Meet the Women Who Catch Python Snakes in the Everglades Every Night


For Beth Koehler and Peggy Van Gorder, this is how it works: Three days a week they run Hair of the Dog, their dog grooming salon in St. Petersburg, Florida. Then they close up shop, pick up their camper, and head down to the Everglades for three nights of ­hunting Burmese pythons—powerful constrictors that squeeze the life out of their prey.

Each night of the hunt, they spend hours slowly rolling along gravel back roads searching for the elusive invasive reptiles. They switch on massive lights atop their Jeep, lights that turn the night as bright as day. The humid air is filled with a subdued chorus of hoots and ribbits.

The younger, more athletic Van Gorder drives, never going more than about 6 mph, while Koehler, the more focused of the two, stands with her head through the sunroof, peering ahead for any sign of a snake.

Amy Siewe smiling at camera with python in hand
Amy Siewe, who moved to Florida specifically to hunt pythons, films her snake encounters for YouTube.

“Right there, I was hooked,” Siewe says. She went back to Indiana and told her fiancé they were moving to Florida.

In a bit of a catch-22, to become a licensed python hunter, Siewe had to show she had experience hunting pythons. But by volunteering to help Kalil catch snakes, she picked up the necessary experience. Now she ventures out looking for pythons about four times a week, mostly in Big Cypress National Preserve. Sometimes she goes on foot, sometimes by car, sometimes by canoe. She and a partner paddle out to islands in the swamp, hop out, grab any snakes they see, and then load them into the canoe to take back.

“One time we got seven pythons, one of them 15 feet long,” she says. A snake that size weighs around 140 pounds. “The canoe was so low to the water we could not have put in another snake.”

Recently, the state has tried using dogs and a new type of camera with infrared technology mounted on drones to sniff out the elusive snakes, but with little luck. The problem with the dogs, says Siewe, is that they’re at risk of being gobbled up by alligators. As for souped-up drones, they can’t spot the pythons if they’re hidden beneath the earth.

“They burrow,” Siewe says. “A lot of their nests are underground. You can be standing right on top of a python and not see it.” That’s why the only way to catch them is the slow, low-tech way: hiring hunters like Siewe to search for them for hours on end and then grab them by hand and stuff them into a bag.

And that’s fine by Gorden-Vega. She can’t picture herself ever quitting. Python hunting, she explains, “becomes a part of you. You think, It’s warm tonight, I’ve got to go out. You get an itch.”

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