gets 2, 3, 4 pythons in a day. His record is 51 pythons in just 8 days.
Every hunter can appreciate the full size of a mature Florida python in relationship to this standard 12-gauge 2.75-inch shotgun shell. A shotgun is Bob Hill's firearm of choice for dispatching a monster snake.
A Burmese python has terrible teeth, capable of inflicting a painful and nasty bite. Note the head of this 12-footer is the size of a human hand.
SFWMD employee Jason Smith shows a 12-footer found in a farm field just east of the Everglades. In addition to pythons, South Florida has a viable population of non-native Nile monitor lizards that grow to six feet and are voracious egg eaters; boa constrictors and even the world's largest snake, the anaconda!
Once a South Florida python reaches a length of 6 feet in its first year of growth, it nearly tops the food chain. Only a large, mature alligator can tangle with a big Burmese python, and which will be the victim is never a certainty.

GRAPHIC PHOTOS! As many as 150,000 wild pythons are roaming the wilds of South Florida. Could python hunting solve this problem?