“Pick them up like dog poop,” Jeff Fobb, Program Technician with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC), told my class yesterday during the in-person training for the 2016 Python Challenge. He was referring to the technique of sticking your hand into the cotton bag and grabbing the Burmese python behind its jaws with the other hand then switch it to the bagged hand and pull it around the snake.
As Fobb reminded the class, you don’t pick up dog doo-doo with your bare hands, you typically stick your hand in a plastic bag, pick up the feces then tie up the bag for disposal. Yesterday was another step in my participation in the 2016 Python Challenge which is an FWC competition to remove the invasive Burmese pythons from the Everglades ecosystem. It’s also an opportunity to educate the public about exotic species and the harmful impact they have on the environment.
Participating in an in-person training session is optional but since I’m a first timer, I found it useful.
“This is my first rodeo,” I said to Fobb when I volunteered to be the second of the dozens students to try my hand at bagging a Burmese python.
“That’s okay, they’re experienced,” he replied, referring to the half dozen or so snakes chilling out in their white cotton bags.
During the 90-minute session, about half the time was spent in the classroom learning about the 2016 Python Challenge, the difference between Burmese pythons and native Florida snakes, best places to find the snakes, and how to humanely capture then. Rest of the time was spent outside, trying our hands at capturing and bagging them.
Yeah, I’ll admit, it’s not as easy as it seems, especially for me since I have zero experience, at grabbing a snake. I mean, I’ve held snakes before but haven’t grabbed a monster one out of the field.
Armed with a snake hook, which had a rubber handle like a golf iron, the snake was dropped out of its bag, began hissing and once it began to make its way to freedom, I sprung into action trying to pin its head to the ground by using the rubber end of the hook right behind its head.
“Harder! Harder!” I heard Fobb and Jenny Novak, FWC Program Coordinator, yell when I asserted the handle.
I should have listened because, as Novak said in the classroom, my force wasn’t strong enough and it slipped away. I went after it again and this time, its hiss had the attitude of piss and vinegar and it opened it mouth and lunged at the handle.
Quickly, I had it pinned and went into action. Because people were yelling out instructions again.
“Get on your knees!”
“When did we learn that?” I thought, but quickly followed the command because it’s easier to be at ground level than squatting. Another tip is to go down on one knee rather than both because it’s easy to make an escape with one foot on the ground than both knees on the ground.
As I learned from both instructors, I grabbed the snake’s head just behind its jaws with my thumb and index finger. A power grip isn’t necessary and was told to relax because the animal is no longer fighting. A tight grip may injure the animal.
Pretending to pick up dog doo-doo, I reached my hand in the bag and quickly used that hand to grab the snake, then inched the bag around it while trying to tighten the bag around the snake. Fobb and I tapped the snake’s tail to encourage it into the bag with the trick being, don’t let the head swing around and pop out of the bag because it will either bite or make a great escape.
The demos snakes got bigger as the class progressed but I feel comfortable with my experience on a smaller snake.
After everyone who wanted to try their hands at bagging a snake had finished, we posed for a class photo with an 8-foot-something Burmese python. Before the photo was snapped we were invited to hold its tail and feel its strength.
Whoa! It was very strong. The whole Python Challenge training was exhilarating and what I needed to get my thrill on this week. My next step is to officially register, which includes taking the mandatory online training session.
The Python Challenge kicks off Jan. 16, 2016 with an Invasive Species Festival and runs through Feb. 14, 2016. An awards ceremony will be held Feb. 27. In addition to the python hunt, social media contests will be conducted and will be open to people not actively participating in the hunt. Visit PythonChallenge.org for the latest updates with the challenge. Follow the conversation online by following #PythonChallenge. I’ll also be using #STGPythonChallenge.
Below is a brief video of Jeff Fobb demonstrating how to bag a Burmese python.