17 miles south of Naples on U.S. 41 East, Naples, FL
COLLIER COUNTY — One less python is slithering through rural Collier County after a late-night encounter between a Golden Gate Estates man and the 9 1/2-foot snake near Collier-Seminole State Park.
Tony Hamm, 45, was returning with two friends from an Airboat Association of Florida meeting in Miami when he spotted the python crossing U.S. 41 east of State Road 92 about 10:30 p.m. Thursday.
A population explosion of the nonnative invasive pythons in the Everglades has scientists worried about how the snakes will alter the ecosystem.
Lawmakers are calling for a ban on the pythons, and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission has set up python hunts.
“Right away I knew what it was,” said Hamm, a longtime swamp buggy racer and lifelong Collier County resident.
He said he jammed on the brakes, backed up his truck, turned his headlights on the python and jumped out of the cab in pursuit as the snake made its way for the north side of 41.
“I grabbed his tail and just started tugging,” Hamm said. “He put up a pretty good fight.”
By that time, his friends Jim Wheeler and David Rodriquez were out of the truck, and the three wrestled the python in the dark as it wrapped itself around the guardrail, Hamm said.
Hamm said he used his pocketknife with a 3-inch blade to saw off the python’s head and plans to skin the snake and preserve the hide.
Since November 2009, seven pythons have been sighted at Collier-Seminole; one was a roadkill, two were dead and the others were alive, one of which was caught and turned over to the Conservation Commission, according to the state Department of Environmental Protection.
The encounter near Collier-Seminole on Thursday night comes after an uptick in reported sightings of the big constrictors in Collier County in the past month.
A Rookery Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve worker reported seeing three pythons, including an 11-footer, at the Marco Island Executive Airport in early March.
A week later, landscapers found a 9-foot python in a Marco Island backyard.
Scientists say tens of thousands of pythons could live in the Everglades after being released by pet owners or escaping from import warehouses in the Miami area after hurricanes.