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.

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."