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Python hunter searches Florida Everglades for snake invaders

Erik S. Lesser / EPA

Python hunter Edward Mercer searches through the Southern Glades area of the Everglades outside Florida City, Florida. Pictures taken March 24 and 25, 2012 and made available today.

Erik S. Lesser / EPA

Mercer searches through the vast Southern Glades.

European Pressphoto Agency reports — Meet 39-year-old Edward Mercer, one of a handful of permitted python hunters in South Florida.

Since the 1990s, non-native Burmese pythons, one of the world's largest species of snake, have been flourishing in the Everglades National Park and surrounding areas. Pet owners have been known to release the snakes into the wild, where they quickly revert to their natural state.

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Burmese pythons are voracious feeders and prey on the native wildlife of the Everglades, including American alligators, raccoons, rabbits, bobcats and many different birds. The National Park Service is concerned about the impact of the pythons on the delicate ecosystem of the area.

Mercer doesn't get paid for hunting the snakes, but says he enjoys the rush of finding and capturing the elusive, semi-aquatic pythons. To date, he has caught 26 Burmese pythons, the largest of which was 12 feet long and weighed in at 43 pounds.  When he finds one, he turns it over to the state or federal wildlife authorities, depending on where it was found.

According to the Park Service, more than 1,800 Burmese pythons have been removed from the Everglades since 2002.

Erik S. Lesser / EPA

Mercer sets up an automated camera for homeowner Marty Ward in West Palm Beach. He searches for pythons in residential areas when contacted by concerned homeowners.

Erik S. Lesser / EPA

Mercer handles one of his pet Burmese pythons at his home in Tamarac. He owns seven snakes, including two pythons. Mercer was afraid of snakes until someone gave him one.