MIAMI - Barely a week after his swearing in for a third term as senator, Bill Nelson has conceded defeat, tweeting, "pythons seems to be elusive in this warm weather, none caught today."
In knee-high water boots, the septuagenarian senator spent the day stomping through parts of the Everglades, wrangling up no snakes but a good deal of press. Nelson has championed the eradication of the invasive pythons from the Everglades, famously plunking down a giant snakeskin in the Senate in 2009 and claiming that there were 100,000 or more of the slithery critters.
Nelson told reporters, in his deep Florida drawl, "These pythons eat everything in the Everglades: bobcats, deer, even alligator and maybe endangered Florida panther."
"These snakes are dangerous. There was a child killed in central Florida by one of these kept as pets," he said. "The pythons don't belong here."
"Where else but in Florida do you have a U.S. senator going out to hunt an invasive exotic species that eats alligators and strangles children in their cribs?" Rick Wilson, a veteran Sunshine State Republican strategist, laughed to the Miami Herald.
Accompanied by "Alligator Ron" Bergeron, commissioner of Florida's Fish and Wildlife Commission, herpetologists, handlers and a herd of media, Nelson became the newest participant in Florida's Python Challenge 2013. The concept being, that deploying nearly 1,000 heavily armed hunters into the Everglades for a month might speed the eradication of an animal that can grow to be 17 feet or more, lay 100 eggs, and eat indigenous species with abandon.
It hasn't worked out exactly that way. So far fewer than 20 verified snakes have been caught in a full week of hunting. That's one snake per 50 hunters. According to Shawn Heflick, Florida's first licensed python hunter, catching a single python consumes 92 man hours. In fact in all of 2012, he says, only 65 pythons were caught.
"If there were 150,000 as the politicians they [pythons] would be hanging off the trees… as you see, they are clearly not," Heflick said.
Not only are the snakes elusive, they are likely much less numerous than believed, says Heflick, who estimates about 10,000 invasive pythons in southern Florida. He also says there is not a single known incident of a python attacking a human.
The state blames the infestation on irresponsible pet owners who have dumped unwanted pythons by the hundreds into Florida's swamps over the past decade. With few predators, the pythons have procreated, growing exponentially in size. However two frigid winters in 2009-10 were said to have decimated the snake population.