This past weekend was the awards program at Zoo Miami for the Florida Fish and Wildlife's Python Challenge 2013. The Florida Everglades has been overrun with Burmese Pythons that were introduced through irresponsible pet owners releasing them into the wild when they became too large for them to keep. The snakes have enjoyed the environment the Everglades offers and have multiplied creating an environmental problem. It's not nice to mess with the food chain.
The Python Challenge ran from January 12 through February 10 and included about 800 registrants and their team members, some from as far away as Canada who spent time hunting the pythons in the Everglades for prizes offered for the most and the largest caught and killed.
It was not a free-for-all. Participants had to take a training course and follow specific rules for the harvesting of the snakes. Those snakes harvested were turned over to the University of Florida for study and data collection.
While everyone wished for a larger harvest (68 were actually harvested), they all agreed they had made a dent in future population. A female Burmese python can produce over a hundred eggs. The most snakes harvested was 18 by a group that was donating its prize money to a local girl who has a severe medical problem. The longest snake harvested was 14 feet 3 inches. Pythons can reach lengths over 20 feet.
The awards ceremony was interesting, especially to our son who had joined the challenge but didn't harvest a snake but the more intriguing part to me was in the displays set up around the awards areas. Booths featured all sorts of conservation groups as well as the entrepreneurial side of conservation: t-shirts, snake skin products, and other trinkets related to the environment of the Everglades. The conservation groups were trying to bring awareness of the other types of invasive animal, insects, and plants that upset the eco-balance when introduced to areas where they are not native.
One booth in particular fascinated us and challenged our palate. A gourmet outdoor chef was preparing green iguana on the grill and handing out free samples. There were several different types of marinades and sauces served over the grilled pieces. Some of us ventured a taste. The meat was tender enough but the piece was mostly bone. Taste like chicken? No, not really. It was a little like conch in that it really didn't have much of a flavor of its own. It took on the taste of the marinade and sauce. Still, I felt so adventuresome and now I know if I'm ever marooned somewhere there are iguanas, I'll know I can grill them.
All in all, I was quite proud of myself for attending the festivity. Nothing makes my skin crawl more than a snake and here I was surrounded by all sorts of specimens. Nightmares? You betcha!