Why Military Veterans Are Hunting Pythons in the Everglades

- [Swamp Ape] Alright, everybody ready? Just stretch him out. - This is a hatchling. This is a brand new snake. This was born this year, and this is maybe a month old. Within five years, this'll be 12-13 feet. It's amazing how quick they grow. The Swamp Apes take veterans into the Everglades to track and capture Burmese pythons. We help the veterans overcome their challenges from their service. At the same time, the wilderness benefits from the removal of these animals. (gentle marimba music) My name is Tom Rahill. I founded the Swamp Apes. The Swamp Apes are an organization dedicated to serving veterans who serve in the wilderness. The Everglades is renowned for it biological diversity, it's under threat by the Burmese pythons. - [Swamp Ape] One more python out of our Everglades. - The Burmese pythons have decimated the mammal population; that's their primary food source. It's estimated that there are over 100,000 pythons in the Everglades. The Swamp Apes have captured and removed over 1,000 pythons. The Burmese pythons, largely, were released by irresponsible pet owners. (Swamp Apes yelling) - [Swamp Ape] Hang on, we got something. - [Tom] A 15-foot python could have 60 hatches, and it's just an exponential problem. The hope is to remove enough of the breeding females that we can severely diminish the population. (upbeat music) During the wet season, which we're in now, the technique for capturing pythons is road-cruising. At night, when it's a little moist out, reptiles come out onto the road. We have a policy of live capture with the pythons. We effectively jump on the pythons. - [Swamp Ape] That's a nice sized one, too. - [Tom] You grab them as soon as you can behind the head. That business end of a python can be very dangerous. We turn them over to the scientists; sadly, 99-percent of these animals have to be euthanized. - That's a whole population of native critters that are being saved. - The Swamp Apes began in 2008, for me, as a tool to deal with some personal grief. When my wife moved to Arkansas to take a teaching job, I'd only see her once every month or two. Consequently, I was hurtin' emotionally. And I went and started volunteering in the Everglades National Park. I then was invited to join the python eradication team, and at a certain point it occurred to me that this would be great for veterans also with PTSD and other challenges. The Swamp Apes are a unique program: we embrace the veteran skillset. Basic training for a veteran would include situational-awareness, threat-assessment, self-reliance, chain-of-command, mission-focus. - You got your mojo working man. - [Tom] Once they get out of the service, they don't necessarily have a place to apply the basic training, let alone specialized training. Swamp Apes use that training and celebrate that training, and the veterans service, by applying it to python removal. - [Swamp Ape] Why don't you come with me? Ow, he bit my hand. - [Tom] We have positively impacted hundreds of veterans with the program. They benefit from the natural therapy of being out there, tracking, capturing, and removing the pythons. (bird calling) - [Swamp Ape] Come on pretty girl. - Our ultimate goal is to have therapists accompany us, and be a prescribable therapy organization. As noble and as effective as the Swamp Apes are in engaging veterans, at the end of the day, we get to jump on big snakes. It's awesome. (acoustic guitar strumming)