(Reuters) - Florida wildlife officials are looking for a few good snake slayers as they enlist the public to combat a proliferation of pythons that have invaded the Florida Everglades.
Combating a surge of pets turned predators, state officials have placed a bounty on the Burmese python in an attempt to eradicate the species from the environmentally sensitive marshy region known as the River of Grass.
The latest attempt will enlist the help of professional python hunters and weekend enthusiasts, who will compete beginning January 12 for the cash in what has been dubbed the "2013 Python Challenge."
The goal of the month-long event is to reduce the number of non-native reptiles that are gobbling up indigenous wildlife at an increasing rate. Winners will receive up to $1,500 for the longest snake, while $1,000 will be awarded to the serpent killer who brings in the largest haul.
"Part of the goal of the Python Challenge is to educate the public to understand why non-native species like Burmese pythons should never be released into the wild and encourage people to report sightings of exotic species," said Kristen Sommers, head of exotic species programs for the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.
Burmese pythons became established in 2000 in the state, which has one of the world's worst invasive reptile and amphibian problems.