MIAMI -- More than 800 competitors will be trudging through the Florida Everglades for the next eight days, in search of invasive Burmese pythons that will bring in thousands of dollars in prize money.
The python hunt officially began Friday morning and runs through 5 p.m. on Aug. 15, according to officials who gathered in Miami to kick off the annual event.
"This is significant because every python removed is one less invasive species preying on our native birds, mammals and reptiles," said Florida First Lady Casey DeSantis.
Since 2000, more than 17,000 pythons have been removed from the Everglades ecosystem, according to a news release. Burmese pythons, which are not native to Florida, prey on birds, mammals and other reptiles. A female python can lay as many as 100 eggs a year.
Cash prizes of up to $2,500 are available in both the professional and novice categories for those who remove the most pythons, officials said. There are additional prizes for the longest python in each category. Each python must be dead, with hunters facing disqualification if they kill them inhumanely or kill a native snake.
So far, the registered hunters represent 32 states and Canada. Registrations are being accepted throughout the competition. It costs $25 to register and participants must also complete an online training course.