MIAMI — A 19-year-old South Florida man captured 28 Burmese pythons during a 10-day competition that was created to increase awareness about the threats the invasive snakes pose to the state’s ecology.
Matthew Concepcion was among the 1,000 participants from 32 states, Canada and Latvia who participated in the annual challenge, which removed 231 of the unwanted pythons, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission said in a news release.
For his efforts, Concepcion was awarded the $10,000 Ultimate Grand Prize courtesy of the Bergeron Everglades Foundation. Dustin Crum won a $1,500 grand prize for removing the longest python, at just over 11 feet (3.3 meters).
Earlier this year, a team of biologists hauled in the heaviest Burmese python ever captured in Florida. That female python weighed in at 215 pounds (98 kilograms), was nearly 18 feet long (5 meters) and had 122 developing eggs, according to the Conservancy of Southwest Florida.
Burmese pythons aren’t protected except by Florida’s anti-cruelty law, so participants had to document that each one was killed humanely.
Concepcion told the South Florida SunSentinel that he’s been hunting pythons for about five years, and typically looks for them at night because that’s when they’re on the move, seeking the warmth of roads. He uses his vehicle lights to spot them.
This year, however, he only spotted one on the roads in the Everglades, so he changed strategies.
“I worked a levee, caught a couple hatchings, and was like, ‘Dang, this might be the ticket!’ So every single night from then on, I went out there — just before sundown to sunup.”
Concepcion says he walked the canal, using a flashlight to probe the underbrush. Smaller snakes are so well camouflaged that he looks for their shadows cast by the flashlight beam, he told the newspaper. But larger snakes are easier to find.
“They will have a slightly purple tint to them. They’re really beautiful.”
Concepcion said he may use some of his earnings to buy a powerful lighting setup for his truck, which will help him spot more snakes.
“Our python hunters are passionate about what they do and care very much about Florida’s precious environment. We are removing record numbers of pythons and we’re going to keep at it,” South Florida Water Management District Governing Board Member “Alligator Ron” Bergeron said in a news release.