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Wednesday, July 09, 2014

Constricting the Trade in Deadly Snakes

Nearly every week, there are news reports of human encounters with non-native large constrictor snakes, such as boa constrictors and reticulated pythons, in residential neighborhoods. These large, powerful animals already have become an invasive species in parts of Florida, Puerto Rico, Aruba and Cozumel. With clutch sizes of up to 124 eggs, they reproduce rapidly, and without substantial action to prevent such an outcome, they could establish breeding populations in large portions of the southern tier of the United States, from Florida to Texas to Arizona to Hawaii.

Burmese Python
Burmese python found in the wild in Florida. Credit: Alamy

These invasions might have been triggered when owners dumped them outdoors. Too often people purchase pet snakes when the animals are young and manageable; but there are very few options for placement once the snakes grow too dangerous to handle. Not a single invasive reptile species has ever been eradicated through management efforts, and taxpayers will continue to see our government spend millions of dollars to try and control the snakes already thriving in the environment. Once the genie is out of the bottle, there’s no putting it back.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service had a proposal under consideration to ban the trade of nine large constrictor snake species that the U.S. Geological Survey identified as posing a significant risk to the environment. But after pressure from reptile dealers, the Obama administration moved ahead with a half-measure in 2012 and banned the trade in just four of the nine species: Indian pythons (including Burmese pythons), northern and southern African pythons and yellow anacondas. The White House’s rule addressed just 30 percent of the problem and left 70 percent of imported large constrictor snakes unchecked—including reticulated pythons and boa constrictors, which represent more than two-thirds of the large constrictor snakes in the U.S. pet trade.

This very industry that pushed for the weakening of the federal rule is the same one that peddles high-maintenance dangerous predators to unqualified people at flea markets, swap meets, and over the Internet. Constrictor snakes have killed 15 people in the United States, including seven children. And they have wiped out as many as 99 percent of some small and medium-sized mammals in one area that was surveyed in the Everglades. Banning just nine of the most dangerous species would have little effect on businesses, since there are hundreds of less risky snake and reptile species available to pet purchasers.  It’s the height of irresponsibility.

Thankfully, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is now proposing to finish the job it left incomplete two years ago, and ban the import and interstate transport of the remaining five species of large constrictor snakes—the reticulated python, DeSchauensee’s anaconda, green anaconda, Beni anaconda and boa constrictor. When you consider the danger to humans, the damage to the environment and the suffering that the snakes themselves endure in the trade, the case for a trade ban for all nine of these giant snakes is clear-cut. Several newspapers have weighed in over the last week urging the Obama administration to get the job done, and here’s what they had to say:

It’s time for the administration to complete the list….As federal officials have delayed action, a disturbing story line has become all too common: Boa constrictors, Burmese pythons and African rock pythons living and breeding in the wild, subsequently damaging the Everglades ecosystem by eating native wildlife, and invading residential neighborhoods and killing pets—and children.—Palm Beach Post, July 2, 2014

The risk to people and native wildlife is simply too great to allow these destructive and potentially dangerous snakes as pets. While snake sellers might take a financial hit, the possible damage to Florida's environment is much more significant.—Gainesville Sun, July 5, 2014

This foolishness of importing such dangerous species has to stop.—Tallahassee Democrat, July 2, 2014, and Fort Myers News-Press, July 5, 2014

You can add your voice, and ask the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to finalize this important rule, and keep these dangerous snakes from preying on children and pets, wreaking havoc on the environment, and suffering in an inhumane trade. The agency is accepting public comments until July 24.



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