Smothering of a Florida child by a Python

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Today in Washington: 

NELSON TO TALK THREATS TO NATIVE WILDLIFE: Among those set to testify today before the U.S. Senate Environment and Works Committee as it discusses native species wildlife threats is U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., who is likely to bring up the recent smothering of a Florida child by a non-native species, a pet python. Also on the program is Jeffrey Hill, assistant professor of Fisheries and Aquatic Sciences at the University of Florida. (10 a.m., 406 Dirksen Senate Office Bldg., Washington.)
Tampa Tribune Editorial:
Tampa Tribune – Nix slithery import

The killing of a 2-year-old Sumter County girl by a Burmese python should erase any doubt about the wisdom of U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson's proposal to ban the importation of the giant snake. The Burmese python has established a breeding population in the Everglades, and officials say there may be as many as 150,000 slithering around South Florida – the result, apparently, of some python owners releasing snakes that become too big to handle. There is no reason to allow continued trade of a snake that has proved itself a menace to natural Florida and, as the horrible Sumter case underscores, a threat to humans. The nine-foot snake left in a bag inside an aquarium last Tuesday night, slithered free, sought out and suffocated the toddler in the child's bed. This is the first documented python attack in Florida. But such attacks by snakes around the nation are hardly unknown. And now, with so many snakes in the wild, it's not just the snake owners who have to worry. A snake more than 16 feet long has been found in Florida's woods. Another large snake died trying to eat an alligator. Responsible reptile enthusiasts, to be sure, don't release snakes, and they make sure the snakes are properly fed and caged to eliminate the chance of attack. But it's abundantly clear that under the current system far too many people buy the large constrictors without proper training, knowledge or commitment to its long-term care. Nelson is right. Florida shouldn't allow the trade of these dangerous exotics. The import of Burmese pythons should be banned.

Orlando Sentinel Guest Editorial – Python tragedy is wake up call

The 2-year-old Oxford girl killed tragically by an 8-foot Burmese python that escaped from an aquarium in the home was the fourth person killed by a pet python in the United States since 2006. Her death is a sad reflection of the growing threat wild animals kept as pets pose to their owners, to the public, and to Florida's natural environment. It follows an incident earlier this year in Las Vegas, when a 3-year-old boy was squeezed to unconsciousness by an 18-foot reticulated python in his home.

These huge constrictors simply are not pets. In addition to serious risks to people, Burmese pythons are upsetting the balance of Florida's ecosystems as they prey on endangered species and challenge alligators for top-predator status. From a small population of escaped or abandoned pets, Burmese pythons have become established in the Everglades, and have been found in other parts of the state.

Due to the magnitude of the problem, people are grasping at straws for solutions. Offering bounties for Burmese pythons has been suggested. While it makes for flashy headlines, such a scheme is unlikely to be effective and may do more harm than good. Bounties can entice people to release more animals, put people at risk of injury or death, and cause environmental damage from increased human traffic and improper collection methods.

Instead, Florida needs sound policies to address this problem at its source. The state's permit system for "reptiles of concern" is insufficient to stop the trade and potential release of these animals.

The Humane Society of the United States applauds U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson's proposed legislation (S. 373) and the companion bill introduced by U.S. Rep. Kendrick Meek (H.R. 2811) to add pythons to the federal injurious species list, prohibiting their importation and interstate commerce for the pet trade.

This legislation alone will not eliminate Burmese pythons in the Everglades, nor will it address the numerous other exotic species that pose risks to people and harm to Florida's environment. But it will close a major introduction pathway and help prevent pythons from becoming established in other parts of the country.

Congress should quickly pass Sen. Nelson's bill, and the state should follow with proactive measures that address other species.

The need for responsible action, including a ban on imports and trade in pythons as pets, has never been more urgent.

Jennifer Hobgood is the Florida state director for The Humane Society of the United States.,0,3609119.story

Gainesville Sun Editorial – Ban these lethal 'pets'

The owner of the Burmese python that crushed a 2-year-old Sumter County girl last week reportedly had no state permit to own the lethal "pet."

"State law requires that people have permits to possess Burmese pythons, or any Reptile of Concern," said a press release from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission following the death of Shaiunna Hare. "A permit costs $100 annually, and those wishing to possess such an animal must show on their application their understanding of animal husbandry, nutrition and caging requirements for the particular animal. One requirement for a Reptile of Concern is that it must be kept under lock and key. The snake was not."

That the snake was owned illegally, however, begs a more pressing question: Why is it in the "public interest" for the State of Florida to permit the private ownership of an exotic, extremely dangerous species to begin with?

For that matter, why is it in the "public interest" to even allow the importation and sale of such a species?

The answer is that neither is in the public interest. And it isn't just the tragic death of a child that demands a re-examination of federal and state laws that allow the importation, sale and possession of these dangerous reptiles. Thousands of pythons have either escaped or been released into the Florida Everglades, posing a considerable threat to native wildlife. That's why U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Florida, filed legislation earlier this year to ban the importation of Burmese pythons into this country, as well as the exportation of the snakes between states.

Nelson's proposed ban has been endorsed by groups like the Humane Society of the United States and the wildlife advocacy group Born Free USA.

"The private ownership of dangerous reptiles such as pythons obviously presents a real danger," Nicole Paquette, Born Free USA senior vice president and general counsel said last week. "We're hoping that this incident spurs the Legislature to hold an immediate public hearing to discuss the serious public safety concerns surrounding the keeping of dangerous reptiles in private hands. There is absolutely no reason for the general public to be keeping such animals as pets. In terms of public safety it's an accident waiting to happen."

She added: "The question is, how many accidents have to happen before legislators act to protect the public rather than the interests of a small group of individuals?"

It's a good question. In the interest of both public safety and environmental integrity, quick federal and state action is needed to ban the importation, sale and private ownership of these dangerous "pets."


Lakeland Ledger editorial:

Lakeland Ledger – Dangerous Exotic Animals: Wrap Up Pythons

Florida and its counties spent millions of dollars to eradicate the Brazilian pepper tree after it spread through the state – even though this invasive species doesn't eat birds, wildlife ranging from rabbits to alligators, or cats and dogs. Burmese pythons can and do consume animals. Python populations multiply like rabbits, or faster, and can quickly expand their range. For example, biologist Meg Lowman reported that about 200 pythons were captured in or near the Everglades National Park from 2002 to 2005. By last year, the python population was out of control: Biologists estimated there were at least 30,000 of them. Lowman, director of Environmental Initiatives at New College of Florida, warned last year that wildlife officials need to begin serious efforts to contain the python and other creatures, such as iguanas, Nile monitors and spiny-tailed lizards. Indeed, Wednesday, an escaped 12-foot Burmese python pet got loose and strangled a 2-year-old girl. Shaunnia Hare died in her bedroom in Oxford in northern Sumter County, which lies directly north of Polk County.


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