By Kevin Mathews
It’s not often that politicians and animal rights activists unite, but they have recently managed to come together on one particular issue: establishing stricter regulations for owning large pet snakes.
The coalition between congress people and the Humane Society is calling on the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to add certain large and dangerous snakes to the Lacey Act. Passed in 1900, the Lacey Act is animal protection legislation that attempts to prevent illegal transport and the spreading of non-native species.
Members of congress have suggested that the agency now include the following five snake species:
- Boa constrictor
- DeSchauensee’s anaconda
- Green anacdona
- Reticulated python
- Beni anaconda
They would not be the first snakes to be included on the Lacey Act’s list. Four species are already bound by the terms of the Lacey Act: Burmese pythons, yellow anacondas, and two varieties of African rock pythons.
The main problem seems to be that snakes are master escape artists. These elusive creatures are known to get out of their cages and go into the wild. Still other snakes are purposely liberated outdoors by owners who have decided the responsibility is too great.
In the past 25 years, 12 people in the United States have died at the (admittedly non-existent) hands of snakes, five of the victims being children. In an extreme and tragic example, a Burmese python that got out of its container killed the family’s two-year-old daughter.
The human death toll isn’t too high, but escaped snakes kill a lot of smaller creatures in their wake. In addition to killing family pets like dogs and cats, liberated large snakes have been known to wreak havoc on local eco-systems, killing native species that aren’t prepared to face this kind of predator. This fact is extra disconcerting from a conservationist standpoint considering that these animal victims are often threatened or endangered species that require additional protection.
Legislators point out the laws will save taxpayers money, as well. In the past decade, federal agencies have paid $6 million in Florida alone attempting to wrangle loose snakes.
Of course, not everyone is on board with the proposed legislation. Reptile lovers and owners are not keen on having restrictions placed on their pet ownership in general. Others object to the idea that this matter is being taken up on the federal level when it seems to be mainly problematic for one particular area: Florida.
In Canada, British Columbia recently put its own firm laws on the books for snake ownership. The move has been met with debate from reptile owners there, as well. As one op-ed writer points out, no person in the province has ever died from an interaction with a large constrictor, though the same is not true for other pets that remain legal.