The Burmese python problem in Florida’s Everglades has attracted all sorts of hunters looking for an adrenaline rush and a chance to help restore the area’s biodiversity. According to a new report from Flamingo, twelve of the 38 snake hunters employed by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission are women – including the most successful.
Anne Gordon-Vega holds the record for the most pythons captured in the Everglades for the commission, and she’s developed a passion for stalking and bagging the elusive reptiles.
“I have to do it … I’m addicted to the adrenaline, on top of helping the Everglades,” she told Flamingo.
The ecological impact of pythons in the Everglades is difficult to overstate. The first sightings of the invasive species were recorded in the last of the’70s and early ’80s. Since then, their population has reached an estimated 10,000-100,000, and they’ve devastated local wildlife.
A 2012 study found that between 2003 and 2011, the areas with a high python population suffered a 99 percent decrease in raccoon populations, a 98 percent drop in opossums, a 94 percent drop in white-tailed deer and an 87 percent falloff for bobcats. Researchers found zero rabbits and foxes.
Gordon-Vega has noticed the change. In her youth, the 61-year-old saw lots of raccoons, foxes, and other small mammals during nature hikes in the Everglades. Now, those animals are gone.
Another python hunter, Amy Siewe, left a successful real estate career in Indiana to move to Florida specifically to hunt pythons.
“I have this insane passion for snakes,” she told Flamingo. “I can’t explain it.”
She’s documented her hunts on her Youtube channel, where viewers can see how the snakes are usually taken.
Occasionally snakes are shot with .22 caliber firearms, but more often they’re simply grabbed behind the head and stuffed into a bag. Fights usually last about 15 minutes but can take as long as one hour. Hunters don’t have to worry about venomous bites, but the long, powerful snakes can still put up quite a fight.
One hunter interviewed by Flamingo related an incident in which a snake managed to wrap itself around her neck. Fortunately, she wasn’t hunting alone, and her partners were able to pry the snake away before she passed out.
Depending on which agency the hunter works for, captured snakes are either euthanized or kept and studied by scientists.
While other methods have been considered, python hunting appears to be the dominant method for controlling the population among state wildlife agencies. According to Flamingo, as of September 2019, hunters working for the agencies have caught a little over 2,500 pythons.