Final count in Florida's Python Challenge hunt: 68

In this 2013 file photo, Bill Booth of Bradenton, Fla. stretches out a dead Burmese python he caught, for students from the University of Florida to measure, in the Florida Everglades as part of the month long 'Python Challenge.' (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee, File)

In this 2013 file photo, Bill Booth of Bradenton, Fla. stretches out a dead Burmese python he caught, for students from the University of Florida to measure, in the Florida Everglades as part of the month long "Python Challenge." (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee, File)

MIAMI (AP) — Florida wildlife officials say 68 Burmese pythons were caught and killed during a public hunt for the invasive snakes in the Everglades.

That tally might not seem impressive, considering that roughly 1,600 people signed up for the state-sponsored Python Challenge. But Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission officials say the hunt may have prevented thousands more pythons from being born in the Everglades. Female pythons can lay 50 to 100 eggs at a time.

The Python Challenge began Jan. 12 and ended Sunday. Wildlife officials said Saturday that the longest python bagged during the hunt was 14 feet 3 inches long.

Florida prohibits possession or sale of the pythons for use as pets, and federal law bans the importation and interstate sale of the species.

Here is the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission press release:

Competitors in the 2013 Python Challenge trekked through more than a million acres of swamps and sawgrass in search of the well-camouflaged Burmese python. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) today announced the results: 68 Burmese pythons harvested during the Jan. 12-through-Feb. 10 competition.

The goal of the Python Challenge was to heighten public awareness about this invasive species, yet it also proved to be an unprecedented opportunity to gather important data about Burmese python populations and their impact on the Everglades ecosystem.

“Thanks to the determination of Python Challenge competitors, we are able to gather invaluable information that will help refine and focus combined efforts to control pythons in the Everglades,” FWC Executive Director Nick Wiley said. “The enthusiastic support from the public, elected officials, conservation organizations, government agencies and researchers gives hope that we can make progress on this difficult conservation challenge by working together.”

At the Python Challenge Awareness and Awards Event at Zoo Miami on Feb. 16, FWC Commissioner Ron Bergeron and Wiley congratulated and presented trophies to the top competitors. Nearly 1,600 people from 38 states, the District of Columbia and Canada had registered for the competition.

Here are the official 2013 Python Challenge results (Editor's note: hometowns of winners were not released):

The $1,500 Grand Prize for harvesting the most Burmese pythons went to Brian Barrows, who harvested 6 pythons in the General Competition, and Ruben Ramirez, who harvested 18 pythons in the Python Permit Holders Competition. The Second Place Prize of $750 in the most-harvested category went to Bill Booth, who harvested 5 pythons in the General Competition, and Blake Russ, who harvested 5 pythons in the Python Permit Holders Competition.

The $1,000 First Place Prize for harvesting the longest Burmese python went to Paul Shannon, who harvested a 14-foot, 3-inch-long python in the General Competition, and Ruben Ramirez, who harvested a 10-foot, 6.8-inch-long python in the Python Permit Holders Competition. The Second Place Prize of $750 in the longest snake category went to Rigoberto Figueroa, for a 14-foot, 2.3-inch-long python in the General Competition, and Ruben Ramirez, who harvested a 10-foot, 3.6-inch-long python in the Python Permit Holders Competition.

Wiley thanked sponsors of the 2013 Python Challenge, who provided prize money and other donations to the Wildlife Foundation of Florida in support of this event. Sponsors included Commissioner “Alligator Ron” Bergeron, Rachel Dodd, the Felburn Foundation, the Flowers Foundation, Golight Inc., Hoorag Bandanas, Incinc, K-Light Solar Lantern and Flashlight, Florida Wildlife Federation, Richmond Criminal Law and Mr. B.R. Slocum. Due to the generosity of sponsors, additional prizes were added.

Florida prohibits possession or sale of Burmese pythons for use as pets, and federal law bans the importation and interstate sale of this species. The public can help the fight to control invasive species such as Burmese pythons by:

■ Reporting sightings of exotic species to 888-IVE-GOT-1 or www.ivegot1.org. It’s helpful if you can submit a photo and location.

■ Not releasing an exotic pet into the wild, and reminding others of the dangers of releasing nonnative species.

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