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In September, a New York animal control officer attracted headlines after law enforcement discovered that he had 850 snakes, including Burmese pythons, in his garage. Richard Parrinello was allegedly selling pythons and boa constrictors over the Internet, even though state law forbids the possession of some of the species he traded.
Animal Sheltering magazine has covered the challenge that large constricting and venomous snakes can pose for animal control officers, and I’m sure the Parrinello story had many field officers shaking their heads in dismay. It always feels like an even more powerful betrayal when someone entrusted to help animals turns out to be part of the problem.
While the perpetrator’s occupation made the case more startling, trading in large constricting snakes is all too common—a robust if little-known business. There are millions of snakes traded via the Internet through private dealers, reptile shows, and pet stores. In many cases, the snakes are kept in warehouse-type conditions, often inside stacked plastic containers no larger than a shoe or sweater box, and sold through websites and reptile expos.
It almost never turns out well for the snakes, who are often inhumanely treated, and often discarded or killed when they are perceived as unmanageable or too costly to care for. In addition, there are a raft of collateral impacts, mainly public safety and ecological effects.
Last August, two young boys were asphyxiated by an African rock python in New Brunswick, Canada. In September, a Siberian husky—the beloved pet of a Florida family—was strangled in his yard by a python while the family desperately and vainly tried to break the snake’s deadly grip.
At The HSUS, we’ve logged hundreds of incidents—attacks, escapes, or intentional releases of pythons, boa constrictors, and anacondas—reported in nearly every state. They’ve turned up in apartment buildings, gardens, vehicles, and on high school football fields. They’re also showing up in natural areas, wreaking havoc for native species. Some studies report massive losses of opossums, raccoons, and even bobcats in the Everglades, probably due to large, self-sustaining populations of Burmese pythons in south Florida. The original pythons who became established in the state almost certainly were pet trade cast-offs or escapees.
In 2012, the Obama administration took a half-step on the issue, banning trade in four large constrictors. It was the clamoring of reptile breeders and snake owners, along with the industry’s cooked-up predictions of economic losses, that apparently prevented the White House from taking more comprehensive action. A risk assessment done by the U.S. Geological Survey found nine species posing a medium or high risk of colonizing habitats and causing impacts on native species. After the administration banned trade in fewer than half of the constrictor snakes known to be an ecological threat, trade numbers surged for the species omitted from the listing. A comprehensive policy is the only effective strategy to stem this problem.
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Why risk the lives of people and animals, put law enforcement and other first responders in unnecessary danger, jeopardize highly sensitive ecosystems and species we are working to recover, and saddle taxpayers with millions of dollars in costs for exotic animal control, just because some people want these types of exotic wildlife in their homes?
The Second Amendment doesn’t say a word about the right to bear anacondas or boa constrictors. The costs to society—and to the animals, serpents and others—exceed the benefits, and we need decisive action for the sake of the snakes, the health of ecosystems, and the safety of our communities.