Love At First Fright Bankers: Robbie and Geoff Roepstorff face their fear of snakes to support the environmentJan 24, 2021 12:10PM ● By KATHY MONTGOMERY
How did Edison National Bank and Bank of the Islands president Robbie Roepstorff, who isn’t particularly fond of snakes, end up bagging a python more than twice her size? It started when the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, or FWC, scheduled its 2016 “Python Challenge,” which annually invited hunters into the Everglades to track the invasive, mammal-killing predators.
Because of the invasion of non-native Burmese pythons in Everglades National Park, the park reports near-decimation of the marsh rabbit population. It also reports population declines of 99 percent in raccoons, 98 percent in opossums and 87 percent in bobcats.
Robbie was afraid her banking partner and husband, Geoff, who is also not fond of snakes and had hunted them unsuccessfully with friends one time during the challenge, would try again alone. She reluctantly offered to go with him. “At least I can call 9-1-1,” she told him.
On Valentine’s Day 2016, the last day of that year’s challenge, the Roepstorffs finally found what they were looking for. It wasn’t love at first sight.
Geoff heard rustling and headed down a levee with his gun to see a Burmese python rising like a periscope, three feet out of the water. When Geoff couldn't shoot because his gun still had the safety on, Robbie feared the worst—until she heard the gunshot that humanely dispatched the snake.
The couple, who co-founded Edison National Bank in 1997, carried the 12-foot, 50-pound python in a regular pillowcase for about six miles back to the car. It was the beginning of a love affair.
The python problem in the Everglades is believed to have started after Hurricane Andrew damaged a private reptile-breeding facility in 1992. In addition, pet snakes have been released into the wild.
Hunters began removing pythons in 2013, when the FWC issued its first python challenge. After taking on his first challenge in 2016, Geoff met and was trained how to catch pythons by Leo Sanchez, who is known as the “Python King.”
Eventually, Geoff joined Sanchez and two other volunteers, who were affiliated with the University of Florida, to bring in captured pythons for research. In March 2017, the South Florida Water Management District chose Geoff out of thousands of applicants to become one of just 25 registered python hunters to remove Burmese pythons from the Everglades.
Geoff estimates that during certain times of the year, it can take more than 40 hours to catch a python. However, during the summer months, when mating season is over and hatchlings are out, it’s not unusual to catch multiple pythons in one night. Geoff has caught as many as five during a summer’s evening.
Geoff and Robbie catch pythons with their hands—grabbing the snakes by the tail or behind the head, dragging them out in the open to wear them out. Geoff hunts several times a month, and has already caught more than 100 pythons. Robbie joins him when she can. For their 25th wedding anniversary, they captured a 10-foot snake. Even their son, Matt, has joined them, catching an 11-footer on a Father’s Day expedition.
Although the Roepstorffs are still not fond of snakes, they have concurrently developed great respect for Florida’s native reptiles. And hunting the invasive Burmese pythons is a still-ongoing love affair for the couple. They believe that removing the pythons is a fitting way to help the environment—and honor their late mothers, both of whom loved mammals.
Kathy Montgomery has been writing for more than 30 years about Southwest Florida and the interesting people who live in the region.