The Only Jewish Burmese Python Hunter in Florida

Dave Leibman Bagged Four of the Snakes in Everglades Hunt

Culture Clash: Dave Leibman came in third in Florida’s Python Challenge. He boasts that he’s the ‘only Jewish redneck’ around.
courtesy of dave leibman
Culture Clash: Dave Leibman came in third in Florida’s Python Challenge. He boasts that he’s the ‘only Jewish redneck’ around.

By Susan Armitage

Published February 24, 2013, issue of March 01, 2013.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Multi Page

Dave Leibman knows he’s a bit of an outlier in the South Florida Jewish community — or perhaps in any Jewish community.

With pillowcases in tow, and bulky camouflage hunting boots on his feet, Leibman spent a recent day driving his pickup through the Everglades, hoping to nab a Burmese python, a species that can grow large enough to eat a deer.

“It makes a Jewish wife not very happy,” he said, referring to his use of linens to tote the snakes. “Pythons prefer a very high thread count.”

“I’m probably the only Jewish redneck you’ll meet,” he told the Forward.

Despite the culture clash, it was a typical day for Leibman during the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission’s recent Python Challenge, a month-long competition organized to raise awareness of the state’s problem with invasive Burmese pythons. Originally imported as exotic pets, the snakes are now thriving in the Everglades at the expense of small mammals and other native species.

Leibman keeps a formidable menagerie of rescued animals at home in Weston, a Broward County suburb: four types of non-invasive snakes, wild chameleons, several dogs, a cat and a rabbit. He’s also passionate about raising awareness of the dangers of abandoning domestic animals.

“Unfortunately, people use the Everglades as a dumping ground for pets,” he said. “And in my book, that’s the biggest sin in the world.”

More than 1,500 people registered for the Python Challenge, which ran from January 12 to February 10. But unlike many competitors, who were granted temporary hunting access after completing an online training module, Leibman holds an official permit to capture the snakes year-round. He placed third in the challenge, with a tally of four Burmese pythons.

Even if snake-hunting seems like an unusual Jewish pasttime, Leibman could draw inspiration from the Scriptures.

In the Torah, after Moses’s staff is transformed into a snake, the Lord commands Moses to grab the creature’s tail. In one of the miracles showing that Moses is a true messenger of the divine, the snake turns back into a staff.

When Leibman grabs a Burmese python’s tail, he knows exactly what will happen: The animal will turn around and go into battle. So he continues to step backward as it strikes, waiting for the snake to tire out so that it can be captured safely. Suffice it to say, this isn’t a hobby for the faint of heart.

But while Leibman loves the adrenaline rush of dealing with pythons, he’s also motivated by a deep appreciation for Florida’s Everglades, where he goes camping and fishing. He grew up spending time there with his father, and he loves to take trips there with his 14- and 17-year-old daughters. As a baseball coach for children with disabilities, he also brings the kids out to see snakes and other animals.

“Even if we go out there and don’t catch anything, it is one of the most beautiful places in the world,” he said. “If we clean up the python problem, hopefully we’ll have a lot more things to see out there.”

While the first-and second-prize Python Challenge winners hunted in teams, Leibman operates solo — except when his daughters help out with the driving or a tail grab. Though he doesn’t feel they’re ready to grab a python’s head, he says his younger daughter will argue otherwise.

Leibman estimates that he’s caught about 50 pythons since he took up the hobby two years ago. He prefers the term “catching” to hunting, since he doesn’t carry a gun or a machete, and he doesn’t kill the snakes, instead handing them over to a biologist at the University of Florida for research. Some are euthanized, while others are studied alive. “They’re trying to learn as much as they can about them,” Leibman said.

Leibman admits the extent of his religious practice is basically limited to Jewish food, but his girls attend Temple Dor Dorim more frequently than him with their friends.

His next-door neighbor Marty Prenner, who worships at Temple B’nai Aviv, in Weston, also learned a bit about pythons after Leibman asked him to help measure a catch of live snakes.

“There he is, holding the head, and he’s asking me not to worry about it as we’re stretching these animals out one at a time,” Prenner told the Forward. “I handed the front part of the tape measure to him from afar. I pulled (it) out like a foot or so, and said, ‘Here, you grab it.’ I walked the rest of the tape measure all the way to the tail end.”

Prenner describes his one-of-kind neighbor as a passionate, articulate advocater of the environment. “Dave just has a keen sense of the outdoors,” he said. “He definitely is in tune with nature.”

Experts aren’t sure how many Burmese pythons are actually in the Everglades, but more than 1,800 have been removed since 2002. The Nature Conservancy cites estimates of 30,000 to 100,000.

Leibman takes a more conservative stance, and it’s enough to keep him in his pickup, ready to jump at a moment’s notice.

“I believe there’s at least one more out there,” he said.

Contact Susan Armitage at feedback@forward.com


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • Many #Israelis can't make it to bomb shelters in time. One of them is Amos Oz.
  • According to Israeli professor Mordechai Kedar, “the only thing that can deter terrorists, like those who kidnapped the children and killed them, is the knowledge that their sister or their mother will be raped."
  • Why does ultra-Orthodox group Agudath Israel of America receive its largest donation from the majority owners of Walmart? Find out here: http://jd.fo/q4XfI
  • Woody Allen on the situation in #Gaza: It's “a terrible, tragic thing. Innocent lives are lost left and right, and it’s a horrible situation that eventually has to right itself.”
  • "Mark your calendars: It was on Sunday, July 20, that the momentum turned against Israel." J.J. Goldberg's latest analysis on Israel's ground operation in Gaza:
  • What do you think?
  • "To everyone who is reading this article and saying, “Yes, but… Hamas,” I would ask you to just stop with the “buts.” Take a single moment and allow yourself to feel this tremendous loss. Lay down your arms and grieve for the children of Gaza."
  • Professor Dan Markel, 41 years old, was found shot and killed in his Tallahassee home on Friday. Jay Michaelson can't explain the death, just grieve for it.
  • Employees complained that the food they received to end the daily fast during the holy month of Ramadan was not enough (no non-kosher food is allowed in the plant). The next day, they were dismissed.
  • Why are peace activists getting beat up in Tel Aviv? http://jd.fo/s4YsG
  • Backstreet's...not back.
  • Before there was 'Homeland,' there was 'Prisoners of War.' And before there was Claire Danes, there was Adi Ezroni. Share this with 'Homeland' fans!
  • BREAKING: Was an Israeli soldier just kidnapped in Gaza? Hamas' military wing says yes.
  • What's a "telegenically dead" Palestinian?
  • 13 Israeli soldiers die in Gaza — the deadliest day for the IDF in decades. So much for 'precision' strikes and easy exit strategies.
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.