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Science & Environment

Why Do Journalists Love Reporting On The Everglades?

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Burmese pythons are wreaking havoc in Florida's Everglades. These mammoth snakes wipe out large numbers of raccoons and other wildlife. And while invasive species are a serious environmental issue, that's not the only reason that we keep coming back to this story again and again. Kate Stein from member station WLRN in Miami has more.

KATE STEIN, BYLINE: This is one of those only-in-South-Florida type of stories. A state agency pays per foot of python caught and killed. A thousand people apply for 25 spots. Then there's a media day where journalists go out with the python hunters.

Hi. How are you doing?

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER #1: Doing good.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER #2: Good. How are you?

STEIN: Doing good.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER #2: We came to join the fun.

STEIN: My hunter is Donna Kalil. And she's more than happy to host me, a CNN reporter, a freelance photographer and a local TV news crew.

DONNA KALIL: You might not be able to go into where we're going. Hopefully - I'll try to find a clear spot for you. But...

STEIN: Donna and I go back a ways. We met in a python hunting training class where she helped me bag my first - and so far only - python. She took me out during last year's Python Challenge hunt, and today she lends me a pair of boots for protection from some of the Everglades' other snakes. There's no hunter I'd trust more, especially since Donna's got a gun tucked in her waistband, a knife on her belt and earrings made from python bone.

KALIL: They're supposed to be good luck charms.

(LAUGHTER)

KALIL: Actually, every time I've worn these, I've come across rattlesnakes and not pythons, so be careful...

STEIN: We journalists like to consider ourselves completely portable. But as we follow Donna into a hardwood hammock, a thick grove of hackberry and gumbo limbo trees, it becomes clear portability is relative when you're crawling on your hands and knees through the Everglades.

So this is poison ivy?

KALIL: Three leaves.

STEIN: But, hey, we really want to be there when Donna catches a python - like, really - which raises a few ethical considerations. If she's in the bushes driving a snake toward us...

KALIL: You guys hear that?

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER #3: Yep.

KALIL: (Unintelligible) Come on. I need help in here.

STEIN: ....And also why are we out here getting sunburned and mosquito-bitten - for a quick hit that will go viral on social media; to talk about a larger issue, how humans have made the Everglades more vulnerable to problems like invasive species? Or is it so we can go home and tell our friends and family - hey, guess who got paid to hunt giant snakes today? I tried to ask my fellow reporters.

Can I interview you quickly?

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER #4: No.

STEIN: But they declined to comment. For me, it's a mix, an opportunity that I could only get through this job, for sure, but also a chance to highlight major threats to the Everglades, an ecosystem that I, like Donna, love.

KALIL: They're invasives. And they're eating up all the little wild animals that we - that don't have much land to live in anyway. You know, we've done the most damage.

STEIN: Donna didn't catch a python on media day, but she's bagged six since then. Overall, the hunters have killed more than a hundred of the snakes, and you know we journalists will keep you updated on the final tally. The hunt ends June 1.

For NPR News, I'm Kate Stein in Miami. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.