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Exotic pet problems on increase in Vermont

Published: Thursday, June 14, 2007
By Sam Hemingway
Free Press Staff Writer

State wildlife officials are struggling to cope with problems caused by an increase in the number of illegally imported exotic animals turning up in Vermont.

“They’re being advertised on the Internet,” Col. Robert Rooks, director of law enforcement for the state’s Fish & Wildlife Department, said Wednesday of the influx of such pets. “It’s frightening. People will ship anything to your doorstep, no questions asked. Just pay cash.”

Rooks said the variety of exotic wildlife arriving in the state is expanding so quickly that the state’s Fish & Wildlife Board plans to meet next week to revamp its rules so the department can more quickly outlaw dangerous or unsafe species of animals, reptiles and amphibians.

“Every day, we’re getting questions from people asking if they can keep some exotic animal they’ve gotten,” Rooks said. “Once a week, we’re getting tips about people who have something they shouldn’t have.” He said the department does not keep statistics on the number of exotic pet reports it has received.

Rooks spoke one day after state game wardens seized two monkeys from an Eden home and charged John W. Aszklar, 56, of Eden with two counts of unlawful importation and possession of an exotic wild animal without a permit.

“We’ve known about him for two years,” Rooks said of Aszklar. “He moved the monkeys all over the state, kept them in small cages. You cannot imagine how bad they smelled.” One of the monkeys seized is native to Asia; the other, to Africa.

Twice, Rooks said, the department executed search warrants and entered sites where wardens believed the monkeys were being kept, only to discover they were no longer there.

Dr. Robert Johnson, an epidemiologist with the state Health Department, said monkeys can pose health risks for humans.

“Nonhuman primates certainly bite and they also carry viruses and other infectious diseases that make them risky to be around for humans and other animals,” Johnson said.

Rooks said the most popular exotic animals being illegally imported into Vermont are amphibians and reptiles. “It seems the more dangerous or venomous they are, the more desirable they are,” Rooks said.

In March, wardens seized a 6-foot-long alligator living in the basement of a Brattleboro home occupied by a family with children. He said alligators lack the brain power to become friendly with humans, and are incapable of being family pets.

Vermonters can also be exporters of illegal exotic pets. Two years ago, Rooks said, a United Parcel Service worker called a game warden and reported having a box bound for Florida which had scratching sounds emanating from it.

“It was full of turtles,” Rooks said. “Some were native to Vermont and some had come from other parts of the country. We seized the turtles and cited the individual involved.”

According to a list kept by the department, 180 species of exotic wild animals are banned by the state because they pose threats to native wildlife, agricultural animals or people.

Anyone with tips or questions about the legality of certain exotic animals in Vermont should call 241-3700.

Contact Sam Hemingway at 660-1850 or e-mail at shemingway@bfp.burlingtonfreepress.com

http://www.burlingtonfreepress.com/apps/pbcs.dll/ article?AID=2007706140311