Conservationist Mike Elfenbein was at Big Cypress National Preserve in Florida with his teen son when they both spotted the largest snake they had ever seen slithering across the gravel road.
"It was more than a snake, it was a monster," Elfenbein told CBS News. Elfenbein said he occasionally hunts Burmese pythons in the 729,000-acre preserve but had never seen a snake that large.
Three other hunters – Trey Barber, Carter Gavlock and Holden Hunter – saw the snake at the same time. There was no way to miss the snake, which Elfenbein said stretched out almost the length of the road.
"We were strangers," said Elfenbein, 45. "But the five of us knew we had to capture this thing."
Gavlock was the first to grab the snake by the tail, Elfenbein said. Then his son Cole, 17, and Gavlock grabbed the head, and all five men tried to wrestle the python to the ground.
Elfenbein said the python quickly went from "flight to fight" and was a "formidable opponent." The five men sat on the python's back and wrestled with her for more than 45 minutes. The python kept lifting her body off the ground "trying to constrict" her captors and "continue to move us out of the way."
The python had "zero fear" of her captors, Elfenbein said.
When her cellphone rang around 10 p.m. on Friday with a call from Elfenbein, professional python hunter Amy Siewe knew something big was happening.
"If Mike is calling me right now, it has to be a python," Siewe said. She jumped in her truck and hightailed it over to Big Cypress. She pulled her truck up behind the others and then spotted "the fattest python I had ever seen."
Siewe, who said she has caught 530in 2019, told CBS News that "it was hard to comprehend the size." Using a captive bolt gun, which is the method of euthanasia approved by the American Veterinary Association, she killed the python.
She then took the python home to weigh it and called the Conservancy of Southwest Florida to register the python's measurements. The female Burmese python was 17 feet, 2 inches long and weighed 198 pounds – the second heaviest python captured to date in Florida, Ian Bartoszek, a research manager at the conservancy, confirmed to CBS News.
One of the largest snake species in the world, pythons were brought from Southeast Asia to Florida in the 1970s. The invasive predators quickly spread throughout the Everglades ecosystem and are thought to be responsible for a 90% decline in the native mammal population.
Biologists, volunteers and conservationists have been working to reduce the Burmese python population in the region.
The heaviest python, captured by biologists in Picayune Strand State Forest, weighed 215 pounds and had a length of 18 feet. The longest python captured in Florida measured 19 feet and weighed 125 pounds, Bartoszek said.
Remains of white-tailed deer hooves were found in the python's stomach, a reminder, Bartoszek said, that these snakes "are big game hunters."
"We often see the remains of deer inside pythons. Their impact throughout the food web of the Greater Everglades ecosystem cannot be understated," Bartoszek said.