Unfulfilled with her real estate career in Indianapolis, Amy Siewe packed up her life a few years back and moved to Florida to make a living hunting Burmese pythons.
Contrary to how that may sound, Siewe said the decision wasn’t exactly impulsive. OK … maybe there was a small degree of spontaneity involved.
“I was not looking for another job at all, or a career change,” Siewe admitted. “I had a really successful business and I really enjoyed it.”
But when Siewe and her partner Dave Roberts visited Florida in 2019, she went on a python hunt with a friend and learned about how the invasive Asian reptiles were wreaking havoc on South Florida’s ecosystems. A passion for the outdoors and wildlife having been instilled in her at a young age, Siewe quickly made up her mind.
That 13-year-lucrative career as a real estate broker? She was kissing it goodbye to pursue a new calling — one that would involve long nights and early mornings spent going where few Midwesterners dared tread:
The untamed wetlands known as Florida’s Everglades.
Her quarry? A dangerous constrictor infamous for being one of the world’s largest species of snakes.
Two months after her trip, Siewe moved by herself to Miami. Roberts joined her soon after, and the couple now live in a condo in Naples.
For the past four years, Siewe has made a name for herself as the self-styled “Python Huntress,” where she now hosts guided hunts with ticket-buying guests and even spent time capturing and killing the snakes as a government contractor.
“I knew this was what I was supposed to be doing,” said Siewe, 46.
Upcoming python hunt among methods to control population
This weekend, Siewe will be among hundreds of python hunters from across the United States competing in the Florida Python Challenge, a decade-old event that in 2020 became an annual tradition.
The 10-day hunt, which begins Friday, is part of an effort to eliminate the invasive and destructive Burmese pythons from seven lands in south Florida managed by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. Last year, 1,000 hunters caught 230 pythons during the challenge, which the commission hosts with South Florida Water Management District.
Up for grabs is a total of $30,000 in prize money, including the $10,000 grand prize.
“Every python removed from the Everglades ecosystem helps to protect native wildlife and habitats,” McKayla Spencer, the non-native fish and wildlife program coordinator for the commission, said in a statement to USA TODAY. “(The challenge) helps bring awareness to this important conservation issue and provides the public an opportunity to get involved in Everglades restoration through invasive species removal.”
Another 19-footer? Florida Python Challenge 2023 kicks off Friday, runs 10 days
Considered by the Conservancy of Southwest Florida and other conservation groups to be invasive species, Burmese pythons have for decades decimated native wildlife. One recent comprehensive review from the U.S. Geological Survey found that many mammals, including raccoons, foxes, opossums and cottontail rabbits, had all but vanished as a result of python predation.
The hunting challenge comes about a month after a 19-foot python caught July 10 in Florida was thought to be the longest Burmese python ever caught in the wild. And days earlier, the largest python snake nest in Florida history — 111 eggs total — was removed from the Everglades along with the 13 foot and 9-inch female mother.
“I have a profound respect for pythons,” said Siewe, a snake lover who keeps a 2-year-old boa constrictor named Hank as a pet. “But I also have a profound respect for the Florida ecosystem, so I know they have to go.”
Record-setting 19-foot Burmese python caught in Florida
A 19-foot Burmese python was caught in Florida, setting a new world record for its length.
Damien Henderson, USA TODAY
‘My office is the Everglades’
Born in Kettering, Ohio near Dayton, Siewe said she spent much of her childhood outdoors with her father, who taught her to fish and catch wildlife like crawdads and snakes.
After earning a communications degree at the University of Toledo, Siewe moved to Indianapolis with her now ex-husband where she began her career in real estate.
It was a career she enjoyed, but Siewe said she far prefers hoofing it through coastal Florida in search of those massive, yet elusive, snakes.
“My office is the Everglades,” Siewe said. “It doesn’t get any better than that.”
Pythons are nocturnal animals during the heat of the summer, meaning that Siewe of late has mostly been hunting at night. While daytime winter hunts are spent on foot, Siewe’s summer excursions are largely spent atop a platform custom-fitted to a pickup truck, where swiveling spotlights help her spot her prey.
When she encounters one, she jumps on it, wrangling it into submission before euthanizing it (she sells python products on her website from all the animals she’s hunted.)
Despite their size, pythons are notoriously difficult to find, which Siewe said is part of the reason the population is out of control.
“They’re not out to get us,” Siewe said. “We don’t even know they’re there, which is why this problem is so insane.”
‘Something profoundly wrong’: Marine biologists puzzled by large beaching of pilot whales
Biggest animal ever? Scientists say they’ve discovered a massive and ancient whale.
‘The thrill of the hunt’
Since being in Florida, Siew said she has caught and killed more than 400 pythons.
Her biggest catch came in July 2021, when Siewe alone nabbed a 17-foot-3-inch python weighing 110 pounds.
Siewe first glimbed the gigantic beast while driving along a Florida highway around midnight. Notcing the tell-tale python pattern in the grasses, Siewe pulled to the side of the road and was shocked to see the sheer size of the snake she’d found.
Realizing that it was far too big for her to overpower on her own, Siewe resorted to her preferred wrangling method: A drawstring bag she places over the heads of big pythons that instantly subdues and disorients them.
As the female snake attempted to shimmy her way back to the swamp, Siewe wrestled with her to get the bag over her head.
“It was a battle of strength between the two of us,” Siewe said. “I get the bag over her head and she just stopped.”
If her years of hunting have taught her anything, it’s that pythons that size don’t come along very often. But the rarity of encountering creatures that massive keeps Siewe going back to the Everglades time and time again.
“The thrill of the hunt will never go away for me,” Siewe said. “The possibility of finding a 20-foot snake is always there; because we don’t find them every time we go out, I think that’s part of the challenge.”
Eric Lagatta covers breaking and trending news for USA TODAY. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.