Florida python hunt pays minimum wage plus bonuses

Hunting pythons now pays minimum wage with the opportunity for length-based bonuses.

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In an effort to reduce the population of invasive Burmese pythons in the Everglades, the South Florida Water Management District announced an experimental program Thursday that offers $8.10 an hour, plus incentives starting at $50 for a 4-foot-long snake and $25 for each additional foot above that.

A snake found guarding a nest with eggs is worth an additional $100.

Burmese pythons are at the top of the food chain in the Everglades and researchers fear they are spreading. In September, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission announced python hatchlings were found in Key Largo, while a 10-foot python was found on a levee at the Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge in Palm Beach County.

Watch: Python attacks alligator in epic struggle 

“This is a two-month pilot program, so we don’t anticipate eradication, but we want to tap into resources not previously used,” said Rory Feeney, the water management district’s bureau chief for land resources. “We want to see how successful an incentivized program is.”

Registration begins today with 25 participants to be chosen before the April 1 through June 1 hunt. Each participant can be accompanied by up to three volunteers.

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission has sponsored a similar program called the Python Challenge, but that was a contest with winners taking home prizes up to $5,000 depending on the number of pythons killed and length.

Last year, more than 1,000 people from 29 states registered for the challenge, which netted 106 snakes, including one that was 15-feet-long.

But estimates of how many pythons are in the Everglades are in the tens of thousands and the damage they are doing to native species is alarming. In December, researchers found that a 15-foot female python had eaten three white-tailed deer in the 90 days before capture.

Palm Beach Post video of a python attacking an alligator in Big Cypress National Preserve in December drew international attention to the issue and was watched by the water management governing board at its Thursday meeting.

“Anyone who has seen the now famous python vs. alligator video can attest that the fight for survival of the Everglades is real,” said South Florida Water Management District Governing Board chairman Dan O’Keefe. “Floridians should have no sympathies for this notorious strangler, and this latest initiative should pave the way for further exotic elimination efforts.”

The district has set aside $175,000 for the program. A participant can earn the $8.10 per hour for up to eight hours per day. Total compensation cannot exceed $6,000.

Hunters are restricted to designated South Florida Water Management District land in Miami-Dade County.

“Pythons are naturally hard to find. They are camouflaged, opportunistic predators that will hide until they are ready to strike,” Feeney said. “But if you are patient and take your time, you can see these things in the wild and catch them.”

For more information on the district's Python Elimination Program go to www.sfwmd.gov.