Monday, December 10, 2012


The state of Florida is gearing up to hold what they call the 'Python Challenge'. Burmese pythons are considered an invasive species in the state, having pushed several other species to the brink of extinction, and in addition to a regular reptile hunting season from March 4-April 14, a hunter is allowed to kill a python during any other hunting season should they come across one. The Python Challenge, scheduled for January 12-February 10, allows anyone, licensed hunter or not (in fact, the licensed python hunters are split into a separate contest), who pays a $25 entry fee and takes a 30-minute online training course, to sign up to kill as many pythons as they can scrounge up. The person who kills the most pythons will win $1,500, and the longest python wins $1,000.

Go ahead and make the Whacking Day jokes. Stephen Messenger of Treehugger probably beat you to most of them anyway. Between Homer Simpson gags, Messenger, while conceding that Burmese pythons have wreaked untold havoc on Florida's ecosystem and that fairly drastic measures such as this may in fact be necessary no matter how many jokes you want to make, points out the potential folly in allowing any old person off the street, whether or not they're even a licensed hunter, license to kill snakes with wild abandon, especially if they don't know the difference between a python and whatever snake it is they come across.

After all, some random tourist in for the week from Minnesota or wherever drops in, never seen a snake up close outside of a zoo, doesn't know the difference between a Burmese python and a corn snake, barely knows the difference between a Burmese python and a Slinky, sleepwalks through the training course (which is supposed to tell them about exactly that kind of thing, but which you can take as many times as you need to pass it and which therefore can eventually be passed by luck or rote memorization), wanders into the Everglades, sees one of the species listed as threatened or endangered and goes 'Woo! Thousand bucks, baby!' and all of a sudden it's the worst Whacking Day ever.

There are some rules in place to discourage people from going too crazy- for example, killing a native snake, someone's pet or anything outside the designated contest hunting grounds will get you disqualified, you can't shoot them (the preferred method is to sever the head with a machete), please refrain from running them over with your car, and please please please don't post anything disturbing to YouTube- so the organizers do have some idea what fresh hell they're getting themselves into.

But then, we all know how well tourists follow local protocol sometimes. It only takes one guy. And when you open things up to the general public, you open yourself up to whatever the dumbest person in the competition ends up doing.

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