NAPLES, Fla. - Python Bowl 2020 kicked off in Florida over the weekend as efforts to eradicate the invasive Burmese pythons heat up.
The Florida Python Challenge is a 10-day event that began Friday where veteran hunters and novice snake surveyors head into the field to capture as many pythons as possible.
As of Monday morning, 662 people have registered to participate and 18 snakes have been turned in to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission's check stations.
The competition is broken into two teams: the pros and the rookies. Competition revolves around the longest invasive snake, heaviest snake and largest number of snakes pulled out in the 10-day period.
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"The intent of the Florida Python Challenge 2020 Python Bowl is to bring continued awareness to invasive species issues in south Florida and engage the public in participating in Everglades conservation through invasive species removal," FWC spokesperson Carli Segelson wrote in an email.
Donna Kalil, a full-time python hunter who works with the FWC, said she was planning on participating in the python bowl. Kalil has pulled more than 270 invasive pythons from the southern Florida wilderness. An expert at spotting pythons, she said she'll be out chatting with the other competitors and giving advice to those new to the endeavor.
The FWC hopes the event will help "generate data from concentrated removal of Burmese pythons, such as their size and locations."
The event organizers also want to raise awareness on not just Burmese pythons, but other invasive species. Segelson wrote that one goal is to continue educating the public and help people learn how they can help.
"These pythons can grow up to 20 feet and 200 pounds, and the problem is they're not native and decimate the natural food chain and wreak havoc on native species," Gov. Ron DeSantis said. "If we don't take action to remove them ... the rest of the Everglades is harmed."
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The Fish and Wildlife Foundation of Florida has supported these python challenges every time they're organized, said Michelle Ashton, a spokesperson for the organization.
"Thanks to our money and the money raised from corporate and private donors, we've been able to support a good number of prizes," she said. "We're also providing logistical support for registration and the exhibit at the Super Bowl."
The foundation has made invasive pythons one of its main initiatives, Ashton said.
"We are really hopeful this not only raises awareness about how much of a problem pythons are - it's doing a great job in educating the public," she said. "We're helping to support projects to track pythons, but at the end of the day people going out and removing them is most effective."
Follow reporter Karl Schneider on Twitter: @karlstartswithk
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This article originally appeared on Naples Daily News: Python Bowl 2020: Florida Python Challenge hauls in registrations