Python Bowl draws 500 hunters to reduce Everglades snake population

The annual Python Bowl, a ten-day hunt hosted by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, is nearing its end. 

More than 500 professional and amateur Burmese python hunters have descended to South Florida for the annual challenge, which awards cash prizes up to $2,000 and all-terrain vehicles from Bass Pro Shops to those who capture the most pythons, the heaviest python and the longest python. The winners are also said to be receiving snakeskin footballs.  

The snakes are native to Southeast Asia but became popular exotic pets in the 1980s for some South Florida residents. Unable to care for the reptiles — which can grow to be between 16 and 20 feet — many residents released the snakes into the wild. The snake population also soared after Hurricane Andrew destroyed a breeding facility in 1992, resulting in the escape of many of its pythons.

The competition, which is on its third iteration and is presented by the Miami Super Bowl Host Committee this year, was recently established as an annual event by Gov. Ron DeSantis to help manage the population. It has been posing an ecological threat to the Everglades for years.

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SUNRISE, FLORIDA - JANUARY 10: Rick Mayo looks on as Robert Edman, with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, gives a python-catching demonstration before potential snake hunters at the start of the Python Bowl 2020 on January 10, 2020 in Sunrise, Florida. The Florida Python Challenge 2020 Python Bowl taking place a few weeks before the Super Bowl being held in Miami Gardens, is a 10-day competition to remove Burmese pythons from the Florida Everglades due to the threat to the delicate ecosystem that they pose as they have no predators and reproduce rapidly. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
SUNRISE, FLORIDA - JANUARY 10: Debra Phillips holds a python as she participates in a python-catching demonstration before potential snake hunters at the start of the Python Bowl 2020 on January 10, 2020 in Sunrise, Florida. The Florida Python Challenge 2020 Python Bowl taking place a few weeks before the Super Bowl being held in Miami Gardens, is a 10-day competition to remove Burmese pythons from the Florida Everglades due to the threat to the delicate ecosystem that they pose as they have no predators and reproduce rapidly. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
SUNRISE, FLORIDA - JANUARY 10: A snake hunter carries his knife in a snake skin sheath as he participates in a demonstration put on by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission on how to catch a python at the start of the Python Bowl 2020 on January 10, 2020 in Sunrise, Florida. The Florida Python Challenge 2020 Python Bowl taking place a few weeks before the Super Bowl being held in Miami Gardens, is a 10-day competition to remove Burmese pythons from the Florida Everglades due to the threat to the delicate ecosystem that they pose as they have no predators and reproduce rapidly. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
SUNRISE, FLORIDA - JANUARY 10: Bryan Backs holds a python as he participates in a python-catching demonstration before potential snake hunters at the start of the Python Bowl 2020 on January 10, 2020 in Sunrise, Florida. The Florida Python Challenge 2020 Python Bowl taking place a few weeks before the Super Bowl being held in Miami Gardens, is a 10-day competition to remove Burmese pythons from the Florida Everglades due to the threat to the delicate ecosystem that they pose as they have no predators and reproduce rapidly. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
SUNRISE, FLORIDA - JANUARY 10: Bryan Backs (L) with the help of Jake Travers, from the the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, learns how to capture a python as he participates in a demonstration before potential snake hunters at the start of the Python Bowl 2020 on January 10, 2020 in Sunrise, Florida. The Florida Python Challenge 2020 Python Bowl taking place a few weeks before the Super Bowl being held in Miami Gardens, is a 10-day competition to remove Burmese pythons from the Florida Everglades due to the threat to the delicate ecosystem that they pose as they have no predators and reproduce rapidly. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
SUNRISE, FLORIDA - JANUARY 10: Bryan Backs (L) with the help of Jake Travers, from the the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, learns how to capture a python as he participates in a demonstration before potential snake hunters at the start of the Python Bowl 2020 on January 10, 2020 in Sunrise, Florida. The Florida Python Challenge 2020 Python Bowl taking place a few weeks before the Super Bowl being held in Miami Gardens, is a 10-day competition to remove Burmese pythons from the Florida Everglades due to the threat to the delicate ecosystem that they pose as they have no predators and reproduce rapidly. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
SUNRISE, FLORIDA - JANUARY 10: Miami Dade mayor Carlos Gimenez holds a python as he participates in a python-catching demonstration before potential snake hunters at the start of the Python Bowl 2020 on January 10, 2020 in Sunrise, Florida. The Florida Python Challenge 2020 Python Bowl taking place a few weeks before the Super Bowl being held in Miami Gardens, is a 10-day competition to remove Burmese pythons from the Florida Everglades due to the threat to the delicate ecosystem that they pose as they have no predators and reproduce rapidly. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
SUNRISE, FLORIDA - JANUARY 10: A python is seen as Robert Edman, with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, gives a python-catching demonstration to potential snake hunters at the start of the Python Bowl 2020 on January 10, 2020 in Sunrise, Florida. The Florida Python Challenge 2020 Python Bowl taking place a few weeks before the Super Bowl being held in Miami Gardens, is a 10-day competition to remove Burmese pythons from the Florida Everglades due to the threat to the delicate ecosystem that they pose as they have no predators and reproduce rapidly. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
SUNRISE, FLORIDA - JANUARY 10: Robert Edman, with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, gives a python-catching demonstration before potential snake hunters at the start of the Python Bowl 2020 on January 10, 2020 in Sunrise, Florida. The Florida Python Challenge 2020 Python Bowl taking place a few weeks before the Super Bowl being held in Miami Gardens, is a 10-day competition to remove Burmese pythons from the Florida Everglades due to the threat to the delicate ecosystem that they pose as they have no predators and reproduce rapidly. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
SUNRISE, FLORIDA - JANUARY 10: Potential snake hunters look on at a python as they participate in a python-catching demonstration put on by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission at the start of the Python Bowl 2020 on January 10, 2020 in Sunrise, Florida. The Florida Python Challenge 2020 Python Bowl taking place a few weeks before the Super Bowl being held in Miami Gardens, is a 10-day competition to remove Burmese pythons from the Florida Everglades due to the threat to the delicate ecosystem that they pose as they have no predators and reproduce rapidly. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
SUNRISE, FLORIDA - JANUARY 10: A python is seen as Robert Edman, with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, gives a python-catching demonstration to potential snake hunters at the start of the Python Bowl 2020 on January 10, 2020 in Sunrise, Florida. The Florida Python Challenge 2020 Python Bowl taking place a few weeks before the Super Bowl being held in Miami Gardens, is a 10-day competition to remove Burmese pythons from the Florida Everglades due to the threat to the delicate ecosystem that they pose as they have no predators and reproduce rapidly. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
SUNRISE, FLORIDA - JANUARY 10: Robert Edman, with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, gives a python-catching demonstration before potential snake hunters at the start of the Python Bowl 2020 on January 10, 2020 in Sunrise, Florida. The Florida Python Challenge 2020 Python Bowl taking place a few weeks before the Super Bowl being held in Miami Gardens, is a 10-day competition to remove Burmese pythons from the Florida Everglades due to the threat to the delicate ecosystem that they pose as they have no predators and reproduce rapidly. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
SUNRISE, FLORIDA - JANUARY 10: Robert Edman, with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, gives a python-catching demonstration before potential snake hunters at the start of the Python Bowl 2020 on January 10, 2020 in Sunrise, Florida. The Florida Python Challenge 2020 Python Bowl taking place a few weeks before the Super Bowl being held in Miami Gardens, is a 10-day competition to remove Burmese pythons from the Florida Everglades due to the threat to the delicate ecosystem that they pose as they have no predators and reproduce rapidly. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
SUNRISE, FLORIDA - JANUARY 10: Robert Edman, with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, gives a python-catching demonstration before potential snake hunters at the start of the Python Bowl 2020 on January 10, 2020 in Sunrise, Florida. The Florida Python Challenge 2020 Python Bowl taking place a few weeks before the Super Bowl being held in Miami Gardens, is a 10-day competition to remove Burmese pythons from the Florida Everglades due to the threat to the delicate ecosystem that they pose as they have no predators and reproduce rapidly. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
SUNRISE, FLORIDA - JANUARY 10: Robert Edman, with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, gives a python-catching demonstration before potential snake hunters at the start of the Python Bowl 2020 on January 10, 2020 in Sunrise, Florida. The Florida Python Challenge 2020 Python Bowl taking place a few weeks before the Super Bowl being held in Miami Gardens, is a 10-day competition to remove Burmese pythons from the Florida Everglades due to the threat to the delicate ecosystem that they pose as they have no predators and reproduce rapidly. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
Hialeah Gardens High School student Ethan Backs captures a Burmese Python during the ceremony for the Florida Python Challenge 2020 Python Bowl Kickoff Event Friday, Jan. 10, 2020, in Sunrise, Fla. Miami's upcoming Super Bowl will mean death for dozens of invasive Burmese pythons in the Everglades — and wildlife officials say that's a good thing. (Joe Cavaretta/South Florida Sun-Sentinel via AP)
FILE- In this Wednesday, Oct. 23, 2019 file photo, a 14-foot, 95-pound, female Burmese python is held tightly by wildlife biologist Ian Bartoszek after he captured it in Naples, Fla. The Super Bowl committee and Florida environmental officials launched a contest on Friday, Jan. 10, 2020, for hunters to kill Burmese pythons, which are decimating the Everglades. (AP Photo/Robert F. Bukaty, File)
Florida Wildlife Commission employee Robert Edman captures a Burmese Python during the ceremony for the Florida Python Challenge 2020 Python Bowl Kickoff Event Friday, Jan. 10, 2020, in Sunrise, Fla. Miami's upcoming Super Bowl will mean death for dozens of invasive Burmese pythons in the Everglades — and wildlife officials say that's a good thing. (Joe Cavaretta/South Florida Sun-Sentinel via AP)
Miami Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez captures a Burmese Python during the ceremony for the Florida Python Challenge 2020 Python Bowl Kickoff Event Friday, Jan. 10, 2020, in Sunrise, Fla. Miami's upcoming Super Bowl will mean death for dozens of invasive Burmese pythons in the Everglades — and wildlife officials say that's a good thing. (Joe Cavaretta/South Florida Sun-Sentinel via AP)
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Some say the competition succeeds in drawing awareness to the plight, while others note that it barely makes a dent in the overall population of pythons in the Everglades, which is said to near 300,000. These hunters are really the only predators for these snakes, which can lay up to 100 eggs during their cycles. Even professional hunters aren't guaranteed a catch: Most eight hour hunts result in just one snake, according to Fox News.

PETA has since condemned the hunt as "grotesque" and calls for its end.

In a recent letter to the Miami Super Bowl Host Committee, the organization's president Ingrid Newkirk asked the host committee to stop working with the Python Bowl. 

"There is simply nothing here to cheer about. Using their skin as part of the entertainment trivializes the animals' deaths, and killing them should not be seen as something fun," she wrote.

A petition on the organization's website demands the committee to stop "the wholesale slaughter of animals."

"This problem was created entirely by humans, and if lethal measures are absolutely necessary, at the very least the animals should be rounded up by trained wildlife professionals and euthanized," the document reads.

"Creating a killing frenzy guarantees that many of these pythons will die slowly and in agony since their unique physiology requires special knowledge and measures to ensure a quick, painless death."

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