There have been many a classic battle fought in Florida. Cassius Clay versus Sonny Liston in 1964. The battles of the Miami Hurricanes and Florida State Seminoles in the early '90s. The Rock versus John Cena at WrestleMania XXVIII.
But perhaps no face-off was quite as sensational or emblematic of the state as the famed showdown of alligator versus python in 2006. Though the fight ended in a draw and no one actually witnessed it, the photos of the aftermath spoke volumes about what went on. The invasive python apparently swallowed the native gator, but in a stunning last-minute comeback, the gator seemed to claw its way out of the python's stomach. The result was a photo that has become an iconic byword for Florida's invasive species problem:
More than just a gruesome spectacle, the event brought attention to the very real ecological havoc that pythons, believed to have invaded the Everglades after their owners set them free, have had on the delicate ecosystem.
Well, a long-awaited rematch took place last Friday on a golf course near Naples, and this time the home team gators seemed to prevail. The Classic Country Club at Lely Resort posted on its Facebook page a photo of the reptilian battle royal.
Though this particular gator scored a win for his species in this particular event, the invasive Burmese pythons may be winning the war for dominance in the Everglades.
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A study published earlier this year only underscores how much destruction the pythons are wreaking on native species. Marsh rabbits used to be a pretty common sight in the Everglades, but their population has plummeted as sightings of the invasive snakes have soared. Researchers released 26 rabbits, outfitted with tracking equipment, into the ecosystem, and they thrived — for a while, mostly during colder months when the pythons tend to lay low. (Indeed, the snakes can go months without eating.) But when temperatures rose, the rabbit population dropped. In fact, 77 percent of the rabbits in the study eventually ended up in the belly of Burmese pythons.
So while alligators and pythons only occasionally do battle directly against each other, they are fighting for supremacy over essentially the same food source.
What's worse is that no one can get anywhere near to an actual count of the population of pythons in the Everglades because of the animal's unique ability to hide and remain practically dormant for months at a time. Estimates range anywhere from 30,000 to 300,000. An occasional alligator chomping on a python won't do much to control the population, unfortunately.
Florida officials hope humans can be more effective in tracking the beasts. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission is bringing back its "Python Challenge" for 2016 and hopes to attract hunting-happy tourists to the state to bag the snakes. The state last held the challenge in 2012, when only 68 snakes were killed or captured.