They had guns, machetes and good intentions.
That wasn't enough for most of the 1,500 snake chasers who signed up for Florida's month-long Burmese python hunt, which ended Sunday. Heading into the final weekend of the state's Python Challenge, just 50 of the nonvenomous constrictors had been wrestled out of the marshes and hammocks of the Everglades and Big Cypress swamp.
Scientists have estimated the South Florida python population at anywhere from tens of thousands to more than 100,000. The snakes, thought to be unwanted pets or escapees from breeding plants, pose a threat to native species and to an ecosystem that taxpayers are spending billions of dollars to restore.
The hunt, which kicked off Jan. 12, had amateurs and experts from 38 states and one Canadian province scouring roadsides, levees, canals and tree islands accessible only by airboat -- and left them scratching their heads.
"This has really been an unprecedented amount of effort to catch Burmese pythons," said Carli Segelson, spokeswoman for the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, which sponsored the hunt.
The low kill rate doesn't necessarily mean the python problem has been oversold, Segelson said. Pythons are well-camouflaged and live in areas that are difficult to access. Besides that, Everglades National Park, the epicenter of the python invasion, is off-limits to hunting.
-- Scripps Howard