Feds may add boas, reticulated pythons, others to 'no import' list

Posted by Big Rat on Campus on Jul 9, 2014 in Rat Answers | Subscribe

In a back corner of the store, an aisle of aquarium tanks holds curled up boa constrictors. Garrett Sutcliffe, a manager at the store, walks to one tank and removes one of the larger snakes, a more than 6-foot-long Colombian RedTail Boa. The boa slides and curves and wraps itself around Sutcliffe’s arm.

Sutcliffe talks about how much a boa this size needs to eat — small rabbits or large rats do best — and how the bad reputation that large constrictor snakes get is a product of “myth,” media hype and irresponsible owners who do not take the time to learn what it takes to care for and keep a snake.

The debate over selling and owning these large snakes has once again heated up. Pressed by the Humane Society of the United States and some members of Congress, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is considering adding five species of large constrictor snakes — the boa, reticulated python and the green, Beni and DeSchauensee’s anacondas — to the federal list of “injurious” snakes that cannot be imported into the U.S. or taken across state lines.

They would join four snakes added to the list in 2012: the Burmese python, Northern African python, Southern African python and yellow anaconda.

All nine snakes were under consideration to be banned for import in 2012, but the federal government only placed the initial four on the list.

Wayne Pacelle, the president and CEO of the Humane Society of the United States, said the federal government did not adequately address the situation two years ago because the five remaining species represent about 70 percent of the trade in large constrictor snakes.

“Certain animals just don’t belong in our homes,” Pacelle said. “You shouldn’t have a tiger or lion in your backyard or basement. Those are wild animals, even if you think you are a responsible owner. Lay people should not have a wild animal whose needs cannot be met in a private setting.”

Pacelle said his group has three prime concerns — damage to the ecosystem, safety threats to people and the welfare of the snakes, which are snatched up out of the wild in Southeast Asia or South America.

Pacelle pointed to the Florida Everglades, where loose Burmese pythons have reproduced at a prolific rate, have been difficult to track or catch and have eaten native birds as well as the small and medium mammals that make up key links in the food chain.

That has led to a massive reduction in the population of bobcats, raccoons and possums in South Florida, according to research by the U.S. Geological Survey.

The invasion of the Everglades included the headline-grabbing discovery of a nearly 18-foot python in February. While some attribute the python population explosion in the Everglades to snakes kept as pets that either escape or are released by owners who do not want to deal with them anymore, others say the snakes first came to the Everglades from an exotic animal breeding facility in the area that was destroyed during Hurricane Andrew in 1992.

Speaking about the potential threat to humans, Pacelle said the Humane Society of the U.S. has, by researching news accounts, confirmed 17 deaths in the U.S. from large constrictor snake since 1978 — including 12 since 1990.

Those include the 2009 death of a 2-year-old girl in the Sumter County community of Oxford, about 20 miles south of Ocala, after the family’s pet python got out of its enclosure and strangled the child in her crib. That 8½-foot python was significantly underfed, weighing only 13 pounds. The child’s mother and the mother’s live-in boyfriend are now serving 12 years in prison for manslaughter.

Inside Hogtown Reptiles, Sutcliffe and co-owner Chris Glass say problems arise when someone buys a large snake and doesn’t take the time to learn how to care for the animal properly. Glass said those are the owners who then release the snakes or contact a store like Hogtown Reptiles trying to see if they will take the snake. When that happens, Glass said the store often temporarily takes the snake, while waiting for Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission officers to come pick it up.

Glass said he regularly takes snakes and other reptiles to educational events at libraries and schools in North Central Florida. He feels the snakes get a bad rap in the media, noting that dogs are responsible for more injuries to humans.

“People don’t realize how snakes help us more every day than they hurt us,” Glass said. “But that doesn’t make the news.”

Offering an example, he noted that snake venom is used to make some medications.

Kenneth Krysko, a snake expert at the Florida Museum of Natural History, supports expanding the import ban to the five snakes now under consideration. Krysko said there are already too many large snakes loose in South Florida and allowing the constrictor snake trade to continue “only perpetuates releasing these things.”

He said there is no such thing as a “responsible” owner for a large, wild animal that was never meant to be kept as a pet in an enclosure.

“It’s bad for the snake, and it’s bad for the environment,” Krysko said of the consequences of the large snake trade.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is taking public comment on adding the five snakes to the “no import” list through July 24.

Article source: http://www.gainesville.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=2014140709725

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