NBC 6 Anchor Keith Jones Has Close Encounter With Python

Registration for Florida's 2016 Python Challenge starts Thursday.

NBC 6 South Florida anchor Keith Jones walked away with a few battle scars after being bitten by a Burmese python while on assignment.

Registration begins Thursday for Florida's 2016 Python Challenge, which encourages hunters to kill or capture the invasive Burmese python from the Florida Everglades. Before registered snake hunters can start tagging and bragging about their prizes, they must first undergo required online or in-person training sessions that teach how to identify Burmese pythons.

Jones was there Wednesday for one of the in-person training sessions held at the University of Florida's Davie campus.

Hunters were taught how to properly pin, handle and double-bag pythons. When Jones went to put his training to use, the 9-foot python ended up catching him, sinking its fangs into Jones' hand.

When asked if it hurt, Jones replied "not at all" as he continued to bag the snake.

Kristen Sommers with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission says the hardest part of catching the invasive snake is spotting it.

"You have passed probably 100 snakes that you should have detected before you saw the one you did," says Sommers.

There are no known native predators to the Burmese python, which contributes to an imbalance in the system in the Florida Everglades. The snakes are known to prey on other native species, including snakes, birds, reptiles and mammals.

Their numbers were once reported to be as much as 100,000 but it's hard to say how many are lurking now.

"There are no good estimates of python numbers, and the reason for that is that detection is so low," said Kristen Sommers of FWC. "You're talking less than one-percent detectability."

All pythons turned in at Python Challenge drop off locations will be humanely killed if they are brought in alive, according to Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission spokeswoman Carli Segelson. Competition rules instruct how to humanely transport the snakes. 

"Scientists will study the carcasses to gather important information from these snakes including the length, weight, gender and location of capture," she said.

The month-long competition will offer cash prizes to teams and individuals who capture the most pythons and the longest python.

It kicks off at noon on January 16th and ends at 7 p.m. on February 14th.

Registration information can be found at pythonchallenge.org.

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