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June 24, 2014

Time to Tighten Grip on Imports of Constricting Snakes

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is rightly looking to finish up a job it left incomplete over two years ago – examining whether five species of large, non-native constricting snakes, all judged by the U.S. Geological Survey to be an ecological threat, should be listed as “injurious” and prohibited for import or interstate trade for use as exotic pets.

In 2012, the agency listed only four species – the Burmese python, Northern African python, Southern African python, and yellow anaconda – but punted on the other five species. At the time, the reticulated python, DeSchauensee’s anaconda, green anaconda, Beni anaconda, and boa constrictor represented about 70 percent of the trade in large constricting snakes. It’s time for the Obama administration to finish the job, stopping a reckless trade that results in snakes dispersed in our communities and ultimately leaving a major ecological wake.

Burmese python
Burmese pythons in the Everglades may have contributed to a 99 percent decrease in the numbers of certain small- to medium-sized mammals. 
Photo: National Park Service

Dogs and cats were domesticated for thousands of years, and they have a place in our homes. The large constricting snakes we are talking about are wild animals, native to Africa, Asia and South America. While we agree that they are fascinating and remarkable animals, they are best suited in their native environments, and they don’t belong in the wildlife trade or in our bedrooms and basements. They die during capture and transport. In the end, too many people get them and then tire of them or realize that they do not have the resources, space and expertise to care for them properly, and release them. Some of the snakes adapt to the wild, becoming invasive species.

Boa constrictors, the most popular of the nine large constrictor snakes in the pet trade, are predators who can grow up to 13 feet long, and they can and have killed large mammals, including humans. They have now become established in Miami-Dade County and Puerto Rico, and if they become established like Burmese pythons have in south Florida, they could cost the nation tens of millions of dollars in eradication programs – to say nothing of the effect on native species of birds and small mammals, including endangered ones. One study showed that Burmese pythons in the Everglades may have contributed to a 99 percent decrease in the numbers of certain small- to medium-sized mammals.

Here at The HSUS, we have tracked more than 500 human safety incidents involving large constrictor snakes that include attacks, intentional releases and escapes from poorly secured cages. Boa constrictors and reticulated pythons have already killed five adults and three babies, and the danger continues to escalate.

But even with this full-blown problem on our hands, and stories about constrictors on the loose hurting wildlife and humans making it into the media every day, private dealers continue to trade millions of large constricting snakes via the Internet and through pet stores. Some of the stories defy belief: last year, for instance, authorities discovered 850 snakes, including a Burmese python, in the garage of a New York area animal control officer who was selling the snakes over the Internet. 

Join me to ask for a final rule that will end, once and for all, the inhumane trade of these beautiful, wild creatures who do not belong in glass cages or big boxes in someone’s house, or as abandoned pets wreaking havoc in the wild.

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