Island resident Michael Jaworski chats with dean of culinary education at Lincoln Culinary Institute David Pantone, who showed participants of the Python Challenge how to cook snake and other invasive species.
It is estimated that there are 30,000-150,000 Burmese pythons adapting and living very well in the Florida Everglades.
The largest capture of a python to date was a 17-foot female carrying 80 eggs.
A few weeks ago, I attended the kickoff to the 2013 Python Challenge in the Everglades. For years, these supersized reptiles have been ravaging the Everglades, eating nearly everything in sight, including deer, raccoons, opossums and up to 6-foot-long alligators.
The snakes have been turned loose by irresponsible pet owners and tropical storms, which upturned legitimate reptile houses and breeding centers. The snakes have infiltrated the delicate Everglades ecosystem and are running rampant.
The news that the National Park Service opened a python-hunting season was a first.
So myself, and my wife of 41 years left for Miami to quell my thirst for knowledge, leaving my comfort zone to seek my demons.
That’s right, the serpent, the devil in disguise. The Bible described it as such and Michelangelo painted it on the Sistine Chapel ceiling — Adam and Eve’s expulsion from paradise.
The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission declared war on the python Jan. 12 through Feb. 10.
The challenge kicked off at the University of Florida — Fort Lauderdale Research and Education Center in Davie, just north of Miami.
Who really cares about 17-foot predators from Myanmar and North Africa? Apparently plenty of folks, because when I arrived there were already about 30 news crews set up from as far away as the western U.S., Indonesia, Canada and France.
Local and national media outlets were well represented, including CBS This Morning correspondent Anna Warner.
In the mix were about 300 hunters, adventures and game wardens.
FWC executive director Nick Wiley explained to everyone that the challenge was important to increase awareness, not only about the Burmese python, but the 137 other invasive reptiles and amphibians, as well as 1,000 plants and insects impacting native Florida species.
UF’s Dr. John Hayes said Florida is the No. 1 most invaded place on the planet and costs Florida taxpayers $500 million a year.
The event was designed to share what we know about Burmese pythons in Florida, encourage responsible harvesting of pythons, discuss responsible pet ownership and prevent the release into the wild of invasive species.
There were plenty of dignitaries on hand, including dean of culinary education David Pantone at the Lincoln Culinary Institute, who cooked up some mouthwatering gourmet chow from some invasive species.
We were treated to snakehead fish tacos, Caiman medallions with mushroom sauce, Caiman white bean chili and green iguana stew. The dishes were delicious and Pantone said it was his way to personally contribute to eradicating these invasive species — one at a time.
Jeff Fabb, from Animal Planet TV and a volunteer for the Nature Conservancy and Python Patrol in Miami, demonstrated the power of a 13-foot, 85-pound python that he caught a year ago in Miami.
Fabb boasted that humans remain at the top of the food chain, but cautioned that the hunt would be no cakewalk. He said when pythons are confronted, their first reaction is to flee, but when cornered, a 17-foot, 150-pound snake is nothing to be messed around.
There are plenty of other dangers associated with trekking through the Everglades. Besides the threat of dehydration and getting lost, Florida is home to many native venomous snakes.
Cold weather and the cool temperatures work best for a snake hunt, helping to get the snakes out of the cold water and onto berms, roads and islands to sunbathe for warmth. However, very few cold fronts have made it far enough south into the hunting areas.
As of this writing, less than 40 snakes had been harvested.
Jeff Fabb, of Animal Planet shows participants at the Python Challenge the power of a 15-foot Burmese python and why hunters should use caution during the first python hunt of its kind. Islander Photo: Michael Jaworski