Central Florida counties seek stricter snake ownership laws

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Central Florida counties seek stricter snake ownership laws

A state association will meet with wildlife officials to seek stricter requirements for owners of risky pets.
Denise-marie Balona | Sentinel Staff Writer
February 9, 2008
DELTONA – You’d never know that inside Brian Radenberg’s house on Snow Drive are the things of nightmares.
Well, nightmares for many people. The 54 cobras, vipers and other venomous serpents slithering in locked glass cages are Radenberg’s pets.
And, until recently, he was able to raise and breed them as he pleased. But city officials learned about the deadly creatures and now want them out.
“What if they get loose?” asked Dale Baker, who heads code enforcement in Volusia County‘s biggest city. “What if there was a tornado that dropped out of the sky? Then we’d have 50 venomous snakes crawling around.”
However, keeping snakes at home is legal with a state license, and there’s little that local governments such as Deltona can do. Only the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission has authority over who can have venomous reptiles and other exotic animals such as tigers and bears.
Other Florida communities have long been frustrated about what they consider a public-safety hazard. Seeking action, the Florida Association of Counties has called a special meeting this month with the wildlife commission. The association, a tax-funded lobbying and education group, will ask the commission Feb. 25 to begin requiring owners of dangerous pets to undergo criminal-background checks and to somehow warn firefighters, paramedics and police about the animals.
Association leaders also will request that the state limit dangerous animals to certain areas, association spokeswoman Cragin Mosteller said.
Ideal climate
Hundreds come to this state to raise snakes because the warm climate is ideal. In Central Florida, zoos, laboratories and universities are licensed to keep venomous reptiles. But the vast majority of the region’s nearly 50 licenses are held by residents who keep snakes at home.
“People throughout history have been infatuated with wildlife and wanted to contain it and study it, and this is an evolution of that,” said wildlife-commission Capt. John D. West, who oversees snake licensing.
Many owners try to keep a low profile so their neighbors don’t panic. But West said enthusiasts such as Radenberg, 37, and Josh Kibbey, a 29-year-old snake keeper in Oviedo, are experienced and careful.
They also have met strict requirements, including completing 1,000 hours of training and passing surprise inspections.
Kibbey, who keeps about a dozen venomous snakes in the house he shares with his mom in Seminole County, has worked with snakes for years. He thinks more people would become snake fans if they took the time to learn about them. But they’re not for everyone.
“You get people that they got to have the newest car or the biggest animal and this and that — because nobody else has it,” said Kibbey, who works at a pet shop. “I don’t want somebody getting into it for the wrong reason.”
Industry leaders and scholars said interest in reptiles and ownership has grown in Florida and around the world. The number of licenses issued in this state, however, has fallen since the permit fee rose from $5 to $100 about five years ago.
Penalties for unlicensed snakes
State officials acknowledge there are likely people in Florida who own deadly snakes but do not have licenses — a crime punishable by up to 60 days in jail and a $500 fine.
Florida‘s snake-friendly rules are one of the main reasons the state is attractive to snake keepers, said B.W. Smith, who owns Southern Reptile Education, a Smyrna-Ga.-based consulting and training group.
Smith said some states and cities have been terrorized by snakes and, as a result, have prohibited venomous reptiles or adopted regulations so stringent that they amount to a virtual ban.
“We saw this happen in Alabama several years ago,” he said via e-mail. “Some idiot had a couple cobras get loose in his trailer park, and the state promptly proposed an all-out ban. It was later changed to a permit system. We most often see this in cities.”
Orange County Commissioner Linda Stewart said deadly snakes have no place in homes. If the reptiles escape — even if they avoid humans, as scholars say they do — they can endanger small pets.
In October, two policemen helped catch a 4-foot-long monitor lizard with potentially toxic saliva in Edgewood that had forced dogs and cats indoors.
“The zoos are very much capable of taking care of the exotics,” Stewart said.
Denise-Marie Balona can be reached at dbalona@orlandosentinel.com or 386-851-7916.


Carole’s letter to the reporter:

Dear Denise-Marie

Thank you for covering the issue of deadly pets.  Florida is a haven more because of its lax rules and enforcement than climate though.  It is just gibberish to insinuate the that test administered by the state does anything to safeguard the public and the hours are often bought, not worked.  If unscrupulous breeders and dealers will “sell” letters stating community service hours were worked, (as was the case this past week in FL when Darryl Atkinson was arrested again) why would anyone doubt that they will “sell” letters that illustrate compliance with the 1,000 hour rule?

A few facts, photos and video here:

The tiger made the top of an International poll for most beloved animal (beating out both the dog and cat), but those who love tigers don’t want to see them in cages.  The following poll shows that 76% of the public would support a ban on all exotic cats as pets:


Would you support a ban on exotic cats as pets?






















Public opinion isn’t the only reason why these back yard menageries should be outlawed:


The following is a partial listing (531) of incidents involving captive big cats in the US since 1990. These incidents have resulted in the killing or deaths of 84 big cats, 20 human deaths, more than 174 human maulings, 143 exotic cat escapes and 113 confiscations.   http://bigcatrescue.org/big_cat_news.htm


To see a video of the mauling of a zoo keeper in 2006 go to http://bigcatrescue.org/animal_contact.htm


The Journal of Internal Medicine in 2006 estimated that 50 million people worldwide have been infected with zoonotic diseases since 2000 and as many as 78,000 have died. Read more about zoonotic diseases here:


To see the number of exotic cats abandoned each year go to http://bigcatrescue.org/animal_abuse.htm


To view a trend chart that shows the alarming escalation of big cat incidents here: http://bigcatrescue.org/Flash/BigCatBans/BigCatBanCharts.htm


The U.S. represents less than 5% of the entire global population, but 67% of ALL captive cat incidents occur in the U.S.  Likewise, Florida represents less than 6% of the U.S. population while 13% of all U.S. incidents occur in Florida.  California and Florida boast the most comprehensive sets of regulations allowing private ownership of exotic cats while ranking #3 and #1 respectively in the highest numbers of big cat killings, maulings and escapes. To view photos of fatal injuries from cases reported in the American Journal of Forensic Medicine click http://bigcatrescue.org/laws/AMJForensicFeline.pdf 


This video shows facilities that are currently licensed and approved by the USDA and the Florida Wildlife Conservation Commission that have been operating at this level or worse for more than 10 years and yet are still open to the public.  Florida boasts that they have the best laws in the country, but as mentioned above, it is the second facility for Doc Antle.  Between FL and SC animals can disappear on paper at will as neither state takes note of where the animal goes after it crosses the border.  It leaves SC on paper for FL and no one here is ever looking for the animal to arrive.  These images are typical of those who allow cameras in but there are many worse ones who do not.   This shows precisely why we need to ban private possession of exotic cats.http://www.veoh.com/videos/v2570412PGPYhmr



For the cats,

Carole Baskin, CEO of Big Cat Rescue
an Educational Sanctuary home
to more than 100 big cats
12802 Easy Street Tampa, FL  33625
813.493.4564 fax 885.4457

http://www.BigCatRescue.org MakeADifference@BigCatRescue.org

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