Driving round in pick-up trucks shining powerful lights in bushes is not everybody’s idea of hunting. As different as it sounds, the same basic principles apply.
“It’s very similar to other types of hunting or fishing,” says Kevin Pavlidis, a python hunter contracted by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission. “If you want to be good at it you need to understand the biology of the animal and predict its movements.”
Kevin is knowledgable, enthusiast and charismatic: ideal qualities for the ‘Snakeaholic’ brand he’s developing that looks certain to succeed. The nickname stems from his life-long snake obsession.
Kevin and Ryan Ausburn, another state-contracted python hunter, routinely head out after dark to bag Burmese pythons, an invasive species destroying the state’s mammal and bird populations.
“I’ve been catching snakes my whole life now,” he says. “With pythons specifically… I’m thinking about where the prey items are going to be and why are they going to be there.”
It’s been an unusually wet year in Florida and as October kicked in, the wet season was still going strong. Drier weather pushes wetland animals to areas of deeper water, sometimes making it easier to predict their movement and the movement of the predators that want to eat them.
Kevin and Ryan set out one night in early October not really expecting to find something. Instead they came back with the biggest Burmese python Florida had ever seen.
“We are dealing with defensive behaviour, not aggressive behaviour,” says Kevin. “We are going in trying to catch this animal and they see us as a predator when we approach them, so most of the behaviour, they’re running away from us and we have to track them down and dive on them.”
The mammoth snake gave the pair a run for their money, wrapping itself round branches as they tried to pull it out of the water, then coiling round Ryan, as if going in for the kill. Solo hunting is not recommended.
“The funny thing is, even people like us who chase them down forget how powerful these animals are because we get so used to it. As the length goes up, the girth goes up too and the bigger they get the stronger they get… I’ve caught four over 15 feet before catching that 18-footer and oh, I’ll take one of those 15-footers any day. A 15-footer is a walk in the park now, compared to that thing. It’s incredible how they only grow about a foot in length but get twice strong – brutal power.”