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Lawmakers, animal rights activists want to regulate pet snakes

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Michael Bastasch DCNF Managing Editor
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Ever wanted to have a pet snake? Well, that could get a little harder soon. It looks like the snakes on Capitol Hill are teaming up with animal rights activists to make it harder for people to keep certain types of snakes as pets.

A bipartisan group of lawmakers sent a letter to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to urging the agency to list the reticulated python, the DeSchauensee’s anaconda, the green anaconda, the Beni anaconda and the boa constrictor as “injurious species” under the Lacey Act. Such a listing would mean these snakes could not be imported or transported within the U.S.

Animal rights activists at the Humane Society support this designation, sending an email around quoting the lawmakers’ saying that these five snakes “pose a risk to the safety of the American people and threaten some of our nation’s most treasured natural habitats. Since 1990, twelve people died from encounters with ‘pet’ constrictor snakes, including two toddlers who were strangled in their cribs.”

Lawmakers have voiced similar concerns, arguing that these snakes are invasive and can damage local ecosystems and put a burden on taxpayers because federal officials have spent $6 million since 2005 combating Burmese pythons and other constrictor snakes in Florida.

“Yet, these predators continue to consume endangered and threatened species, kill family pets in residential neighborhoods, and have decimated almost 99 percent of Everglades’ small and medium sized native mammals,” reads the letter from lawmakers led by Oregon Democratic Rep. Peter DeFazio and Florida Republican Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart.

Lawmakers also cite a U.S. Geological Survey report saying that nine species of exotic constrictor snakes present a “high” or “medium” risk of becoming invasive species because of how easily they can escape from cages or because of owners releasing their pets into the wild. Four out of nine of these constrictors were listed as “injurious” under federal law, and now lawmakers want the other five to also be listed.

Reptile enthusiasts and owners, on the other hand, say this is a case of federal overreach and that local snake problems should be handled by the states, not the feds. A listing under the Lacey would not only ban importing and interstate trade of the snakes, but also intrastate trade where there is no existing state law on the matter — crippling the thousands of small, family-owned reptile businesses across the country.

“We believe that the listing of these constrictor snakes, which have been in the country for decades and are widely held as pets, is a one size fits all approach to a problem that at best is limited to the very southern tip of Florida,” Joan Galvin, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Association of Reptile Keepers, told The Daily Caller News Foundation.

Galvin added that most of the constrictor snakes being held as pets are bred to be certain colors and patterns, called “morphs”, meaning they would not even be able to blend into their ecosystems when released. This is on top of the snake’s inability to survive in climates that can drop into the 40s.

“The state of Florida, to their credit, has already addressed the issue at the state level at the initiative of their state wildlife management agency,” Galvin said. “We believe that is appropriate and that the use of the Lacey Act to prohibit the ownership of animals widely held as pets throughout the country is federal overreach, not supported by the science and would cause significant economic harm to those in the industry.”

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