Board member joined the Burmese python research team in the field

February 15, 2024

Hands-on with the Conservancy’s Python team

Jon Kukk, Conservancy Board Member, provided the Burmese python research team with assistance on a recent python capture. Kukk and his wife, Julie, won the RedSnook Catch & Release Charity Fishing Tournament auction python experience and joined the team in the field this February.

Biologist Ian Bartoszek, Board Member Jon Kukk and Julie Kukk holding a female Burmese python

The Kukk’s had quite the experience as biologists Ian Bartoszek and Ian Easterling tracked multiple male pythons throughout the day using radio-telemetry. The team uses tagged male snakes referred to as “scouts” to locate female pythons during the breeding season and across public and private lands in Collier County.

The morning of the trip, the team decided to check on Ronin, a veteran MVP (Most Valuable Python) of the program. Ronin weighs 50 pounds, measures 12 feet in length and has been tracked for over six years.

Walking in on Ronin this day, the team and guests found themselves along the edge of a weedy canal that was full of floating vegetation. Holding a receiver that makes the transmitter signal audible, the team closed in on Ronin as Ian Easterling said he saw a python floating on the edge of the water.

Is that Ronin? The team wasn’t sure. Bartoszek closed in from the top of the canal bank and Easterling moved forward along the waterline. “It looks big…bigger than Ronin!,” said the team. The team wasn’t wasting a second for the outstretched animal in the floating vegetation to escape. The team had to move lightning quick.

Bartoszek pinned the head with his boot and reached in to grab the head, while Easterling lunged to get additional hands on the python.

It wasn’t Ronin! It was a large female python. She was upset and thrashed around, taking all hands to restrain her.

Ian Bartoszek, Conservancy biologist

John Kukk jumped down the bank to lend a hand and grabbed the massive python by the tail as the team, knee deep in water, held onto the animal. After a few minutes of heavy breathing, the hard part was mostly over and the crew tried to get the snake up the steep canal bank and closer to the field truck. Bartoszek held the head with two hands and the snake had wound up tight around Easterling’s leg. It was a bit comical trying to move everyone in unison up the cliff, but after a few laughs they made it to the top and secured the mouth of the snake closed. 

The female Burmese python captured measured over 16 feet and weighed 120 pounds.

Her humane removal from the ecosystem will keep an additional 50 invasive pythons from hatching this season and many more over future years. To date, the team has removed over 1,200 pythons weighing over 33,000 pounds from Collier County.

Conservancy board member, John Kukk and Naples native Julie Kukk, were able to see first-hand the team’s python removal methodology and contribute to the Conservancy’s ten year research and removal efforts.

Ian B. and Jon Kukk with female python
In the Burmese python lab at the Conservancy

Invasive Burmese Python Research & Removal

The Conservancy has responded to the emerging threat of invasive species by focusing research and removal efforts on critical invasive species for the bio-region.

Conservancy wildlife biologists and research partners have been working to better understand the behavior and ecological impact of the Burmese python (Python bivittatus) for over 10 years.

The Conservancy’s goal is to contribute science-based solutions to control the spread of invasive species effectively and humanely.

Radio-telemetry in the field
Ian B. with a caught python in the field

Since 2013, the Conservancy and research partners have been conducting radio-telemetry fieldwork to document python biology and behavior in Collier County. Adult pythons are captured, surgically implanted with a radio transmitter, and released back at the capture site.

These individuals are referred to as “scout snakes” for their ability to lead researchers to other pythons during the breeding season.

Ian Easterling with Burmese python

A primary objective is to create a database of behavior and habitat use to better understand python activity in the bio-region. Our research is used to inform decision-makers and land managers to develop a control strategy for this invasive species.

Ian B. talks about our Burmese python program

For more info on our Burmese python research and removal program, please head to our website.