Though it’s still hard to accept any hedging when cruelty is involved, you can understand the reluctance of politicians to take on some issues, such as confinement of animals on factory farms or animal testing. There are monied interests on the other side, and they work hard to preserve the status quo. It often takes a big lift for us to get that sort of legislation moving, since many politicians want to avoid confronting tough issues.
But there’s no reasonable political explanation for dithering on the issue of keeping dangerous exotic animals as pets. It seems perfectly foolish on its face to keep a lion, a chimpanzee, or a Burmese python as a pet. These wild animals live by the unforgiving code of nature and they are fully capable of killing adults. A woman in Connecticut was severely disfigured earlier this year by a pet chimp. They can make especially quick work of children.
Every state and the federal government should establish policies to crack down on keeping dangerous wild animals as pets, but some states continue to be outliers, including Missouri, Ohio, and other centers of the exotic pet trade. Oregon did just pass a tough, comprehensive law in 2009, and Congress did enact a law in 2003 restricting the trade in big cats. But Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) continues to block the Captive Primate Safety Act, which would ban the trade in chimps and other primates as pets. The House passed the bill earlier this year, as introduced by Reps. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.) and Mark Kirk (R-Ill.), and Sens. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) and David Vitter (R-La.) are leading the issue in the Senate, but haven’t been able yet to overcome Coburn’s stalling tactics.
Yet, the human toll from wild animals kept as pets continues to mount. Last week, an eight-foot Burmese python escaped from an aquarium, slithered into a bedroom, and asphyxiated a 2-year-old toddler. She was the fourth person to be killed by a pet python in the United States since 2006. It follows an incident earlier this year in Las Vegas, when a 3-year-old boy was squeezed to the point of unconsciousness by an 18-foot reticulated python the father was keeping in their home.
These huge constrictors are not pets. In addition to the serious risks to people, Burmese pythons are upsetting the balance of Florida's ecosystems as they prey on endangered species and even challenge alligators for apex predator status. From a small population of escaped or abandoned pets, Burmese pythons have become established in the Everglades, numbering perhaps 25,000, according to some estimates.
The HSUS applauds Sen. Bill Nelson's proposed legislation (S. 373) and the companion bill introduced by Rep. Kendrick Meek (H.R. 2811) to add pythons to the federal injurious species list, prohibiting their import and interstate commerce for the pet trade. The Congress should not delay in enacting that bill, along with the Captive Primate Safety Act.
State laws are important, and we work aggressively on that front, but the Congress too needs to speak on this subject. These dangerous animals are sold through a national and international network of exotic animal dealers and even over the Internet, and effective policy action must include imports and interstate transport of exotic animals.