Wildlife officials in Florida are now offering free T-shirts and raffle prizes for anyone who catches a Burmese python.
The new “Python Pickup” program may be viewed either as whimsical desperation or state government merely trying to make the best of a hopeless situation.
Any serious snake expert will tell you the big constrictors are in the area to stay. Uncountable thousands are slithering across South Florida, reproducing constantly and in boggling numbers.
At the current pace of infestation, it probably won’t be long before a python shows up on the croquet lawn at Mar-a-Lago. The Secret Service should scope out the instructional video provided by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.
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This is no joke. The title is “Safe Capture of Burmese Pythons,”
It’s highly entertaining, even if you’ve got no intention of placing yourself within 500 yards of a live python.
Consider this gem of low-key advice in Step Two, which describes the proper way to pin and secure a large snake’s head: “You have to be quick to do this. Try not to hesitate.”
Seriously. And there’s more: “Working at ground level helps prevent the python from wrapping around your face, neck and chest, all of which you don’t want.”
Nobody can say the FWC doesn’t have a sense of humor.
The agency has also posted guidelines for euthanizing captured pythons. Among the approved methods is a bolt gun similar to the one used by the creepy hit man played by Javier Bardem in “No Country for Old Men.”
The wildlife commission’s site even displays a close-up photo of a python’s head marked with an X to illustrate the lethal target point, with this caveat: “Captive bolts or bullets should enter at a slight angle, not from directly above the skull.”
In other words, if you fire at a python’s brain, don’t miss. It really pisses ’em off.
The Python Pickup is just the latest scheme to combat the exotic invaders. Seasonal roundups, cash bounties, radio tracking and even snake-sniffing beagles haven’t put a ding in the population.
According to the new FWC rules, anyone who kills a python can email their GPS coordinates along with a picture showing that the dead snake was humanely dispatched, and that it really is a python. (Note: “Submissions of roadkill or severely decomposed pythons will not be eligible for prizes.”)
Giving away T-shirts and goodies puts a sporty, upbeat spin on what has been an ecological nightmare for the Everglades, the ravenous reptiles gobbling everything from bunnies to full-grown deer — even gators.
Backpacks, $100 fuel cards, Yeti cups, Garmin GPS units and GoPro cameras will be given away, which will surely encourage rookies with absolutely no snake-handling expertise to try wrangling pythons.
Naming it a “python pickup” is misleading because you can’t just amble over to an adult python and pick it up. FWC has a free “hands-on” training session that lasts two to three hours, but it’s not required.
The online version of the course, while informative, fails to convey the sensory experience of grappling with a 140-pound eating machine.
Despite their size, pythons are difficult to find in the wild. They like water, though experts strongly discourage aquatic confrontations, even for experienced swimmers.
If you do manage to catch a python — and you’re not careful — it can mess you up in a number of unpleasant ways.
One time I was recruited to hold part of a 14-foot Burmese that required a medical injection in an anatomical region where no creature likes to feel a needle.
The encounter took place in a trailer on Big Pine Key, to properly set the scene.
The veterinarian friend who talked me into participating was Dr. Doug Mader, a renowned authority on reptiles. While Doug subdued the tail of the unhappy snake, the owner struggled to control its brick-sized head.
I was assigned the middle portion, which is the safest, though I remember Doug warning me what not to do if the python whipped loose and bit me. Something like: “Don’t try to pull away because its teeth curve back like big fish hooks. Just hold still, and we’ll pry the jaws off.”
Fortunately, everything went smoothly. The snake got its medicine, and none of us got hurt. None of us got a T-shirt, either.
But that was just a pet python. The wild ones are always more sporting.
Carl Hiaasen is a columnist for The Miami Herald.