It was nighttime when Jason Leon pulled a record-setting Burmese python out from behind some brush on the side of the road in Florida City.
The 23-year-old was spinning around town on all-terrain vehicles with two other friends when one group member spotted the monstrous snake.
Having owned pet snakes in the past, Leon felt confident wrangling the python, a devastating invasive species in Florida, and made a grab for the animal.
The young man had no idea that the non-venomous species, which kills its prey by suffocating them with its girth, would end up crushing size records, or that it would make an attempt on his life before he managed to chop its head off with a knife.
Leon entered his nearly 10-minute battle with the wild creature when it applied its intense choke hold — which can reach pressures of 12 pounds per square inch — around both of his legs.
“I was never really worried about being strangled, more so the snake tiring me out and eventually getting free from my grip and biting me,” Leon told us.
He had no choice but to kill it.
After decapitating the python, Leon reported his catch to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC).
The 128-pound python measured 18-feet and 8 inches, according FWC, breaking the previous record of a python caught last August that measured 17-feet and 7-inches. That female python weighted 164 pounds and was carrying a record 87 eggs. University of Florida researchers did not discover any eggs inside Leon’s python.
Burmese pythons have been invading the Florida Everglades for at least a decade. The snakes are native to Southeast Asia, but were first discovered in the Sunshine State in 1979. They troublesome creatures eat native animals and are devastating Florida’s population of raccoons, bobcats, white-tailed deer, and possums.
In January, Florida held a statewide challenge that incentivized residents to kill pythons through cash prizes The contest — which Leon did not partake in — was a bust. Only 68 of the estimated tens of thousands of pythons living in Florida were caught after a one-month hunt, according to the FWC.
The duty of population control has once again been handed over to self-appointed harvesters, like Leon.
Leon didn’t get a cash reward for his capture, the commission “just said thank you,” he said, but he plans to keep the snake skin as a souvenir to hang up on his wall.
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