Florida senator proposes ban on reptiles

A proposed law in Florida would ban at least six reptile species from the state.


Democratic state Sen. Eleanor Sobel is proposing an amendment to Florida’s law on venomous reptiles and other “reptiles of concern.” The amended bill lays out six specific reptiles that would be illegal to keep, possess, import, sell, barter, trade or breed, unless the owner secures a permit before July 1, 2010 – the same day the law would go into effect if passed. Owners of anacondas (except green anacondas) would have until Oct. 1, 2010 to obtain a permit.

The species in question are:

  • Burmese or Indian python (Python molurus)
  • Reticulated python (Python reticulatus)
  • African rock python (Python sebae)
  • Amethystine or scrub python (Morelia amethystinus)
  • Anaconda (Eunectes)
  • Nile monitor (Varanus niloticus)

The bill also includes a wide-open seventh category of prohibited reptile: “any other reptile designated as a reptile of concern” by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC).

The measure was proposed in response to the increasing number of nonnative species that are being released in the Everglades and destabilizing the ecosystem there.

The FWC says Florida is home to about 300 species of nonnative fish and wildlife. One of the main concerns is the Burmese python, which has spread throughout the Everglades and has no natural predators aside from alligators and crocodiles. The state recently issued permits for the capture and euthanasia of the pythons, which are considered a threat to some endangered species in Florida. So far 35 of the snakes have been captured and killed. The estimated population is in the tens of thousands.

Florida veterinarians who treat exotics had mixed responses to the proposed law.

“I think legislation is necessary; I’m just not sure that this is the appropriate draft. It is quite restrictive,” said Don Harris, DVM, owner of the Avian and Exotic Medical Center in Miami.

Harris said he agrees that the exotic reptile invasion of southern Florida is a big problem. But the broad scope of the bill would penalize responsible owners of the outlawed animals, and would not fix the underlying problem, he said.

“In reality, the damage has already been done,” Harris said. “In my opinion, efforts must be made to severely restrict, (not eliminate), ownership of certain species, and an eradication program should be investigated for those animals already inhabiting the environment.  To simply prohibit ownership would do nothing to curtail the infestation that already exists in the wild.”

Vanessa Rolfe, DVM, owner of Bird and Exotic Animal Hospital in Greenacres, Fla., had a different opinion.

“I have been watching the reports of the progressive invasion into native Florida habitats by many of these species listed [in the bill],” she said. “The lack of responsibility shown previously by many of these animal owners is making this kind of legislation necessary.”

She said that she has seen other exotic animal ownership legislation that have not made sense, such as some states’ attempts at controlling ferret and Quaker parrot populations. However, she said Sobel’s proposal is needed.

“Many of the people who own these large birds/aggressive reptiles are not prepared to take proper care of them throughout their lifetime, and the very fact that the invasion happened is proof that the rules are necessary,” Rolfe said.

The next legislative session in Florida begins March 2, 2010.

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