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A Ream of Paper, a Photograph, a Child and a Tanned Snake Skin

A ream of paper, a photograph, a young child and a tanned snake skin …this is the sum total of all arguments provided by advocates of a ban on pythons. In a purely technical sense they are wholly and completely inadequate. But the adequacy of arguments is not a prerequisite for buy-in from the misinformed masses. Sound bites and sensationalized overstatements are more than sufficient to convict in the mind of a Congressman or Senator. It is, of course, true (in a purely legal sense) that you are not guilty until convicted. As is often the case, things that exist on paper and in principal struggle to manifest themselves in reality. The practical result of our legal process is not ‘innocent until proven guilty’. It is actually this: You are guilty because you are charged. The verdict is irrelevant in the long-term. If you don’t believe me ask anyone who was ever legitimately acquitted on charges of rape, murder or child pornography; they never get their lives back. An innocent man set free after mistakenly being accused of doing something horrible to a child is never, ever, going to have a job in a daycare center. Why? Because truth and reality do not matter in the long-term. “Perception, ” as I was told in my younger years, “is reality.” The subtle irony of using a sound-bite to reinforce my perspective on sound-bites does not elude me. History is remembered by most people as snapshots, impressions and feelings. The stronger the feeling, the stronger the memory is; the longer it remains. Whether the feelings were created by information with a basis in truth is less important than the emotions they elicit. The horror we all felt to hear that a child was killed by a python left a scorch in the minds of most Americans. None of the facts in the case are going to distract people from the initial shock of the claim. All the media had to do was say it and it was forever true in the hearts and minds of our neighbors.

A photo of an alligator exploding out of the belly of a Burmese python…

The militant congresswoman Debbie Wasserman-Shultz epitomized the overuse of this fantastical photo during her rude questioning of USARK’s Andrew Wyatt at a Congressional hearing on H.R. 2811. In Congress it is generally frowned upon to say things like, “Talk to the hand. I ain’t tryin’ to hear it.” Her position as a congresswoman is supposed to constrain her outbursts so the best she could do was to repeatedly hold up the infamous picture to punctuate her close-minded tirade. As a representative of the rational people of her district in Florida she is completely invalid; a danger to anybody who endeavors to participate in a careful contemplation of facts.

A tanned snake skin unfurled by Senator Bill Nelson during a session in the Senate…

In July of 2009 Senator Bill Nelson unrolled the skin of a 16ft Burmese python to a round of oooh’s, aaah’s and gasps from those in attendance. The Senator did not precede his dramatic presentation by saying, “This skin is almost twice as long as the animal that used to own it. Tanned skins are always significantly longer than the original animal.” Why would he need to say such things? Everybody know this, right? For him to diminish the dramatic effect of such a gesture would have been presumptuous about the intellect of his audience. Leave people to draw their own conclusions; it’s better that way. Now is a good time for me to point out that I am often being facetious when I write.

A child killed by a Burmese python…

The logistics of this tragedy have experienced Burmese python keepers around the country scratching their heads. People who keep large snakes are well aware of how they behave and the description of the wounds and the manner of the attack are so incredibly contrary to the actual behavior of these animals that every Burmese python keeper I know is saying, “It just dosen’t make sense. Burms don’t do that.” Maybe it’s wishful thinking on behalf of snake owners (myself included); we don’t want it to be true. But the confusion remains; the way this snakes is alleged to have killed this child is as unusual as the event itself. But guess what? None of my pondering matters. The Burmese python has been tried and convicted in the court of public opinion. Facts are not relevant. It won’t matter if the police come out tomorrow and say that the boyfriend accidentally killed the child and then staged the scene to make it look like the snake did it. The child is dead and the python has been assigned blame. The result is simple: large constrictors are now in the category of things that are a “threat to human safety”.

A ream of paper in the form of a report from the USGS…

Several men of science have come out in opposition of this piece of literature and it appears that they are being written off as reptile-loving quacks. This particular writing of mine is not the forum for me to offer a contradiction to the USGS’ slanted report. You know what matters about this report? It is thick. Very thick. 300 pages, give or take. I am confident it has been printed and placed in a 3-ring binder by many congressional staffers. How many have actually read it? Very few, I’m sure. How many have read it and then sought professional advice as to the validity of its content? Fewer still. It’s 300 pages, after all, and there are more pressing matters in the country. Heck, I haven’t even read every word of it. This is the reason for the so-called Executive Summary. Distill this content into something small, please. Twenty pages? No, still too big. Senators and Congressmen are busy people. Let’s get this down to something smaller. A few sound bites would be nice. Perhaps a picture or two. It’s odd, …I just read a similar distillation of Sleeping Beauty to my daughter tonight as she went to bed. In ten lavishly illustrated pages the entire story of Aurora was told and at no point was an admission made that many relevant facts were being omitted. I am left to wonder if members of the House and Senate are aware that they are being read bedtime stories …stories re-written by special interest groups (HSUS and Nature Conservancy) that are full of canned and baseless drama. But the best stories are the ones that have a villian and an innocent child, are they not? Fairy tales. But the python is not a beautiful princess. No prince is riding to its aid. This time Maleficent may actually win…

Colin Weaver


  1. Rebecca January 16, 2010

    Very well said Colin.

    I’m so glad that you wrote what you did about the unfortunate incident with the little girl and the Burmese python. It’s surprisingly hard for many of us to write clearly about just how suspicious that incident was. Aside from the elements that you mentioned, the description of the boyfriend’s reaction to “finding the snake around the little girl” is particularly shocking to me; does no other parent find the concept of stabbing a snake that is “wrapped around a child” an awfully dangerous thing to do? As a mother, the VERY first thing on my mind is that the girl will get hit with the knife. As an experienced reptile keeper (never having stabbed a snake, let alone one that is wrapped around its prey), I can only think that attacking a snake that is “wrapped around a child” would cause the snake to wrap itself tighter. I think the whole incident stinks on ice, and I wish we could have some kind of a voice in the matter. NONE of it makes any sense. As things stand, we were tried & convicted by the headline the moment it hit the web.

    Your point about the thoroughly distilled bedtime story is also extremely well illustrated and applied. I have to say though, Maleficent would be a much better adversary; evil and mighty, but once beaten, she gives a gratifying scream and goes away, leaving behind a smear of tattered rags. Our opponents don’t have the grace or honor to leave the fight once they have lost… or HR669 would have been the end of this, which we can be assured it is not!

  2. Brian Adams July 1, 2010

    All great points to be brought up, but these regulations, even if “beaten” in legislation will never see an end, more attempts to ban these animals will only be broguht up in the future with just words re-written to accomplish the same thing. Its going to be “us” the industry as a whole that needs to self regulate and apply our “un-official” rules and stick to them that will eventually get legislation off of our backs. I personally do not keep large constrictors although I have in the past. However I do feel with my experience I should be able to keep these animals if I feel I want to. But us as sellers, both retail and wholesale we need to set up guidlines we all follow, even if it is just a pre-qualified “exam” we give to would be customers to guage their knowledge and experience on potentially dangerous animals and “us” as a group deny anyone that we feel unfit, the purchase of said animal from our inventory. The downside is, there is always going to be a few bad apples that will sell these animals to just anyone with a pulse and a dollar, those are the people the legislation is trying to control and I think we should be the ones controlling those bad apples……. In wrapping this up, If we control ourselves, whats left for legislation?

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