OCHOPEE, Fla. — Alex McDuffie grew up chasing and catching snakes across the Tri-State, but he recently caught his biggest yet in south Florida.
"I've been catching snakes my whole life and I've been looking for pythons for hours and hours every week since I moved down here basically," he said. "Right as you start to really think, 'Maybe I'll never get one,' that's when I ended up getting it."
Now, McDuffie is a python removal contractor for the South Florida Water Management District.
Yep, he's a python hunter.
What McDuffie found on patrol in Big Cypress National Preserve in mid-July would lead to two of the most exciting nights in his career. First, he found dozens of python hatchlings and eggs in the reserve, with a 10-foot momma python nearby. He and Florida Fish and Wildlife officer Matthew Rubenstein found another nest of dozens of hatched eggs.
The next night, McDuffie and a few other hunters spotted the big mother at 17 feet and six inches long. It took all of them to capture and control it.
"It was crazy, man. It was pulling us," he said." I had my arms wrapped around it and it was dragging me through the swamp. It was awesome."
McDuffie grew up in Montgomery and spent summers as a camper, and then camp counselor, at the Cincinnati Nature Center. Hewas featured in a WCPO profileas a teenager, telling us the center's retiring head naturalist left a huge impact on him.
Pythons are considered threats to the Florida habitats because they have no predators - aside from humans and our vehicles. They reproduce en masse, can be several feet long in their first year and keep growing and have strangled small native species like raccoons, marsh rabbits, bobcats and foxes.
"They're a pretty destructive, invasive species down here," McDuffie said. "Once they get to that size they can pretty much do what they want."
McDuffie said finding a 17-footer was a surprise, but now he's already got his sights on an even bigger snake — trying to wrangle an 18-footer is his next goal.