Woman helping remove pythons from Florida’s Everglades despite love of snakes

By Ana Mengotti

Miami, Aug 12 (efe-epa).- Amy Siewe says she has loved snakes ever since she was a young girl, but she also is a skilled hunter of those reptiles who already has captured around 100 of them as part of an Everglades python-elimination program in the southeastern United States.

“I don’t have a fear of snakes. I actually really love them, and with all the knowledge and information that I had I thought I could help make a difference down here, instead of it just being a hobby,” she told Efe.

Siewe, an athletic, 43-year-old native of the midwestern state of Indiana, was interviewed shortly before sunset at one of the entrances to Florida’s Everglades National Park, just as she and her fiance were preparing to enter that reserve in a red pick-up truck with lights on the roof.

The hunter said the evening hours are the best time to find the different species of pythons and boas – non-venomous snakes that have eliminated an estimated 90 percent of the native mammals that once inhabited that vast natural region of tropical wetlands.

Siewe’s name recently was in the news after she captured a python measuring 17 feet and three inches (5.3 meters) in length and 110 pounds (50 kilos), slightly less than her own weight, as part of an eradication program managed by the South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD).

Before that catch, she had already posted several videos on YouTube in which she shared her knowledge of snakes and showed some of her encounters with those animals.

In one of them, she demonstrated four ways to capture a python in three and a half minutes: with a special stick, with her hands, with her feet and with the help of a partner.

“We have 100 contractors in both programs (the SFWMD’s initiative and another managed by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission – FWC) altogether, and about 10 to 15 (percent) are women,” Siewe said, adding that there is nothing contradictory about hunting pythons despite her lifelong passion for those reptiles.

Although Siewe euthanizes the snakes after capturing them live, she says she makes sure they suffer as little as possible.

During her interview with Efe, the hunter simulated how she inserts the head of the python or boa inside a white bag that has been placed inside a larger black one and how she closes the bag by pulling its strings tightly until the snake stops breathing.

Siewe was drawn to the program to try to help mitigate the enormous damage that pythons and boas are doing to the Everglades ecosystem, although she noted that “it’s not their fault that they’re here.”

No one knows for certain how pythons (a family of snakes native to the tropics and subtropics of the Eastern Hemisphere) ended up in those wetlands, which are a source of drinking water for millions of people.

The most-accepted theory is that the current population of those snakes are descendants of pythons that Floridians had kept as pets and later got rid of by releasing them into the Everglades.

In the first three years of the SFWMD’s Python Elimination Program and the FWC’s Python Action Team, hunters have removed 5,000 Burmese pythons, the FWC said last week.

Although people typically refer only to the removal of Burmese pythons (Python bivittatus), hunters are permitted to capture four other pythons and five species of boa: the boa constrictor and four anaconda species that also have invaded the Everglades, have no competition as predators and are reproducing in an uncontrolled manner.

Hunters earn $8.46 per hour and can charge for up to 10 hours of work per day; they also receive $50 for each captured python or boa that is four feet or less in length and an additional $25 for each foot measured above four feet, according to the SFWMD’s website.

Although she charges for each python or boa she captures, Siewe said she participates in the program to help rectify a big problem that has no other solution.

“I wish that there was another way,” said Siewe, who added that an enormous amount of work remains to be done in a region with an estimated python population of more than 100,000.

Asked if python hunting is a dangerous activity, she said these snakes eat everything in their path but do not regard human beings as potential food and will flee instead of attack.

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