Three snake hunters took home a $10,000 check last month when they won the Sunshine State’s annual “Florida Python Challenge.” Paul Hobbs, his 12-year-old son Dominic, and his father Tom Hobbs worked together to bag 20 Burmese pythons during the 10-day event, besting more than 1,000 fellow competitors from around the country and the globe.
“It is great to see so many people participate in this year’s Florida Python Challenge that brings awareness to removing invasive species from Florida’s environment,” said Roger Young, FWC Executive Director in a press release announcing the winners. “Thanks to Governor [Ron] DeSantis and our many partners, we have the privilege to reward the public for their interest in getting outdoors and helping to conserve Florida’s natural resources.”
It’s not the first time that the Hobbs men have travelled more than 16 hours from their home in Tennessee to participate in the Florida Python Challenge, which was established in 2013. According to a local media report, 12-year-old Dominic Hobbs has been wrangling snakes for years, and his grandfather, Tom Hobbs, won top honors in the ‘most snakes taken by a novice hunter’ category in 2021.
In all, participants removed 209 snakes during the 2023 competition, FWC said. Roger Kriger, the “grand prize runner-up”, caught 14 snakes and was awarded $7,500 for his efforts. Professional snake hunter Amy Sewee caught the longest python of the event—which measured a full 10 feet in length.
According to the Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC), the widely-publicized snake hunting derby plays an important role in educating the general public about the ecological problems posed by invasive Burmese pythons. “They prey on birds, mammals and other reptiles,” the FWC press release states. “A female Burmese python may lay 50 to 100 eggs at a time. Since 2000, more than 19,000 wild Burmese pythons have been removed from the state of Florida and reported to FWC, including more than 11,000 Burmese pythons removed since 2019.
While the dead snake have piled up over the years, year-round efforts by both FWC-hired contractors and amateur snake hunters alike haven’t stopped the non-native reptile’s rapid spread throughout the south Florida landscape. In a study published in January 2023, the United States Geological Survey (USGS) called Florida’s Burmese python problem “one of the most intractable invasive-species management issues across the globe” and have expanded their range north in recent years thanks to a series of mild winters. There are no concrete estimates to point to, but the USGS believes there are still “tens of thousands of invasive Burmese pythons” in the Florida Everglades alone.
Back in July, an amateur snake hunter set a new state record when he captured and killed a 19-foot Burmese python on public land just north of Everglades National Park. Jake Waleri spotted that snake while shining a spotlight from a truck bed on a road in the Big Cypress National Preserve, where pythons are known to cross. It weighed a whopping 125 pounds.