Only on the rarest occasions does true life so closely imitate art -- but a recent announcement of the Florida Wildlife Conservation Commission's plans to eliminate an invasive species is sure to have some crying out "The Simpsons already did it."
In the classic 1993 episode "Whacking Day", the residents of fictional Springfield are invited to partake in an annual celebration to rid the town of pesky snakes by clubbing them to death -- a time honored pastime, we're told, steeped in tradition, complete with its own Whacking Day anthem:O Whacking Day, O Whacking Day
Our hallowed snake-skull cracking day
We'll break their backs, gouge out their eyes
Their evil hearts we'll pulverize
O Whacking Day, O Whacking Day
May God bestow his grace on Thee.
Seems comically ridiculous, right? Well, now a real-life Whacking Day of sorts is coming to Florida.
On Wednesday, state wildlife officials unveiled plans for its first-ever Python Challenge, a month-long competition calling on the public to kill as many of the invasive serpents as possible for some sweet cash prizes. And thankfully for all those snake-hating youngsters, the contest is open to folks of all ages though hunting permits are only required for participants under the age of 18. So don't worry, kids, you get to kill snakes too! -- but only after you've finished your homework (wink, wink, parents).
A $1,500 purse will be awarded to the person who nabs the most snakes, and another $1000 will go to the one who gets the longest one.
Before you go pointing fingers at wildlife officials for encouraging bloodsport in impressionable Floridian school kids, just hear them out. This isn't about having a grand ol' time bludgeoning snakes. No, it's about raising awareness, duh.
The intent of the 2013 Python Challenge™ is to raise public awareness about Burmese pythons and how this invasive species is a threat to the Everglades ecosystem, including native wildlife. Through the 2013 Python Challenge™, the FWC and its partners will share knowledge about Burmese pythons in Florida, encourage harvest of these snakes, and highlight the importance of responsible pet ownership so nonnative species such as Burmese pythons are not released into the wild.
And if that bit of inspiration from Florida's conservation authorities isn't enough to put your mind at ease over this real-life Whacking Day, take comfort in this bit of scripture from Reverend Lovejoy:
And the Lord said, "Whack ye all the serpents which crawl upon their bellies, and thy town shall be a beacon unto others." So you see, even God Himself endorses Whacking Day.
Okay, it's fair to say that, in this unlikely intersection of reality and fiction, desperate times may call for cartoonish solutions. After all Burmese pythons, a non-native species, have pushed many local Everglades species to the brink of extinction. This problem needs to be resolved for the greater ecological good, to be sure. But is enlisting the public to kill wildlife virtually unchecked really the best solution? Lest I need to remind you, Florida's the place where a lady saw an endangered manatee and thought it would be a good idea to ride it like an inflatable raft.
Who knows, when the contest gets underway next month, Floridian's better judgement will reign supreme. Or, perhaps they'll be like Homer: "Maybe if I'm part of that mob, I can help steer it in wise directions. Now where's my giant foam cowboy hat and airhorn?"