Florida's Python Hunt Aims To Put Dent In Population Of The Invasive Species

Audie Cornish talks to humorist Dave Barry about Florida's so-called "Python Challenge." It was dreamed up by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. The "challenge" is a month-long contest with the mission of raising public awareness about Burmese pythons.

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AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

It won't take a Supreme Court ruling to declare the winner of the next big contest in Florida. When Sunday, February 10th rolls around, only size and quantity will matter. That's when the 2013 Python Challenge ends. No chads this time, just dead pythons.

And that's why we've contacted humorist and Florida resident Dave Barry to guide us through the rules established by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

Welcome, Dave.

DAVE BARRY: Good to be here.

CORNISH: So when did this competition start?

BARRY: It started last weekend. It runs for a month.

CORNISH: And any reports from the field just yet?

BARRY: I'm not going anywhere near the field, personally. The field is full of people who have come from other states to try to kill large non-native snakes with guns. So I'm staying away from the field. But as far as I know, no humans have died yet. I assume some snakes have.

CORNISH: I mean, what are the rules actually, like how does this work?

BARRY: Well, you have to catch - excuse me, I don't mean catch. The actual expression used by the Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission is trying to raise public awareness about the Burmese pythons. That means kill. And you have to kill as many as you can in this month. There's a prize of, I think, $1,500 for the most pythons. And there's a price of $1,000 for the longest Python. But you can't cut your long Python into several smaller pythons. That's against the rules.

(LAUGHTER)

CORNISH: There's actually a serious reason why they're doing this, right? I mean, this isn't just about randomly killing pythons.

BARRY: No, they're kind of like taking over the Everglades. They don't have any enemies down here. Apparently, they were pets at one point. And I'm not going to say that the people who had these pets were stupid, but apparently they didn't look up what happens to the Burmese python as it gets to become more mature, which is it gets to be really, really huge. They caught one not too long ago. I think it was like 17 feet long.

CORNISH: Oh.

BARRY: So the idea is to get people to come in and raise public awareness about them.

CORNISH: And, of course, this is a state-sponsored event. So I assume there must be some rules about how you kill a python.

BARRY: Yeah, you have to kill the pythons in an ethical manner, which is described in some detail in the pythonchallenge.org website. But the main thing is you can't let your pythons suffer too much. You have to get the brain of the python. Apparently, they do have brains.

CORNISH: And I see the term captive bolt is thrown around regarding that.

BARRY: Captive bolt, I don't really know what a captive bolt is, but it's a thing you attach to the head of an animal to destroy its brain. Now, I don't want to be second-guessing anybody here, but you've got amateurs from other states here who are suddenly going to come in contact with maybe a, I don't know, 10, 15-foot-long carnivorous snake out there. I don't really know when they're going to find the time...

(LAUGHTER)

BARRY: ...to attach the bolt to the head of the python. I think there's going to be - to be honest, I think there's going to be a lot of just shooting going on out there.

CORNISH: Now, you were joking that you're not going to go out there. But, you know, you're having fun at people's expense. I mean, do you have any experience with pythons yourself?

BARRY: Not pythons, but I do live in the Miami area, which is basically a swamp. We don't admit it, but the animals know it. And I had an experience several years ago. I had a number of snakes on my property. But several years ago, I was in my office, which is next to our swimming pool, and I reached for my diet soda and there was - I heard a hissing sound. And there was a snake that at the time I would've estimated at probably 30 to 40 feet.

It was probably actually, really, in real life about 2 feet long, but it was a snake right next to my soda can. And so I made a really un-masculine - I made a sound like a recently castrated Teletubby. And I jumped out and ran out onto the patio and got the first weapon I came across, which was barbecue tongs.

(LAUGHTER)

CORNISH: What else?

(LAUGHTER)

BARRY: So I go running out with this thing riding at the end of my barbecue tongs and dropped it. And as it happened, it fell into the swimming pool. It made a rookie snake error, which is it swam into the filter basket.

CORNISH: Ugh.

BARRY: And it was exciting, and that was just a little snake that wasn't even a python. I don't know what people are going to do when they encounter actual pythons out there.

CORNISH: That was Dave Barry, humorist, novelist and herpetologist. His comedy novel "Insane City" will be published at the end of this month.

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