State wants leash on exotic pets
Bill expands permitting for snakes, lizards
BY PAIGE ST. JOHN
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Captured. Wildlife experts hold a 12-foot Burmise python captured on the University of Florida campus. Local lawmakers are backing a bill to govern exotic snakes and lizards. AP
TALLAHASSEE – Alligator-eating, headline-grabbing Burmese pythons in the Everglades are giving reptile regulators the push they need to seek a law governing exotic snakes and giant lizards much like guns.
At a Capitol press conference Thursday, Rep. Ralph Poppell, R-Vero Beach, and Sen. Bill Posey, R-Rockledge, announced intentions to require $100 permits for anyone hoping to own a giant python or Nile monitor lizard, among other yet-to-be named exotic reptiles.
These pets are relatively common in Brevard County. Last year 14 people and two establishments had permission from the state to keep venomous reptiles.
And there have been mishaps.
In April 2005, a man was bitten by a black mamba at one facility in West Melbourne. He survived after being flown to Miami for emergency treatment. In June 2003, a woman in unincorporated Brevard near Rockledge was attacked by her escaped 13-foot pet Burmese python. The snake was pried loose and returned to his cage.
It’s not ownership so much as disposal of the critters that sponsors want to control.
Though most released or escaped scaly pets are small and considered little threat in their new South Florida homes, some are large enough, and eat enough, to cause concern. A breeding population of Burmese python, for instance, is now established in Everglades National Park.
Wildlife officers last year trapped 71 Burmese pythons, not counting the 13-foot python that made headlines by eating a 6-foot alligator and then exploding before it could digest its rotting dinner.
“This is a worthwhile bill, but it will be worthless without law enforcement and funding,” said Eugene Bessette, an avid python breeder and member of the advisory council helping the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission draft its proposed legislation.
Bessette endorsed expansion of the state’s snake permitting program, saying it will help the retail industry in the long run. “What we want to do, more than anything, is eliminate the impulse buy.
“Reptiles make great pets, we’ve just got to do a better job across the board, the industry as well as regulators, in educating the public,” he said.
State game wardens already can regulate captive poisonous snakes. The bill, still being drafted, largely replaces the word “venomous” with “regulated,” and gives the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission broader power to decide what poses a threat.
Species on the control list will likely include the Burmese python, reticulated python, African rock python, amethystine python, anaconda and Nile monitor lizard.
Poppell said a key part of the proposed legislation will be an amnesty program that allows owners no longer infatuated with their gigantic lizards and snakes to drop them off, penalty free.
“Better to let them loose on us rather than let them loose at the end of your street,” Posey said.
Lions, tigers and bearcats may be next.
Carol Baskin, CEO of Big Cat Rescue, a Tampa sanctuary with a center in Brevard, said she hopes for legislation next that bans their breeding and sales in Florida.
Contact St. John at 850-222-8384 or firstname.lastname@example.org
For the cats,
Carole Baskin, CEO of Big Cat Rescue
an Educational Sanctuary home to more than 150 big cats
12802 Easy Street Tampa, FL 33625
813.920.4130 fax 885.4457 cell 493.4564
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