By Tommy Andres, CNN
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(CNN) – Graham Rogers unsheathes a long, thick knife from his waist.
[4:30] “This is a very special knife because this has got an engraving of Daniel Boone on it, who’s the great Kentucky outdoorsman and the settler of Kentucky, so we really hope that’s going to buoy us to success today.”
Rogers is wearing a beige fishing shirt and green pants tucked into tall rubber boots. He sports a pencil thin mustache and round, tortoise shell sunglasses that make him look like Howard Hughes on safari. He and his friend Blake Freeman are about to start law school, but before they dive into the books, they’re diving into the bush. They have driven down to southern Florida from Kentucky to join the nearly 1,000 people who have signed up for the first annual Python Challenge.
Native to southern Asia, Burmese pythons have found their way into the Florida Everglades. The invasive species is wreaking havoc on the ecosystem, eating everything from raccoons to deer. The problem has forced the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission (FWC) to get creative, and now they’re offering anyone interested the chance to hunt down the mammoth snakes for a $25 registration fee and a half-hour online course.
“Isn’t that ridiculous?”
Dave Leibman of Weston, Florida has spent his free time hunting Burmese pythons for years. In fact all his friends call him “Python Dave.” He captures the snakes alive and turns them into the FWC to be euthanized. He thinks the snakes deserve to be killed humanely and doubts the Python Challenge is the way to do that:
[6:47] “The state has to do what the state has to do. They want to try and protect our ecosystem. This is what they came up with. I’m sure they could’ve come up with something better, but so be it.”
The hunters have their work cut out for them. The FWC says there are tens of thousands of the snakes in the Everglades. Rogers admits he and Freeman are scared, but says they will hunt through the night until they get one:
[5:17] “We’ve got to kill a snake. We’ve got too much riding on this. Too many friends, too many people are going to call us amateur hunters if we don’t kill a snake.”
The month-long Python Challenge kicked off January 12 and runs until February 10.