Reptile Dysfunction: Dave Barry Survives the Florida Python Challenge

Dave Barry asks: What’s scarier—the pythons swarming the Everglades or the people hunting them?

By Dave Barry as adapted from The Miami Harold for Reader's Digest Magazine
Illustration by Victor Juhasz

Would you like to make some extra money and at the same time run the risk of being eaten by a carnivorous reptile the size of a war canoe?

Yes? Sorry, too late. Had you jumped at the chance between January 12 and February 10 of this year, you could have joined the Python Challenge. I am not making it up. It’s a real event that was dreamed up by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, which apparently was concerned that Florida does not seem insane enough to people who reside in normal states.

The Python Challenge was a month-long contest; its purpose, according to the official website (pythonchallenge.org), was “to raise public awareness about Burmese pythons.”

Q. What do they mean by “raise public awareness about”?
A. They mean “kill.”

The contest was open to anybody who paid a $25 fee and took an online training course. About 1,600 people signed up to raise public awareness about as many Burmese pythons as they could. In the end, 68 had their awareness raised. And there were prizes: $1,500 for whoever killed the most pythons (six), $1,000 for whoever killed the longest python (14 feet, three inches), and $500 for whoever killed the python with the best personality.

I’m kidding about that last prize, of course. Burmese pythons do not have personalities: All they do is eat and destroy the ecosystem. They are the teenage males of the animal kingdom. That’s why the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission is trying to get rid of them.

Now, you weren’t allowed to kill these pythons any old way you wanted. No, sir. The Python Challenge guidelines clearly stated that hunters had—this is an actual quote—“an ethical obligation to ensure a Burmese python is killed in a humane manner.” That meant no killing of pythons using cruel and inhumane methods such as forcing it to watch Here Comes Honey Boo Boo until it committed suicide, or placing it at the entrance to a Boca Raton restaurant just as the early bird special began, where it would be trampled to death in seconds.

So how does one ethically kill a Burmese python? According to the Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, one could use a device called a “captive bolt” or shoot the python in the head with a firearm of “a safe, but effective caliber.” (Got that? You want your caliber to be safe, but also effective.)

Hunters were also allowed to whack off the python’s head with a machete, provided they did so in an ethical manner. To quote the commission: “Make sure your technique results in immediate loss of consciousness and destruction of the Burmese python’s brain.” (If you think I’m making any of this up, I urge you to go read the Python Challenge guidelines.)

At this point you are no doubt wondering, “If I capture a python, is it safe to eat the meat?” I will answer that with another question, “Where do you think Slim Jims come from?”

No! That is a joke, and as such it is protected from lawsuits by the Constitution. The actual answer, according to the Python Challenge website, is that “neither the Florida Department of Health nor the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services have stated that python meat is safe to consume.” I interpret that to mean “Yes.”

Here’s some more good news: If you bagged a python, you can keep its skin! The website lists the names of some companies that might want it, including one called Dragon Backbone, which “will trade a knife for four python skins at least four feet long.” (I am still not making this up.) The website also says that a company called All American Gator Products “can tan a Burmese python skin and fashion it into something you want.” (The website does not come right out and use the term “thong,” but we can read between the lines.)

One thing the website was not very specific about was how one was supposed to have caught the python in order to raise public awareness about it. I happen to have some experience in this area and would have been more than happy to share my expertise. A few years ago, I captured a snake that somehow got into my office and onto my desk. The technique I used to capture this particular snake was as follows:

1. Make an extremely non-masculine sound such as might be emitted by 
a recently castrated Teletubby.
2. Run out to the patio and grab the barbecue tongs.
3. Run back into the office and, while squinting really hard so as not to make eye contact with the snake, pick it up with the tongs.
4. Run, whimpering, back out onto the patio with mincing steps and quickly release the snake in such a manner that it falls into your swimming pool.
5. Change your underwear.

Bear in mind that the snake I captured was of the non-python variety, and was only about two feet long. To capture a Burmese python, which can grow to nearly 26 feet, one needs really big barbecue tongs.

Dave Barry is a professional humorist with more funny work available on his website.

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