We use a snake hook. We use the rubber handle of the snake hook, not the hook end. We do pin the animal quickly at the base of the head, and then we show people how to, with the other hand, put their fingers around the neck of the snake and to hold it. It doesn't take a strong hold. It's just a very gentle almost loose hold around the neck to keep those animals under control and to keep them close to the ground. We show them with their free hand then to take the snake bag and get that bag worked over the snake. It's surprisingly an easy process to do. We've trained adults. We've even trained younger children to do this.
Campbell: When you're training them, do you have a real python to show them how to do that?
Novak: Yes. We do work with wild-caught pythons. We have anywhere between 10 and 20 pythons in our training arsenal that we bring to trainings. Each person that wants to complete the class and do the hands-on can, but we don't require everyone to do that. Some people change their minds and aren't quite ready to put their hands on a python, but those that are will be able to work with that python hands-on, and we'll work with them closely to make sure they do it correctly.
Campbell: Was it hard for you to get comfortable handling pythons?
Novak: No, I've never really been afraid of snakes. I don't care to get bitten by snakes, but it's not the end of the world if that happens. I was only bitten once on my shoe, so it didn't break the skin.
Campbell: Is the public very successful in helping you capture pythons?
Novak: The thing is, detection rates for pythons are extraordinarily low. I tell folks it's not easy to find pythons. They don't sit out in the open. They're very well camouflaged. I tell people, “You just have to get out in the field and look and look and look, and don't be discouraged if you go out multiple times and you don't find anything.” That's just the way that it is. Interest in the program has always been very high; I can't offer enough trainings.
Campbell: What do people do with the pythons once they catch them?
Novak: You can catch pythons in Florida under a hunting license or under a python-removal permit. For our properties, and a few other properties out there, as a hunter, if you have a hunting license, they have to be killed onsite. The hunter has the option to keep the carcass if they want to. They don't have to. If you're removing pythons under one of our permits, all pythons get turned in to our staff. We euthanize all pythons, unless we need it for our training program. We do take data on those animals, and if the permit holder wants the carcass, we do arrange for them to pick the carcass up.
Campbell: You used to have snakes as pets. Seeing them get euthanized, does it make you sad that they have to be killed?
Novak: It's not the snake's fault that they are here, but they are here. They are a threat to our native species. There's really no place for us to send them, so we have no other options, really, but to euthanize the ones that come out of the Everglades. What I tell people is that these snakes that are coming out of the Everglades don't make good pets. They're wild-born, wild-living snakes. They're very, very different from snakes that are captive-bred and sold in the pet trade.