by Darrell MoodyEVERGLADES NATIONAL PARK, FLA. -- The 2013 Python Challenge is officially underway. The month-long event began Saturday with the kickoff event held at the University of Florida Fort Lauderdale Research and Education Center in Davie.Officials with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission say nearly 800 people have purchased special licenses that allow them to participate in the python hunt. The licenses cost $25.Python hunting will be allowed in four designated areas of Everglades National Park over the next five weeks. Hunters can use guns or other weapons to humanely kill the pythons.Awards of $1,500 for the biggest Burmese python and $1,000 for the most pythons will be given out during the 2013 Python Challenge Awareness and Awards Event Feb. 16, at Zoo Miami.Wildlife officials say the goal of the pilot program is to learn more about invasive species and, hopefully, remove as many of the snakes as possible.Over the past 30+ years, thriving populations of pythons have been established in the Everglades.Biologists say there could be as many as 100,000 pythons in south Florida. FWC officials say the number could be even greater.In recent years, pythons and other invasive reptiles have decimated populations of raccoons, foxes, opossums and other mammals that call south Florida home.