Dave Barry on man-vs.-snake Everglades smackdown

Miami HeraldJanuary 14, 2013 

Would you like to make some extra money, and at the same time run the risk of being eaten by a carnivorous reptile the size of a war canoe?

If your answer is “yes,” I have an exciting opportunity for you. It’s called the Python Challenge, and I am not making it up. It’s a real event that was dreamed up by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, which apparently was concerned that Florida does not seem insane enough to people in normal states.

The Python Challenge is a month-long contest; its purpose, according to the official website (pythonchallenge.org) is “to raise public awareness about Burmese pythons.”

Q. What do they mean by “raise public awareness about?”

A. They mean “kill.”

The contest is open to anybody who registers, pays a $25 fee and takes an online training course; so far about 400 people have signed up. These people have from Jan. 12 through Feb. 10 to go out in the Everglades and raise public awareness on as many pythons as they can. There’s a $1,500 prize for whoever kills the most pythons, a $1,000 prize for whoever kills the longest python, and a $500 prize for whoever kills the python with the best personality.

I’m kidding about that last prize, of course. Burmese pythons do not have personalities: All they do is eat and destroy the ecosystem. They are the teenage males of the animal kingdom. That’s why the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission is trying to get rid of them.

Be advised, however, that you cannot kill these pythons any old way you want. No, sir: This is an official state-sponsored event, and if there is one word that comes to mind whenever you hear the name “Florida,” that word is “ethics.” The Python Challenge guidelines clearly state that you have — this is an actual quote — “an ethical obligation to ensure a Burmese python is killed in a humane manner.” That means you cannot kill your python using cruel and inhumane methods such as forcing it to watch Here Comes Honey Boo Boo until it commits suicide, or placing it at the entrance to a Boca Raton restaurant just as the Early Bird special begins, where it would be trampled to death in seconds.

So how do you ethically kill a Burmese python? According to the Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, you can use a device called a “captive bolt,” or you can shoot it in the head with a firearm of “a safe, but effective caliber.” (Got that? You want your caliber to be safe, but also effective.)

You are also permitted to whack off the python’s head with a machete, provided you do so in an ethical manner. To quote the commission: “Make sure your technique results in immediate loss of consciousness and destruction of the Burmese python’s brain.” (If you think I’m making any of this up, I urge you to go read the Python Challenge guidelines.)

One thing the guidelines are not very specific about is how you’re supposed to catch the python in the first place. I happen to have some experience in this area. A few years ago, I captured a snake that somehow got into my office and onto my desk, despite the fact that I live in Coral Gables, where snakes are a clear violation of the zoning code. The technique I used to capture this particular snake was as follows:

1. Make an extremely non-masculine sound such as might be emitted by a recently castrated Teletubby.

2. Run out to the patio and grab the barbecue tongs.

3. Run back into the office and, while squinting really hard so as not to make eye contact with the snake, pick it up with the tongs.

4. Run, whimpering, back out onto the patio with mincing steps and quickly release the snake in such a manner that it falls into your swimming pool.

5. Change your underwear.

Bear in mind that the snake I captured was of the non-python variety, and was only about two feet long. To capture a Burmese python, which can grow to nearly 20 feet, you will need really big barbecue tongs.

At this point you are no doubt wondering: “If I capture a python, is it safe to eat the meat?” I will answer that with another question: Where do you think Slim Jims come from?

No! That is a joke, and as such it is protected from lawsuits by the Constitution. The actual answer, according to the Python Challenge website, is that “neither the Florida Department of Health nor the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services have stated that python meat is safe to consume.” I interpret that to mean: “Yes.”

Here’s some more good news: You can keep your python skins! The website lists the names of some companies that might want them, including a company called Dragon Backbone, which “will trade a knife for four python skins at least four feet long.” (I am still not making this up.) The website also says that a company called All American Gator Products “can tan a Burmese python skin and fashion it into something you want.” (The website does not come right out and use the term “thong,” but we can read between the lines.)

In conclusion, I think the Python Challenge is one of those ideas that cannot possibly go wrong, and, assuming it goes off with a minimum of unnecessary deaths, it should be extended to other unwanted species, starting with a Cockroach Challenge. So to all you python hunters, I say: Good luck! We Floridians all look forward to the big moment when the dead pythons are counted and the winner declared. It’s bound to be exciting. You know how good this state is at counting things.

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