FLORIDA EVERGLADES — Florida’s controversial Python Challenge nearly took a tragic turn after two hunters from Tennessee became lost in the Everglades. The men, ages 22 and 25, were suffering from dehydration and heat exhaustion when they were plucked from the northern part of the Everglades by a rescue helicopter.
Authorities first received a call about the missing hunters at 4 p.m. on Feb. 7, and sent air rescue units to search the area. The two men were located about 30 minutes later. They were treated at the scene and opted not to go to the hospital for additional care.
The Python Challenge has lured many outsiders to Florida in pursuit of the $1,500 grand prize. The Everglades can be a dangerous place even for those who know them well, and some residents have expressed concern about the number of inexperienced hunters taking part in the Challenge.
More than 1,500 people signed up for the Challenge, which began on Jan. 12 in Everglades National Park. In addition to the grand prize of $1,500 for the person who kills the most pythons, there is a $1,000 prize for the hunter who bags the longest.
Burmese pythons are stealthy creatures with camouflaged skin, so participants initially struggled to have success. Even with professional hunters in the mix, only about a dozen snakes were turned in during the competition’s first week. It’s estimated that there are tens of thousands of pythons in the Everglades, however, so it was only a matter of time before hunters began having more success. As of Feb. 8, 50 pythons had been reportedly taken.
The Burmese python is an invasive species that is decimating many of the other species living in the Everglades. Endangered species like the wood stork and the Key Largo wood rat often fall prey, and research suggests that the voracious snakes have caused populations of foxes, bobcats, opossums and raccoons to virtually vanish from many areas. Even larger animals are in danger — a 16-foot python caught a few months ago had a 76-pound deer in its stomach.
Burmese pythons were first found in Everglades National Park in the late ’70s, presumably pets that were released there by owners who no longer wanted them. By 2000, they were considered an established species.
Grant Olsen joined the ksl.com team in 2012. He covers travel, outdoor adventures, and other interesting things. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.