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Miami Herald Editorial: Stiff fines and jail for releasing exotic animals

Still time to stop wildlife explosion

Friday, November 17, 2006

The invasion of exotic animals in South Florida, especially giant pythons in the Everglades, has escalated beyond the point where state and federal wildlife agencies can hope to eradicate them. Even controlling some of the species will take a mammoth effort.

Toward this goal, wildlife agencies this week announced plans to step up efforts to capture more of the big snakes by using other pythons with embedded transmitters to pinpoint their locations. They also will develop chemical attractants to lure the pythons into traps.

Jail sentences

These are sensible moves to deal with a creature that creates bone-chilling dread among many residents and visitors. But lawmakers and wildlife agencies should adopt even more aggressive rules to retard the introduction of exotic species into Florida and to severely penalize those who irresponsibly release the animals.

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission will consider rules that will require owners of pythons and other large snakes to have permits and keep them in locked cages. They also would require dealers to insert microchips in the animals, making it easier to track and identify those who release them.

Adopting these rules would send the right message. But the rules, if adopted, should be supported with tougher penalties, including the possibility of jail time, for those who release dangerous animals into the wild.

Although the likelihood of a fatal human/python encounter is remote, the fact that more pythons are in the Everglades increases the odds that such encounters eventually will occur. Already, pythons have been found close enough to South Florida farms and homes to make a meal out of a turkey and a house cat.

Florida’s laxity in allowing exotic animals into the state and in monitoring the people who own them is evident in the fact that we have as many as 400 nonnative types of animals in the state, including 44 kinds of amphibians and reptiles.

Adopt tougher laws

The impact of this unwanted intrusion is all around us. Iguanas now run rampant in neighborhoods from Key Biscayne to Coral Springs, devouring gardens and destroying flowering plants. In some places in South Florida and throughout the state, residents are allowed to keep tigers, cougars, venomous snakes and reptiles in their homes and backyards for no other reason than they want the animals as pets.

Meanwhile, the price tag for controlling nonnative species in Florida, which now is at more than $100 million a year, continues to soar. The growing presence of giant pythons in the Everglades should be a warning. State lawmakers and wildlife agencies need to adopt tougher laws now before the animals get completely out of hand.

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