Legislators want tougher law for reptile owners
By MICHAEL PELTIER
February 10, 2006
TALLAHASSEE – Pythons and lizards and anacondas, oh my!
That’s the message Florida wildlife officials and a pair of state lawmakers sent Thursday as they gathered to launch legislation to put tighter regulations on bone-crushing reptiles they say are slithering their way across South Florida.
Faced with a proliferation of giant snakes, monitor lizards and other dangerous non-venomous reptiles dumped in the wild by overwhelmed pet owners, two Treasure Coast lawmakers are sponsoring measures to stop the invasion of exotic predators that are competing with native species for food.
If approved, the measure would require a $100 fee from owners of large non-venomous reptiles to fund education efforts and amnesty programs. The bill would add Burmese, African rock, reticulated and amethystine pythons and monitor lizards to the list of reptiles requiring registration.
Officials estimate as many as 5,000 Floridians would be required to register their pets.
“Many people are purchasing these (animals) and then finding out when they are no longer 2 or 3 feet long but are now 10 or 12 or 15 feet long,” said House sponsor Ralph Poppell, R-Vero Beach.
Despite a few sensational snake stories, state wildlife officials say the public does not appreciate the scale of the problem, which is getting worse in remote regions throughout the Everglades and Southwest Florida. Last year, game officers found 71 adult constrictors in the Everglades, which they say represents a tiny percentage of the well-camouflaged critters living in the region and competing with native species for food.
A major problem facing wildlife experts is the release of large reptiles by pet owners who buy the animals as babies and can no longer care for them as they reach mammoth proportions.
“We have a great climate here; we’re surrounded by water and have many ports,” said Marianne Gengenbach, representing The Nature Conservancy. “As such we are uniquely vulnerable here in Florida to invasive species and their ability to not only survive but thrive in this state but wreak havoc.”
State law already regulates the possession of venomous reptiles. Poppell’s measure would expand the scope to a group of non-venomous creatures including pythons, anacondas and monitor lizards. If approved by lawmakers, the wildlife commission would draw up rules by September.
The reptilian roundup is part of a larger initiative to revamp state laws regulating all kinds of big and often dangerous animals kept as pets.
CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE SCALY KIND
. Fisherman Jerry McBride caught an 11-foot albino python along the bank of the Indian River Lagoon at Walton Road in November.
. A 13-foot Burmese python burst after it apparently tried to swallow a live, six-foot alligator whole in October.
. A 10-foot African rock python was trapped by a turkey it swallowed in October when it couldn’t fit back through the fence it crawled through to enter a Miami nursery.
. A 12-foot Burmese python was suspected in October of eating a Siamese cat named Frances in a Miami Gardens backyard.
. About 54 people called to claim an escaped python in Vero Beach – until they realized there would be a fine for letting it loose.
. A baby ball python was reported stolen in August from a Port St. Lucie pet store.
. A beagle puppy named “Python Pete” was employed early this year to sniff out the invasive snakes in Everglades National Park for capture and destruction.
The Associated Press, Vero Beach Police Department Animal Control Officer Bruce Dangerfield, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission