Beginning on January 16, volunteers in Florida will hunt Burmese pythons—and some will decapitate the snakes—as part of a month-long event called the 2016 Python Challenge, which seeks to rid the area of the nonnative, predatory animals.
But how did the Burmese pythons get there in the first place?
All reports point to the same culprit: the exotic-pet trade. The snakes, native to South Asia, have multiplied in number rapidly in Florida since the early 2000s. It’s been suggested that people who purchased the pythons to keep as “pets” released them into the wild after becoming overwhelmed by the amount of care and special attention that the animals require. Upon release, the pythons bred at an alarming rate.
And now the snakes pay the price.
*This video shows how a captured python will struggle and suffer at the hands of his or her captor.
Despite veterinary experts’ warning that there’s no humane way for laypersons to decapitate and destroy the brain of a snake in the field, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) is permitting participants in the challenge to kill Burmese pythons by stunning them and cutting off their heads. In response, PETA sent the FWC a letter urging officials to restrict approved killing methods to the use of captive-bolt guns or firearms, which, if used properly, instantly kill the animals.
When decapitated, pythons can remain alive and writhe in agony for hours. PETA calls on Florida officials to stop authorizing snake decapitation and make it clear that this inhumane killing method is unacceptable.
It’s not just the decapitation that’s questionable. The Python Challenge offers up to $5,000 in “rewards” for capturing and slaying the snakes.
Bounty-like efforts to eradicate invasive species have been scientifically proved not to work. A report prepared by the U.S. Geological Survey even concluded that “any feature that adds value to an invasive species … creates economic pressure to assure the population’s continuation.” In addition, the FWC provides Python Challenge participants with contact information for businesses that will purchase python skins, thereby increasing the economic motivation for people to take shots that aren’t clear and may merely wound the animals to keep them from escaping.
Python Challenge participants are required only to complete a 30-minute training online prior to their enrollment in the challenge.