Tighter rules urged as exotic pets adapt to Florida's wild
By David Fleshler / South Florida Sun Sentinel
Photo by steelrain of RTB.net
With giant snakes battling alligators in the Everglades, the state wildlife commission has proposed sharp restrictions on the owners of Burmese pythons and four other non-native reptiles, including a requirement to implant their slithery pets with computer identification chips.
Florida's climate has made the state a congenial home for species from Africa, Asia and South America let loose by their owners after they become too big or too high maintenance. A breeding population of Burmese pythons has been discovered in Everglades National Park, where the constrictors have been killing native birds, mammals, and in one notorious incident, an alligator. Elsewhere in the state, trappers routinely catch pythons and other large non-native snakes.
The new rules would limit sales of constricting snakes that grow to at least 12 feet, specifically Burmese pythons, reticulated pythons, African rock pythons, amethystine or scrub pythons and green anacondas. The rules also would restrict sales of Nile monitors, carnivorous lizards that can grow as long as 6 feet and already have established a breeding population in the Cape Coral area on Florida's Gulf Coast.
At the moment, anyone can walk into a pet shop and walk out with a python. Under the new rules, buyers would have to be 18 years old, complete a questionnaire, apply for a state permit, submit a plan for keeping the animal secure in case of a hurricane or other disaster, and have the reptile implanted with a computer chip. The rules would go into effect Jan. 1, 2008. They would be retroactive, although owners would have until that July 1 to comply with the chip requirement.
Commonly used to help return lost dogs, cats and birds, the computer chip identifying a reptile's owner would be implanted by a vet. If wildlife officials later catch the snake in the wild, they could check the chip, find the owner and charge him or her with a second-degree misdemeanor for allowing the non-native animal to get loose, said Capt. John West of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. The maximum penalty would be a $500 fine and 60 days in jail.
Assuming -- and hoping -- that many owners of the big snakes would find these rules too onerous, the state plans to set up amnesty programs that would allow people to drop off unwanted reptiles at sites yet to be determined--no questions asked. "We don't know how many are out there," West said. "We have a suspicion it's a high number. We're hoping a lot of people will say they don't want to do this and turn them in." The restrictions would have to be approved by the wildlife commission, a seven-member board appointed by the governor. The commission initially will consider the proposals in February.
EDITORIAL: The government should not be involved with pet ownership in this manner. The potential complications of the implanted chip, along with expense, are unnecessary. While I do agree that owners should be at least 18 years of age, this type of knee-jerk reaction to large reptile ownership is onerous to those of us who are responsible pet owners. Anyone who dumps a pet in the Everglades (or elsewhere) should be fined. BUT, forcing the bureaucracy of state permits and tracking chips is much too Orwellian. I urge you to fight this tactic -- in Florida AND in your state.