Burmese pythons have invaded the Everglades and destroyed much of Florida's natural wildlife. They're mowing through local populations and eating everything in their path.
But Dusty "Wild Man" Crum aims to stop their spread.
For years, the Sarasota native has been capturing and removing invasive pythons from the Everglades with a team of hunters. His efforts will be documented on a new Discovery Channel show, Guardians of the Glades, which premieres Tuesday, May 28. It follows Crum and his fellow python hunters wading barefoot through muddy waters.
"Our work is important not only to the Everglades but to all of Florida. Pythons are evolving and getting more temperature-hearty, and they can begin traveling north to the rest of the state," Crum tells New Times. "We've had a [huge] loss of local mammals because this snake has no natural predators."
Crum and his team are part of the South Florida Water Management District's Python Elimination Program, which was started in March 2017. The program recruits talented hunters to "euthanize" pythons in the Everglades, which they have deemed "apex predators."
The 25 elite hunters in the Python Elimination Program have captured more than 2,070 pythons since they began, making them the New York Yankees of snake hunting, according to Crum.
The python hunter has captured hundreds upon hundreds of snakes in the Glades, including one measuring about 16 feet long and carrying more than 80 eggs ready to hatch. "If I had caught that snake a few days later, there would have been 80 more pythons out there destroying the Everglades," Crum says.
Burmese pythons were introduced to the local ecosystem in the 1990s by pet owners who imported them from Asia and eventually released them into the wild. Pythons can grow to almost 20 feet long.
Since being brought into South Florida, the pythons have decimated local populations of raccoons, opossums, marsh rabbits, and many other native mammals. Now the giant snakes are going after wading birds and the Sunshine State's primary symbol: the Florida alligator. Pythons are also the first invasive species to have a direct effect on human health. "They've eliminated so many mammals that mosquitoes have started to feed mainly on rats, and the mosquitoes are transmitting diseases from infected rats to humans," Crum says.
Yet Crum is optimistic about the work his team is doing. "I've focused on this 20-mile strip of road in the Everglades for the last five years, and I've caught hundreds of snakes there," he says. "Last year I saw a raccoon on that road for the first time since I started."
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Crum hopes people will watch the show and spread awareness about pythons. People can help by donating to the Python Elimination Program or even hunting. "Bottom line: I want people to realize this is our Earth and it deserves respect; I want them to see the world around them for what it is rather than being stuck to their cell phones," Crum says. "This isn't just a show; this is real life."
Guardians of the Glades premieres Tuesday, May 28, at 10 p.m. Eastern time. Viewers can watch it weekly on the Discovery Channel or on DiscoveryGo.
Crum also has a website, pythonwildman.com, where he sells merchandise that he makes from the pythons he hunts. He says wearing python-skin apparel starts a conversation about the animals and the efforts to stop their attack on the Everglades.