Monday, April 23, 2007

Florida Bill Would Make Reptile Owners Cough Up $100

Legislation is slithering its way through the Florida state capitol to have owners of certain non-native, non-venomous snakes and lizards register their pets beginning next year. The exotic reptile owners will have to shed $100 for each snake and lizard that makes the list, but they said they won't shed any skin about it. "Anyone who is seriously involved with reptiles is in favor of this legislation," said Ray Goushaw, president of the St. Lucie Regional Herpetological Society and owner of Fort Pierce-based Herpetological Breeding Research. "The permitting is a good idea. It may eliminate people who aren't serious about having a snake from getting one in the first place."
The non-venomous breeds are being added to the state's regulatory list along with the venomous ones that have been tracked for years. It was headlines about non-venomous, hungry snakes wreaking havoc through the state that made a Treasure Coast lawmaker take notice. State Rep. Ralph Poppell, R-Vero Beach, sought the new law after learning snakes such as the Burmese python were not regulated by the state. The snake is not venomous, but can grow as long as 16 feet and slithered into the news when one killed a 6-foot-long alligator in Everglades National Park a few years ago. "We don't want these snakes competing with the native species," said Joy Hill, spokeswoman for the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.
The commission will handle the permits for the snakes and follow up with registrants to make sure they're keeping track of their animals, Poppell said. Neighbors also will be notified about their presence, and snake owners will have to take their pets to a veterinarian to be inserted with an identification chip. "If a snake dies, the owner will have to let us know they're burying it," Poppell said.
Goushaw said there's two potential sources for stray snakes in Florida. There's the pet owner living in a city who doesn't take care of the snake or decides to just unload it in the wild. There's also the occasional importer who may unload several unsellable snakes. The latter contributes the larger portion to the problem, but the legislation at least will make sure the former can be accounted for, he said.
The irresponsibility of some pet owners led one Treasure Coast pet store to get out of the big snake business altogether. Pet World in Port St. Lucie used to carry large snakes but stopped because people tend to release them into the wild, manager Betty Geitner said. Vero Beach Animal Control Officer Bruce Dangerfield said he's had to catch more than 30 large snakes in the past eight years in Indian River County. He's in favor of the legislation, which, if successful, could lighten his workload. He's considered the principal snake handler by law enforcement in the county. "The officers won't get near them," Dangerfield said. He remembers one call on 58th Avenue when a Burmese python was found near the road. Several deputies stood by at the scene until he arrived. "None of them would help me pick it up," Dangerfield said. "All they did was offer me a body bag." In Stuart, the Aquatic Life store sells non-indigenous snakes such as carpet and ball pythons, but the reptiles are relatively small and manageable. Such animals will not be on the register list, state officials said. Store Manager Zach Smith heard about the proposed legislation from a Miami reptile wholesaler and said he thinks it's an "excellent idea" to keep exotic and dangerous, non-venomous reptiles only in the hands of serious pet owners. "It's a problem," Smith said. "There are iguanas everywhere."
Staff writers Megan Winslow and Chris Young contributed to this report.

• House and Senate bills could pass this month establishing a list of non-venomous reptiles pet
owners will have to register annually with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission for $100 beginning in January.
• The list includes Burmese, African rock, reticulated and amethystine pythons, green anacondas and monitor lizards.
• Exhibitors will have to post a $10,000 bond for each reptile listed.
• The state already regulates all venomous reptiles by requiring registration. The new law would require registration for non-venomous reptiles for the first time.
• State Rep. Ralph Poppell, R-Vero Beach, and State Sen. Bill Posey, R-Rockledge, are sponsoring the bills.
• House Bill 1505 can be found at

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