As the Super Bowl approaches on Feb. 2, a more South Florida sports match ended Saturday, recognizing veteran and amateur python hunters.
Rodney Barreto, chair of the local host committee, announced that 80 Burmese pythons were caught during the 10-day Python Bowl challenge, a themed version of ongoing snake removal efforts run by the South Florida Water Management District and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.
“I had a discussion with the governor about the pythons. If we replumb the Everglades, and there’s no indigenous animals left to protect, we aren’t doing right by the Everglades,” Barreto said during the ceremony held on the first day of a splashy Super Bowl festival at Bayfront Park in downtown Miami.
Burmese pythons are an invasive species in the Everglades. They threaten native prey, including marsh rabbits, deer and wading birds. Native predators, like panthers and alligators, are then depleted of that food source.
Last year, Gov. Ron DeSantis directed FWC and SFWMD to expand python eradication efforts, including an annual python challenge instead of one held every three years. As of the most recent count in November 2019, more than 3,600 pythons altogether were removed through those agencies' programs.
The U.S. Geological Survey estimates that there are tens of thousands of Burmese pythons in the Everglades.
Members of the Miami Super Bowl host committee awarded thousands of dollars in prizes for longest, heaviest and most pythons caught. Tom Rahill won the grand prizes in the professional category for longest and heaviest pythons – a total of $4,000.
He said he’s going to put that money toward his organization Swamp Apes, which brings U.S. veterans on pythons hunts.
“It’s a constant need. It’s funded out of pocket so this’ll go right back in to continue the mission, to reach as many veterans as possible,” Rahill said.
Amy Siewe, wearing silver snake earrings, won the second prize in the professional category for longest python – 10 feet 7 inches. Pythons can grow up to 20 feet long.
Siewe, a lifelong snake enthusiast and formerly in real estate, moved from Indiana to South Florida to become a python hunter (SFWMD pays trained hunters a minimum hourly wage up to 10 hours daily, according to its website). She said she’s trying to make products, like wallets, out of snake skins and develop recipes to sustain her job as a hunter.
“I get to go out in the swamp everyday. I get to help this ecosystem recover,” she said. “It’s a double-edged sword for me because I really love snakes. I don’t like to kill them, but it has to be done.”