The annual Florida Python Challenge, now in its tenth year, draws thousands of enthusiasts from all over the United States and beyond its borders. Participants vie for the glory of capturing Burmese pythons, a massive invasive species wreaking havoc on the state’s ecosystem.

Florida Python Challenge kicks off its 10-day marathon contest on 4 August.

Jake Waleri, 22, is set to make his mark in python-hunting during his summer break. Inspired by watching professional hunters on television, Jake began his journey two years ago. He took part in the Florida Python Challenge last year but faced disappointment when his rankings were not up to his expectations. Jake is determined to hunt as many snakes as he can this year.

Burmese pythons are native to Southeast Asia. They were introduced to the Florida Everglades through the exotic pet trade. However, they have multiplied over the years, causing severe disruption to the natural habitat.

Florida launched its first public contest to control python populations a decade ago.

The contest attracts participants from around the globe, including Canada, Belgium, and Latvia. It offers up to $30,000 in prize money for those who outsmart and out-hunt the elusive species.

A science teacher is among the notable victors, for his barehanded capture of a nearly 16-foot snake. A father-and-son duo dispatched 41 snakes. A 19-year-old used his $10,000 prize money to equip his truck with better snake-spotting lights.

Jake Waleri and his cousin gear up for a nocturnal snake-hunting spree. The two cousins plan to spend every night during the contest seeking out serpents. They have stocked up on energy drinks and bug spray to keep their stamina and focus intact.

Waleri plans to carry chest-high waders. A roll of tape will serve as a crucial tool in ensuring the python’s mouth is sealed securely before he puts an end to its reign. This will prevent any potential escape or danger.

The python hunters also have a snake stick for moving venomous snakes off the road. This protects them from passing cars while ensuring motorist safety.

Jake pointed out that it is critical to be at ease around snakes during the hunt. The slightest hesitation can lead to dangerous situations. If one approaches a python without confidence, especially near the snake’s head, the risk of bite increases.

However, the true impact of the state-sanctioned python killing spree on the Everglades remains uncertain. Experts contend that accurately determining the number of Burmese pythons in the area is challenging.

Burmese pythons are masters of camouflage. It makes them nearly invisible in the natural environment. The difficulty in tracking their population accurately hampers efforts to gauge the effectiveness of the contest in controlling their numbers.

Burmese pythons spend about 80% of their time motionless. They move only when a potential meal is nearby to capture and constrict. Their static nature, combined with their impeccable ability to blend in with the surroundings, makes locating them a complex task.

Burmese pythons are also skilled escape artists, making them more difficult to capture and remove. Hunting requires considerable expertise and experience to outsmart the reptiles.