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  • Feb
  • 17

Federal Snake Ban Lacks Bite

Posted by at 2:50 PM | Permalink | Comments (9)

Recently, a powerful lobby spent hundreds of thousands of dollars to defeat a bill that would have enhanced public safety, safeguarded the environment and curtailed cruelty to animals. Who is this giant wielding such influence? BP? The NRA? Halliburton? Nope, it’s none other than the U.S. Association of Reptile Keepers, which fought a bill that would have made some species of dangerous snakes illegal to import and sell. The group griped and hyped for three years until the list was gutted by more than half—four species have been banned rather than nine.

The ban will stop imports and interstate commerce in Burmese pythons (who, as a new study shows, are eating their way through Florida’s Everglades), yellow anacondas and northern and southern African pythons. Yet anyone can still go out and buy, breed, sell and trade in boa constrictors, reticulated pythons and three other species of anaconda.

Interior Secretary Ken Salazar—whose job it is to protect our natural resources, not animal dealers—unabashedly defended the watered-down version of the bill, assuring Americans that the compromise wouldn’t “suffocate” commerce.

It’s a strange lot that insists that pythons, rattlers, constrictors, vipers and other reptile species make good pets. Snakes shun contact with people and for good reason: They are wild animals who only suffer at the hands of humans. Reptiles do not want to be your friend. They want to be left alone.

Those who breed and sell reptiles make money. But how to understand those who buy and keep the animals? In Jennie Erin Smith’s remarkable book, Stolen World, which documents the scope and scale of this ruthless industry, one dealer puts it this way: “A venomous animal gives someone a sense of power and a sense of adventure in an otherwise mundane life.”

But for the animals who are shipped around the world crammed inside toilet paper tubes, plastic margarine tubs and shipping crates labeled “automotive parts,” a buyer’s need to be different is often a death sentence. Mortality is high. Dealers hope that some of what they call “inventory” will survive shipment, knowing full well that the box will arrive filled mostly with decomposing bodies.

Reptiles have specialized husbandry needs, including spectrum lighting, heat sources and dietary requirements, which are expensive, tedious and technical. Very few buyers have the knowledge or inclination to commit to the lifelong responsibility of the animals they acquire on a whim. Snakes usually end up living in small aquariums where they can’t even stretch out the full length of their bodies, much less move around or climb.

Because they can’t vocalize pain or discomfort, it’s easy for owners who feel inconvenienced and bored by their new chore to ignore a starving, dehydrated or sick snake. Snakes are relegated to eating whatever someone remembers to dump into their tanks. They are hauled out for shock value, but roughly handling even large snakes can cause serious internal injuries.

Rather than exploring lush jungles and swamps and experiencing all the sensory pleasures that they are so keenly attuned to, their lives become an interminable limbo. For the vast majority of snakes who aren’t abandoned in an area like the Everglades, where they stand a chance of surviving, death will be slow and painful. Those who manage to acclimate wreak havoc on natural ecosystems—as the new study found, invasive pythons and anacondas have all but wiped out bobcats, raccoons, rabbits and other animals in the Everglades—and cost taxpayers millions of dollars to combat.

Why should the interests of a small group trump cruelty to animals, public safety, taxpayers’ money and environmental devastation? Why did it take three years for the government to sign this weak bill into law? Who “needs” a pet anaconda, boa constrictor or python? These are all questions with no reasonable answer.

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  • Dan says:

    It’s shocking how one sided and under informing this article is. The vast majority of reptile owners are responsible people who love their animals and take excellent care of them. Using fear inducing language with little to no facts to back it up is not the way to win an argument, as was proven when those snakes were removed from the list of banned species. I find it interesting that the beginning of this article demonizes spending “hundreds of thousands of dollars” on advancing their own biased interests when this has been PETA’s, and other similar groups, main strategy for years. Animals who are being shipped around the world in mislabeled containers are not representative of the reptile community, who legally keep and transport their animals across the country. On top of that reptile care is vastly more simple than dog care. As a dog trainer I come across people daily who are accidently mistreating their dogs through improper knowledge. While reptiles may need special temperatures and lighting they do not need daily attention, walks, training, and love and affection. Dogs are on the top of the list for issues such as danger to the public, cruelty to animals, and even environmental destruction. I am not against a debate for these type of issues but at least bring valid facts to the argument before presenting them to the public

  • Rachel says:

    Argument seems a little one-sided if you ask me, I’m actually a supporter of the USARK. Assuming most of you aren’t reptile hobbyists, you don’t really know how these snakes love you. A Burmese Python may seem scary- I’m sure many of you have heard the horror stories of these snakes eating people, but the reason some do (you have a greater chance of being struck by lightning) is the same reason cats bring in dead birds- instinct. If you were to be shrunk down to the size of a mouse, your cat would kill you. The burmese python is generally a loving snake, though I do agree with your point- the reason they are taking over Florida is because of stupid, ignorant people. I personally believe that importing these snakes should be limited to persons who know what they’re doing and not these mass-breeding companies.

  • Oberon says:

    “Traditional” pets have caused just as much if not more harm to people and the environment than the misunderstood and misrepresented “exotic” pets. Just something to think about before you judge a species. I agree though that pets deserve the best care no matter the species

  • Toran says:

    Everyone has a right to his or her own opinion. To bring god up in the subject you can’t leave out the part that says dominion over all animals. not just domesticated ones! It’s a matter of opinion and interpretation!

  • Debra Picard says:

    It’s to bad the bill to keep nine species of snakes from being imported went from 9 to 4! First of all the poor snakes end up in the hands of alot of people that have no ideo how to keep them well and alive. Then there are the dangers of keeping such animals in a home for example the two year old that was eaten by her parents boa constrictor. The poor child didn’t have a chance and the parents did not do what was right for the child or the snake. Snakes should be where GOD meant them to be, they don’t want to be around humans. Humans that had boa’s just let them go in FL and now the snakes are suffering and being killed just for doing what they were born to do. Humans are not responsible with their dogs and cats so it’s OK TO HAVE SNAKES! Crazy! I believe except for dogs and cats,because we have domesticated them,people should not be allowed to have wild animals. They belong in one place and that’s where their habitat is.

  • Colette says:

    The quality of the human gene pool is becoming more degraded with the passing of each decade.

  • Heather M says:

    Why would snakes want to be imprisoned in tanks when they can roam out in the wild and be as far away from humans as possible?

  • Holland says:

    Excellent article on snakes, how easily they are consigned to lives of captivity and suffering, and the sorry state of federal legal protections they have — or, more accurately, don’t have.

    It’s painful to know that pro-animal voices evidently were not loud enough to combat the snake-profit mongers, the US Association of Reptile Keepers. I speak for myself: I do not recall contacting my legislators and Salazar about the snake bill until very recently. Too little, too late. I suspect there are a lot of other conscientious activists who also put this one near the bottom of a stack of issues.

    I hope there is a huge wake-up call to animal activists on this one. I know there has been for me. Let’s go back at the USARK with both barrels, and force protections for all nine species of snakes. What we accomplish for those animals who least command our attention raises standards for ALL animals.

  • chander kumar soni says:


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