The Python Hunters

PHOTOS AND STORY BY DANIEL OWEN

Waist deep in swamp water, Duane Clark heads deeper into the brush in order to find a dry patch of land where the pythons he is in search of often warm themselves in the sun. He is alone in the middle of the Everglades. Each of the men in the hunting party split up in order to increase their chances of finding the snakes that so easily blend in to their surroundings. They have caught Burmese Pythons up to seventeen feet in length in these waters, so it is crucial he stay alert. As Clark heads deeper into the Everglades, he reaches a small opening known as a "Gator Hole." He swings wide to avoid the dangerous area and presses onward. A few hours later that night he meets up with the rest of the guys at their small campsite to relax, have a beer and skin the snakes they've caught for the day. They are on the frontlines trying to slow a growing epidemic of these dangerous pythons that are wiping out local wildlife populations.

Each winter the Cypress Boys, made up of Bill Booth, Dusty Crum and Duane Clark, head out into the Everglades at the southern tip of Florida with the hopes of winning the Python Challenge, a competition to see which team can capture the most Burmese Pythons. The creature's population has been spreading, while that of its prey is on a steep decline. The hunters are awarded a cash prize for each python they catch, and this year they plan on beating their former record of over thirty snakes. In order to do this they will have to spend the next several weeks sleeping deep in the heart of the Florida Everglades, surrounded by alligators, pythons and seemingly relentless mosquitos.