As announced by the South Florida Water Management District last week, hunter Jason Leon brought in a 132-pound female that went just over 17-feet in length. The man, who chalked up the state record with an 18-foot snake in 2013, said he harvested the latest python at 2:45 a.m. on Dec. 4 along with a smaller male snake that they let go.
“I grabbed her first by the center of the body,” says Leon, “She had her head over wrapped around by the tree. I was able to go ahead and grab her up further on the head. When I had her further on the head I came and took a shot on her right here,” he says, displaying the wound to the animals melon-sized head. A second shot finished off the snake.
SFWMD earlier this year announced a program during which hunters will be paid both for their time spent on the job as well as a bonus for each of the huge snakes bagged. The bounty program pays $50 for each python brought in under four feet in length with an extra $25 tacked on for every additional foot, meaning Leigh could have pocketed $375 from SFWMD for his serpent.
Between March and July, the district paid out nearly $50,000 in hourly fees and bounties to participating hunters who brought in 158 snakes totaling some 3,725 pounds.
According to a recent University of Florida study, pythons have decimated the wildlife indigenous to the state and have accounted for at least 77 percent of the wild rabbit deaths, robbing native predators such as the endangered Florida panther, birds of prey, alligators, and bobcats of their food source. This figure can be even higher in regions with lots of the invasive snakes.
“In areas of heavy python population, there is a 99 percent reduction in fur-bearing animals,” said SFWMD Python Elimination Program Manager Mike Kirkland, who said animals hunters can go on to use the snakes’ skin but their meat cannot be eaten due to high levels of mercury.