The reptile community has been suckered. We are falling for a very clever ruse and it is happening at this very moment.
What trick, you say? S373 and HR2811, of course. The clever nature of the trickery behind these bills has caused the reptile community to lose its perspective and react in a most unexpected way. We are now working for the other side. We are unintentionally supporting a ban. Allow me to explain.
Both S373 and HR2811 propose to add the entire genus PYTHON to the injurious species list of the current Lacey Act. If passed this will ban the importation of AND interstate transport of all pythons. This will effectively end the trade in every species of python there is. This is, of course, a horrifying proposition to python lovers everywhere. At first I laughed at the silliness of it and shook my head at how uneducated the people were who penned such legislation. But as I continued to think about it I came to realise that it may actually be brilliant wording on their part. It’s brilliance lies their anticipation of our reaction. As a community we have played directly into the hands of those who wish ban the ownership of exotic animals. And leading the packed on being tricked is one of our most active voices, the United States Association of Reptile Keepers, USARK.
In my opinion USARK has officially thrown the Burmese Python under the proverbial bus. I have long feared it would one day happen but did not expect it to come so soon. On July 25th, 2009 USARK actively solicited the reptile community to contact members of the House Judiciary Committee to amend the wording of HR2811 to specifically address Burmese pythons rather than the entire python genera. In doing so they have become unintentional participants in the initiative to ban large constrictors in the United States. And I suggest that this is partially what the authors of S373 and HR2811 wanted to happen. I believe these bills are INTENTIONALLY vague (by using only the term ‘python’) in order to get us to say, “Whoa! Whoa! Whoa! Don’t ban all pythons! Just ban Burmse pythons! “ Wait. Did we, the reptile community, really just say that? Yeah, we did.
The last I heard USARK’s position was that they did not support legislation that was not based on a legitimate scientific analysis of the ability of the Burmese python to expand beyond the Florida Everglades. Has such evidence surfaced? No, it has not. But their position appears to have changed. USARK wants to be the voice of the reptile community and they appear to be suggesting that we offer up the Burmese python as a sacrifice to protect all the other pythons.
Please don’t take my words to think that I am coming down on USARK as a whole. I do not intend to do so. I firmly believe that USARK has, at its foundations, nothing but the absolute best intentions for the reptile community. They are a group of people who have stood up to fill a void; a voice to represent reptile owners throughout the United States. But I do not agree with their reaction to this particular issue. And part of me thinks that they, like the rest of us, have been tricked into a position that supports the desired result of those who wish to ban the ownership of exotic animals. We have played into their hands. Just a few short months ago we were all screaming, “No. You may not ban pythons without scientific evidence to support their ability to be invasive beyond the Florida Everglades.” Now, in a tiny amount of time, we seem to have changed our voice to say, “Please, please, please! Just ban Burmese pythons.” The only way we could have changed our tune so quickly is if we were tricked into doing so. And tricked we have been.
If you are going to make a call on Monday to a member of the House Judiciary Committee regarding the wording of HR2811 (as the USARK suggests) you need to make a choice about what you are going to say. Are you going to advocate a change in the wording that says it’s OK to ban the Burmese python or are you going to tell them that the Lacey Act should not be amended until proof can be found that pythons are a national problem rather than just an isolated problem in the south of Florida?
And by the way, there is already a bill floating around that will fund efforts to hunt Burmese pythons in the Everglades (as well as multiple dozens of other non-native creatures that get no publicity). If Burmese pythons cannot expand beyond the Everglades and we are going to hunt them down and remove them, why do we need a law banning them throughout the entire United States? In short, we don’t.
Once the exotic animal banning gates are open we cannot close them. More and more reptiles and other exotics will find themselves legally unavailable for ownership.
P.S. – Where are the big shipping companies? Delta (via Delta Dash), FedEx and UPS all stand to lose a considerable amount of money if these bans are actually put into effect. They should want to lobby on behalf of the responsible reptile owning community and ensure the future of a large revenue stream.
Final note: It is not lost on me that USARK’s position may be one of minimization. They may be taking a precautionary stance by seeking to amend the wording to minimize damage if the unthinkable should happen. But even if that is true it doesn’t change the fact that there has been a shift in tone toward a willingness to let Burmese python ownership become a thing of the past.
What a polarizing animal the python has become.
Within the portion of our country that is paying attention we are divided into two distinct groups. One one side we have reptile owners from every walk of life; blue collar, white collar, broke-as-a-joke and stinking rich. Some of these reptile owners have a single python while others have many and breed them for profit. And we have owners who fit everywhere in-between. Their levels of personal responsibility are as diverse as they are. I’m sure there are some who have no business owning a reptile. The overwhelming majority, however, are quite responsible. They respect their animals, take care of them and work to ensure that they don’t impose on the rights of others who are not as enthusiastic about snakes. And yes, many of them actually love their snakes in the way that the average person loves their dog or cat. No, pythons are not as affectionate and attentive as my Weimaraner (not by a long shot) but they do have personalities. Each snake is unique. And if you were to spend some time with them you would also come to realize that truth.
On the other side of this debate is a small, well-positioned group of misinformed individuals who are calling for a federal ban on pythons; not Burmese pythons …all pythons. Maybe. Nobody on this side seems to be python savvy enough to know that there are actually different kinds of pythons with the overwhelming majority of them being quite tiny compared to the sinister Burmese. I’m not entirely sure where they stand on other types of pythons and I don’t think they know either.
Eradicating the existence of pet pythons in America is such an easy thing to stand for, isn’t it? Pythons are huge, menacing, people-eating machines that are actively slithering north from Southern Florida toward the back yards of the Washington DC suburbs where they will stalk your pets and hunt your children! Well, that’s the way the media tells it, at least. The truth in this debate is not so newsworthy so the media (with the help of bad info from supposedly scientific organizations) is fabricating the truth to better their ratings. And why not? Ratings equal dollars. From what I gather chaos, revolution, murder, drug overdosing Kings of Pop, financial downturns, forest fires, celebrity clothing choices, car crashes and Burmese pythons are the things that sell newspapers and ad space. From the Discovery Channel and the History Channel to a few dozen newspaper columnists around the country and all the way up to Senator Bill Nelson, who is a living, breathing example of misinformation incarnate, people who know absolutely nothing about pythons are calling for their nationwide ban. Their numbers are small but, as I wrote earlier, they are well positioned in the media and are able amplify their noise. The original rallying cry was the establishment of a population of Burmese pythons in the Florida Everglades. An unfounded fear regarding their ability to migrate north has generated a small amount of hysteria and rather than taking the time to find the truth they have planted their flag and are trying to rally troops to support a ban. Senator Nelson has to support this ban in order to get money from the Humane Society of the United States so I can at least give him credit for being a true politician and supporting the voice with the fattest wallet. The newpaper boys and girls advocating a ban are just parroting things they heard someone else say. I seriously doubt they have any real opinion of their own. So I forgive them. They are puppets of the media juggernaut and know not what they do.
Two groups of people; one that understands pythons and is asking, “Really? Seriously?”, and one that seems to have gotten their undergrad degree in large constrictors by watching Ice Cube and Jennifer Lopez in 1997’s Anaconda. Their masters thesis was complete as the credits rolled on Samuel Jackson’s Snakes on a Plane. Armed with that level of education about the true nature of snakes they could have done themselves a favor by hiring Mr. Jackon as their spokesperson and could have used this as their slogan:
The call for a ban on pythons has no real merit. It is based on irrational fear and misinformation. And Senator Nelson embodied the desire to play on people’s fear when he unrolled a stretched out python skin during a Senate hearing in early July 2009. He wants to protect the Florida Everglades …or so he says. How does banning pythons in Seattle protect the Florida Everglades? The truth is that he wants special interest money from the HSUS and other organizations who want to ban the ownership of exotic animals. And the Burmese python is a great entry point; a way to get a better foothold on the banning process.
Just how many Burmese pythons are there in the Florida Everglades? I have heard numbers as low as a few thousand all the way up to multiple hundreds of thousands. People who don’t support a ban like the lower number while proponents of the ban like the big one. The real number: unknown.
How did Burmese pythons get into the Everglades? I do not doubt for a single second that at some point in the past some knucklehead released a snake into the wild that should not have been released. But it is not a verifiable fact that the current Everglades population comes from a released pet (as the media loves to suggest). Defenders of python freedom point to Hurricane Andrew as the culprit because it caused a massive release of non-native species into the Everglades. The truth is that nobody will ever know for sure. We would do a lot better pointing our attention at eliminating the Burmese python from the area rather than playing blame games. If you need volunteers to go down and collect them, call me. I’m in. I can also rally dozens, if not hundreds, of other snake enthusiasts who will agree that a mass collection effort will be a wonderful pastime.
I continue to be disappointed by the media’s propensity to hop on to the coat tails of the side of an argument that gets the most press. I understand why they do it but it still disappoints. It also diminishes my ability to trust everything else they say or print. If they so eloquently lie to the public about pythons how much truth is there in their reporting on fossil beds in Montana? And oh what a wonderful thing the Burmese pythons is shaping up to be. It’s a win-win for the media. They get to sell a lie that invokes fear and then clean up on the ad revenue sold because of increased readership/web traffic.
I’m a reptile guy at heart but I am often shocked by the beauty of other creatures that live around me.
Each night before bed I take my dog outside. Providing light to my deck and back yard is a pair of 500 watt flood lights. And each night while my dog takes care of her business I sit and stare in complete wonder at the unbelievable array of insects that congregate around the light. On a very regular basis I see insects I have never seen before (and I have lived here in Virginia with this deck and this flood light for many, many years). Where have they been? How come I have never seen them before? Are they rare or just rare in my back yard? I don’t know a lot about insects but I am blown away by their diversity and beauty. They are often amazing and exquisite.
Every now and then I see insects that I never dreamed existed. Tonight, for the first time, I saw this rather large guy (girl?) floating about. He actually has four wings but every time he lands he folds them in and you can’t quite tell. I have no idea what he is called but I was awed. It’s stick of a body is about 3 inches long and the tips of its wings are straight out of a Monet painting. I spent a full 15 minutes trying to get a good photo of it before it flittered off into the darkness. Fantastic.
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As of this moment the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) must be on the black list of every single owner of exotic animals in the United States. On this matter I am completely serious.
If you own any type of reptile, amphibian, bird or exotic mammal and you give a single penny of your money to the HSUS you are funding the attack against your own rights as a pet owner. You must stop giving today. But not just any dollars you contribute, you must now become a soldier for your own rights and become an outspoken opponent of the HSUS and work to convince any friends, neighbors, co-workers and relatives who give to HSUS to STOP IMMEDIATELY. The HSUS is dangerous, reckless and the exotic animal community must work to stop them in the best way possible, by tearing away at their funding. Without funding they will no longer be able to spread their message. What message? Simple. They are actively calling for a complete ban on the ownership of all exotic animals in the United States. This is not only about Burmese pythons. Burmese are just the poster-child for their efforts. Here is a link to a post made on July 6, 2009 by the CEO of HSUS in which he calls for the complete ban of exotic animals in the United States.
There are more than 26 million exotic animal owners in the United States. Many of them may be giving money to HSUS and are unaware of the damage they are doing to their own rights in the process. If each of us can convince just a few of those around us to never again contribute to the dangerous agenda of the HSUS we will put an end to their efforts. But you have to participate. You have to act and you have to do it now. It won’t take a lot of your time. Just be prepared to educate the people you meet about the danger of contributing the HSUS.
If you want to give money to organizations that seek to protect the welfare of animals in the United States you need to find one that advocates responsible pet ownership INCLUDING exotic animals.
Why do you do this? By ‘this’ I mean breed reptiles, of course. Is it a hobby? Do you do it for a living? Somewhere in-between? If you aren’t doing so already, do you aspire to one day breed snakes for a living?
Regardless of where you are in the reptile husbandry game, do you have a plan? Does it look a little like this?:
- Buy snakes
- Breed snakes
- Sell snakes
- Count crazy amounts of cash
What is the last snake you bought? Why did you buy it? Was it a smart buy or did you buy it on impulse? Did it fit into any current breeding project? How about the snake before that one? Did you buy it because of its price or because of what it was? How many times have you let your reptile purchases guide the direction of your reptile collection? Shouldn’t it be the other way around? Shouldn’t your collection guide your purchases? Shouldn’t you have a plan; an honest-to-goodness business plan?
I’m not good at rationalizing things. I am flat-out awesome at it! In the game of rationalization, I’m a rockstar! When I set my mind to it I have yet to come across something I couldn’t talk myself into. My decisions are good. The are solid and they are just. I have rationalized my way into many, many snake purchases, each of them a brilliant, strategic and soon-to-be-profitable decision. With a punnet square, an Excel spreadsheet and available credit I can design a plan for world domination and financial nirvana within a matter of minutes. On paper I am well on my way to living the dream.
The reality? I have lived in the same house and driven the same truck for the past eleven years. Neither are impressive (but I’m not complaining). Year after year I’m a year away from making good money. More than once I have run up to the precipice of profitability, stared longingly and lovingly at it, and then turned and walked back down the trail. By my definitions I am not yet successful. Some people who know me would argue otherwise. If three years ago I had the reptile collection I have today I would have said that I am very successful. But today I want the collection I will have three years from now. I just can’t seem to get my reptile collection and my timeline to sync up. I wonder if it’s because I don’t really have a plan any better than the one above. Who am I kidding? Step #4 doesn’t exist for me. After step #3 I jump straight back to #1. That’s me: buy, breed, sell. Repeat. Snake rich, cash poor.
Because ball pythons are so diverse there is an underlying and [perhaps] unconscious drive to have all of them. Your collection must have pastels, spiders, pinstripes, black pastels, albinos, mojaves, clowns, piebalds, ghosts, lessers, butters, yellow bellys, fires, axanthics and cinnamons. Right? But that’s just to start. With all the ingedients you can make all of the magic! But is that really the most profitable way to go about it? Maybe for some. I’m not sure it’s right for all of us, though. I think you need to explore your motivations before you buy any more critters.
Why do you breed ball pythons? You probably fall into one or more of these categories:
- For the love. Making money isn’t that important to you. You just like to breed snakes. You love the whole process and derive joy from successful husbandry.
- If this is you, congratulations! Your desires are pure. Please collect your group of normal ball pythons and make your way to the back of the room. From there you can listen at a distance, safe from getting any of my capitalism on you.
- To be the first to produce a new morph, to be a recognizable name. A pioneer in the ever-emerging ball python genetics/morph game.
- Bring your wallet. You will need it. If your wallet is mighty and equipped with sufficient stamina, we will all one day know your name.
- Fame in the ball python world is real but small. While I know the names of the big breeders, my parents do not. Nor do my friends and neighbors. Being a big name breeder makes you look cool in only the smallest of circles. Keep your ego in check when you get there.
- To produce a diverse and eclectic array of ball python morphs while making a profit.
- While the profit part may be elusive these days I suspect that many of us fall into this category. As your collection expands it becomes more diverse.
- To produce the animals that will make you the most profit, regardless of how you feel about them.
- You are a pure capitalist. Whatever sells is what you are selling. Some may call you a heartless, money-hungry bastard. Me? I admire your motivations and envy your lack of personal attachment.
- Some other motivation. There may be some other category into which you fall so put yourself here if that’s true.
So who among this list is in the worst position? It’s the people who want to ‘produce a diverse and eclectic array of ball python morphs while making a profit’. Why? Your motivations are at odds with each other. A diverse ball python collection of 100 animals (or 50, or 25, whatever) will allow you to produce a good number of morphs. It’s exciting and cool when you open the cages and see all the colors and patterns. But stop for a moment and really think about what’s happening with your collection. For ease of discussion I will talk about Clown Ball Pythons. Clowns are not cheap but they are within reach of many breeders. The most common gateway into breeding clowns is to buy a male clown and some female het clowns. So let’s say you buy 1.2 (one male, two females). Chances are good that you buy them as babies. In about 2-3 years you will have raised your females and are now producing clown babies for the first time. What are you going to do when they come out of the egg? Sell them? Really? Don’t you remember what you just went through to produce these? You just spent almost 3 years of your life raising these things up and now, there they are: baby clown ball pythons produced by YOU!!! If you sell them you still only have your breeders. How are you going to grow AND refine your ball python collection if you sell them? You gotta’ keep some. And as soon as you decide to do that, you’re screwed. The cycle has you. But if you do sell them you’ll still only be producing a few clowns the following year (you are breeding het females after all). You will never get any bigger and your collection will never get any better than it is today. That’s the rub. Keep your production and you’re screwed. Sell your production and you’re screwed. Neither is the end of the world but neither is getting you to the world you worked up on your Excel spreadsheet a few years earlier, either. What to do?
I know it’s easy to write this and not have to talk about the money behind it but if you are going to breed clowns, BREED CLOWNS. Don’t buy 1.2 clowns and 1.2 albinos and 1.2 ghosts and 1.2 mojaves and 1.2 spiders. Buy 2.8 clowns instead. No, it’s not as exciting but when you do produce clowns you are more likely to produce a bunch of them. When you have 25 clown babies to sell it is A LOT easier to sell them without emotion AND keep a few back to raise up. When you are only producing a few clowns you often can’t bear to part with them. Because they are few they are precious to you; a cherished commodity. And they are the source of your problems.
So into your business plan you need to integrate VOLUME when it comes to a particular morph. Resist the desire to expand both size and diversity. If you are expanding the size of your collection do it with a morph you already have. Don’t add new morphs to the collection until you have a sufficiently large production capacity with one of your other morphs.
This philosophy holds true when you start producing multiple-gene animals. How are you ever going to bring yourself to sell that silver streak when you only produced one of them? If you want to produce silver streaks, go all in. Produce them by the dozens. Two black pewter males and a slew of pastel females is a very affordable project (relatively speaking, of course). Don’t even get me started on white snakes. I’m sick of hearing people refer to them as being “just another white snake”. You know the one thing that is always 100% true of white snakes? They sell like you wouldn’t believe.
If you continue to insist on building a diverse collection of animals without focusing on building a larger production capacity for specific morphs then you are acknowledging that making money is secondary to your love of ball python diversity. And that’s a tough thing to realize about yourself; what is more important?
In summary, if making money in this business is important to you: Have a plan. Produce any particluar morph in sufficient quantity that you can sell them and keep some without being conflicted. Focus less on diversity, more on quantity.
…hope you enjoy your stay.
The one moment in time toward which all other efforts point; that brief instant when a baby snake pops its head out of the egg for the first time. After all these years I still get excited. 364 days of cage cleaning, record keeping, feeding, water bowl changing and male/female pairing all comes to a conclusion at this moment:
And it is so worth it! I’ve seen it time and again but it never loses it coolness. Earlier today I was checking eggs (and happened to have my camera) and caught this bumble bee just as he pushed his head out for the first time. Seeing their first tongue flick is such a cool thing to witness. In the photo this little guy is about 3 seconds old. How awesome is that?!
This is the best time of year.
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Yesterday the Orlando Sentinel posted a position piece supporting a nationwide ban on all pythons. At the end of the article you had the option to vote ‘thumbs up’ or ‘thumbs down’ to their position. By mid-afternoon more than 2/3 of repsondants had voted ‘thumbs down’, disagreeing with the article. At that time, the ability to vote was removed from the article. Today, the site is proudly reporting that 95.1% of respondents AGREED with their article. Don King would call that a ‘falsitude’.
For the whole story, please read this post by my buddy Adam over at nohr669.com. He breaks it down and has the screen shots to prove it!
I often lament the danger the media poses to the reptile community (amongst other things). The audacity of the lie that is apparently being told by the Orlando Sentinel is another powerful example of a news source fabricating the truth in an effort to further their own agenda.
If you are a reptile owner and are growing sick of the ridiculous way in which reptiles are being portrayed by the media, please take a moment to contact the editors of the Orlando Sentinel and tell them that you are aware of this deceit and request they post a retraction.
My name is Colin Weaver. I am a ball python breeder. My best customer is named Colin Weaver. He is also my biggest problem.
I can’t seem to get it right. I’m in the ball python business to make money. That’s not something I keep secret. If I owned snakes purely for the love of snakes I’d own fewer than ten of them. Instead I own hundreds. I don’t know anybody who keeps hundreds of anything out of love. Most people who keep things in quantity do so for financial gain. I’m not different.
If you start out as a hobbyist you may find that you are lured into monetizing your operation. You buy a pretty snake and say, “Hey, it would be cool to get another one of these and try to breed them.” You buy a mate for your animal and that’s the first step down a long and expensive road. With ball pythons it’s not so simple, though. The color and pattern variations produce some very real problems that cause you to become a burden to yourself. Let me explain.
Suppose you buy a male pastel jungle ball python. They are pretty and quite affordable these days. You also really like spider ball pythons so you buy one of those, too. Your spider is a girl so you decide to pair the two up with each other. Eggs are laid, incubated and hatched. When all goes well what will you get? A bumble bee (hopefully a few). You could sell that bumble bee for some nice cash but are you really going to do it? I’ll wager no. You don’t have a bumble bee and they sure are pretty. So you keep it. Now you have (at least) three snakes. What should have been a money-generating event actually turned into a collection-size increasing event. You keep your bumble bee and also add a pinstripe to your collection. You breed them a few years down the road and now all hell breaks loose. You produce spinners, lemon blasts, more bumble bees and perhaps even a spinner blast. Second verse, same as the first. You don’t have any spinners or lemon blasts. You (like most other people) also don’t have any spinner blasts …until now. Can you really sell them now that you have them? Think of the possibilities they represent. Don’t you want to have these in your collection? What sense would it make to sell them and they buy them again later? So year after year, clutch after clutch, you find yourself keeping the best stuff you produce. You could, and arguably should, be selling these little nuggets but you just can’t bring yourself to do it. So you become your own best customer and you are your own biggest hinderance to profitability. It’s a vicious cycle and I’m in deep.
I, like many other breeders, keep back large numbers of my very best production every year. I should be selling it, taking the cash, paying off my house and buying nice cars and saving for retirement. But I don’t. Instead I’m cash-poor and snake rich, always trying to one-up my own collection.
I can’t seem to drink my own Kool-Aid. Sometimes you have to take the cash, sell the snake …even when it hurts. But it’s oh, so very hard to do.
In the mid-90’s I bred Burmese pythons. They were some of the most gentle and tolerant snakes I have ever kept and working with them was one of the most rewarding experiences I have had as a reptile breeder. Some life changes necessitated that I stop breeding them and space issues keep me from beginning again. But I miss them. I want to put another big group of Burmese pythons together and start breeding them again. Four things give me pause:
- Food: Finding a consistent local supply of affordable food has been problematic in the past. This is the least of my concerns and can be overcome, I’m sure.
- Space & Caging: Do I need to elaborate on the logistics of housing 30-50 large constrictors? While do-able, it’s not trivial.
- City ordinance: The city I live in requires all reptiles over 8 feet to have a permit. I don’t mind paying the permit fee but I do mind being on the radar of local officials. I feel like it makes me a target. “Hey, this guy has 40 Burmese pythons. He needs a visit.”
I should avoid complaining on this point, though. At least the city I live in hasn’t banned them completely.
- The current national political climate hell-bent on banning large constrictors: If I put together a large breeding group now will I find them banned and worthless some time in the next few years?
At the risk of becoming a pariah I suggest that the writing is on the wall for the so-called Big 5 Constrictors. I fear they will be banned some time in the next few years. I also fear it will be our (e.g. the reptile community) own fault when it happens. As a quick review for those who don’t already know, the Big Five include:
- Reticulated Pythons
- Burmese Pythons
- African Rock Pythons
- Australian Scrub Pythons
We have a chance to stop the ban but the reptile community is currently broken into two distinct groups. While both groups have the same general objective of allowing for continued ownership of large constrictors (and other reptiles) they differ quite on a bit on their approach. I suggest you can call the two groups Team USARK and Team PIJAC. I know I am going to be accused of perpetuating the divide by laying it out this way but this is how I see it. It is my perception (and you now what they say about the link between perception and reality).
Everything I have seen, read and heard seems to indicate that PIJAC supports the responsible implementation of regulatory controls that will allow continued ownership of large constrictors while USARK does not support any controls, in any form. As individuals we align with the side that best fits our own personal desires. That division has and will drive the efforts of both groups in two different directions that ultimately do not complement each other. That separation may lead to neither group achieving its objective and the third, less desirable result, a complete ban, may prevail in their stead.
The non-big-5-owning portion of the reptile community (ball python breeders, in particular) is often accused of being willing to throw the 5 under the bus to quiet the voices of people wishing to ban snake ownership. And large constrictors are such an easy target, are they not? Burmese pythons garner most of the public spotlight because of the Florida Everglades situation and I can’t conjure a story of someone being seriously injured or killed by a ball python or any of the other smaller python species. It’s always one the five (usually a burm or a retic) that makes the news. And they are the one’s profiled on the Discovery Channel, History Channel and other so-called ‘knowledge’ channels. As a ball python breeder (and former Burmese python breeder) let me be extremely clear on this point: a federal ban on the Big 5 will not stop the people who want to put your right to own snakes and other reptiles to an end. Sure, a ban on the Five may quiet them down for a bit but I promise you they will be back, emboldened by their success, to finish the job and ban the rest of the python species. Their goal is not to ban large constrictors; they want to ban all reptiles. So if you are a ball python, carpet python or any other kind of python breeder, stop thinking that a ban on the Five will end the political opposition to reptile ownership. It won’t. It will strengthen it! All you need to do is look at Senate bill S.373 for evidence of this. Regardless of size of python being bred, we need to be united and consistent in our opposition to legislation. This includes a united approach for the future of reptile ownership.
Having said that I fear that rigid and uncompromising opposition to any legislation will result in long-term failure and the Five will be banned at a federal level. Not long after the Big 5 get banned, many if not all, of the other python species will follow. Supporters of these bills are sneaky and vigilant. They use misinformation and fear to further their objectives and given enough time they are likely to be successful in convincing others who don’t care to take the time to find the truth. Please understand that people do not intentionally form opinions they know to be wrong. Many rely on seemingly valid sources of information, like the USGS and the University of Florida, to help them form their opinions. Each person believes what they do for a reason and they often define themselves by what they believe. In order to maintain their opinions they have to find evidence that supports them. This fact lets us understand that people who want to prove their opinion will conjur results necessary to validate their perspective. Consider this publication on the invasion of Burmese Pythons from the Univerity of Florida. When quoted by the media, academic publications are often presented as lore to the general public. If you read the article referenced above you will find that it is not short on bias against the large constrictors (and pet owners). Rather than being an objective academic analysis of the status of the Burmese Python in the Florida Everglades it is a position piece cleverly set up to be ammunition for future citations and political rhetoric. It is designed to support an opinion and it is seeded with some facts to bolster its credibility. Who is going to argue with Congressman so-and-so when he is quoting ‘facts’ published as part of a study conducted by the University of Florida? I hope you see the power in this type of misinformation. The public will never question these sources, much less read them.
Rigid resistance to any and all legislation may result in complete legislation. Our best chance for success is to find middle ground. We need to quell the voices of opposition while maintaining our rights to own and breed snakes of our choosing. To do this I suggest that the Big Five owners and breeders should not be thrown under the bus …but they may have to get their toes run over by it. I’m not saying this because they deserve it. It’s a simple truth that these constrictors get the lions share of attention from people on the outside looking in. Starting anywhere other than with the Five will likely be viewed as a token offering.
But what do I mean by ‘getting their toes run over’? Simple, really. Owners and breeders of large constrictors will have to forego some of the freedoms enjoyed by breeders of smaller snakes. To avoid sugar-coating it, breeding and ownership of large constrictors will be regulated. The question is not ‘if they will be regulated’, it is ‘to what extend will they be regulated’. There are two central issues that legislation will attempt to address: invasive species and public health and safety. The ability for large constrictors to invade other regions of the country is hotly debated.
Nobody seems to dispute the presence of Burmese pythons in the Florida Everglades. A few sensational (and very over-used) pictures (1) (2) have been released and more than one article/TV show has tried to portray an epic battle taking place for top-of-the-food-chain status between the American alligator and the Burmese python. It makes for great TV but that’s about it. The Burmese pythons, along with many, many other plants and animals have made their way into the Florida Everglades and found conditions conducive to their survival. Over the past decade about 1,000 pythons have been captured in the southern-most portions of the Everglades. Despite wild reports suggesting otherwise, there is no evidence to prove that they are moving north. Burmese pythons do not have the ability to survive long-term in the colder parts of the United States, including northern Florida.
Education is our best defense against people who use fear of python invasion as justification for a ban. We need to educate the people about the reality of python survivability in temperate regions. Once people who vote on our behalf understand that invasion beyond the Florida Everglades is all but impossible we will have done serious damage to this argument.
Public Health & Safety
The spread of non-native ticks (addressed by the National Reptile Improvement Plan, NRIP) and the ability for large constrictors to severely injure or even kill humans are points of concern (the former is a concern for all imported reptiles). Death of humans because of large constrictors is incredibly rare. My research indicates that 11 people have been killed by large constrictors in the past 29 years. But when it happens it is sensational. The news and other media outlets seize upon it and milk the stories for all they are worth. The damage to the image of herpetoculturists is disproportionate and long-lasting. I’m willing to bet that more than 11 people have died from choking on pen tops in the past 29 years but pen tops, which exist in every home, do not have a lobby against them because of their danger to public safety. To say that large constrictors pose an imminent risk to humans is just plain silly but when you watch TV they make it seem like there is a python in your back yard, stalking you. The truth does not stir people, nor does it sell ad space. The media lies to make the facts more interesting.
Sizable portions of our population are afraid of all snakes (I know a woman who paid $350 to have a 6″ ringneck snake removed from her back yard). That fear is amplified when the snakes are large. That fears transcends into hysteria when the snake is one of the Big 5. Hysteria and fear are not mindsets that allow for rational discussion. As irrational as the fear is to members of the reptile community, it is real to the people who experience it and they are not likely to be swayed by us telling them everything is all right.
So how do you fight against a largely baseless agrument that is supported by fear, sensational media coverage, irresponsible academics and abusive extrapolations by supposedly legitimate scientific organizations? Education is the most important tool but it is a long term approach. Let’s compare the fear of snakes to something like racism. Racism, like fear of snakes, is a learned behavior. It takes time to eliminate it and education is one of the key tools. Eliminating fear of reptiles has to start early in life. My two year old daughter is not afraid of snakes. How could she be? But the other day she told me she was scared the snake was going to bite her. I later learned she got the idea from another child at school whose parents are deathly afraid of snakes. How to address it? Well, I started with my daughter. Being afraid of snakes in this family isn’t going to work out so she and I spent some time with the snakes so she knows they won’t hurt her. Next in line is my daughter’s school. My wife is in the process of arranging a ‘show and tell’ day where I will take some snakes (and other reptiles) in and teach the kids that, while worthy of respect, they are not dangerous. Every person in the reptile community needs to be a reptile evangelist, working to dispel fear and misunderstanding whenever and wherever we can. But grassroots efforts (which have been going on for years) will not suffice. There needs to be a national campaign, supported by entire reptile community, to begin to eradicate fear of snakes.
Education is a strategic aim. We need a more tactical approach to deal with our immediate problem; a proposed ban on pythons. Education won’t do us much good if we lose our right to own reptiles in the next few years. It is likely that legislation in some form is a foregone conclusion. We will do ourselves a favor to come to the table with something other than blanket opposition. Here is what I propose:
- Implement a national permit system for large constrictor ownership. Permits will be per individual/business, not per animal. There will be an annual fee. These fees must be realistic and not serve to exclude the average person from ownership (because of high prices). For example, 200,000 large constrictor owners paying $15/year will generate $3 million in annual revenue.
- Require owners of large constrictors to attend an 8-hour certification class that teaches basic husbandry techniques, safe handling, escape-resistant caging, basic medical response (e.g. what to do if you get bit), etc. Successful completion of the course is required for permit approval. Enrollment in the course will be fee-based with a portion of the fees used to provide reptile education around the country.
- This course could be offered as a single Saturday event (9-5) or two hours/night for four weeks.
- Large constrictor owners could also be required to renew their certification every 5 years by attending a 1/2 day refresher course. This will provide an opportunity to make sure all owners of large constrictors are up-to-date on any new developments in husbandry as well as the status of any regulations. This also provides another revenue stream, complementing the annual permit fee.
- Reptile owners, not reptile sellers /breeders, are responsible for obtaining a permit and certification prior to the animal reaching 8 feet in length. The breeder/seller of the reptile is required to notify the buyer of the requirement for a permit and certifiation but is not required to maintain records on who the animals were sold to and and what their permit status is. This requirement falls to the reptile owner and the national reptile permit system administrators.
- This may be a sticking point. I think it’s important to avoid burdening reptile breeders/resellers with extra tracking and paperwork. But large constrictors disappearing into the community with no trail to show where they have gone is likely going to cause a lot of buyers to simply not get a permit or attend the course. The recourse to this is that there has to be a stiff penalty for failure to register and take the required certification class. This may take the form of a fine, seizure of the animal(s) and a suspension period, during which time the offender is prohibited from owning a large constrictor.
- I am not an advocate of microchipping. Pet owners being labeled as the cause of the problem in the Florida Everglades is an unfounded accusation. Natural disasters such as Hurrican Andrew are more likely suspects for the unintentional release of reptiles into the wild. Escaped constrictors are not a problem outside the Florida Everlgades so the only thing mandatory microchipping will do is increase the total cost of ownership (TCO) and the money spent on building, administering and maintaining a tracking database will outweigh any potential benefits. Microchipping also inhibits the free trade of reptiles. Ownership of many animals changes frequently and quickly. I can cite many instances where an animal changed ownership four (4) times in a single day. Keeping up with microchip registrations will be burdensome without benefit.
- Stiff penalties must be put in place for anyone caught intentionally releasing a non-native species into the wild. Most states already have something like this but the consequences need to be undesireable enough to cause people to want to find a different solution for getting rid of their animals.
I want a world where reptile ownership is unrestricted and unregulated. I don’t want any national permit system nor do I want to have to pay an annual fee or take a course for the right to own a reptile of my choosing. But that is increasingly not the reality. I would much rather endure a little bit of paperwork, pay a small fee and attend a class every few years than have my rights taken away completely. I fear that an unwillingness to budge by the reptile community will cause the total loss of our rights. It’s not fair and the fears of others are not based on reality but they don’t have to be in order for a law to get passed. It’s time we took the initiative and put processes into place that ensure our right to own large constrictors. And as soon as we do that I will start building my group of Burmese again, safe that I can breed them and be able to legally sell the animals.
In February 2008 the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) released a map showing the possible range of the burmese python in the southern United States. The maps shows Burmese pythons extending as for north as Virgnia on the east coast (and all the way to west to California). Being a resident of southeast Virginia for the past 15 years I can tell you without reservation that this is absolutely ridiculous. The map and the report submitted to support it are false. They are driven by fear and special interest motivations to end the reptile pet trade in the United States.
It vexes me how this type of false science is allowed to be released under the banner of a supposedly legitimate scientific organization. Doing so decreases the credibility of their legitimate works. Hey USGS, here’s a little nugget of information for you: the United States is a temperate region. That means we have something called seasons. Yeah, it’s warm enough to support an escaped Burmese python in the summer but the fall and winter will kill them faster than any Python Recovery Team you might want to assemble. Burmese pythons are from Southeast Asia (vast portions of which are a tropical region) and according to the book The Physical Geography of Southeast Asia, (screen shot here) annual temperature range in southeast asia is small, not more than 5 degrees (C) annually. Click here for a graph that shows annual temperatures in Vietnam (southeast Asia). That means that the same summer climate that supports Burmese in their native habitat is pretty much an all year thing, kind of like it is in the Florida Everglades. Take a quick drive north on I-95 to northern Florida and you’ll notice that it gets very cold in the winter. And guess what! Cold weather and snakes don’t go together. Every single reptile that lives on the east coast north of the florida everglades brumates to pass the winter; all of them. Guess what? Burmese pythons don’t brumate in cold weather. Know what they do? They die. Anybody who has ever kept Burmese pythons knows that they will get a sick at the drop of a hat. Keep your temps a little bit wrong and they will be hacking snot all over the glass of their locked enclosures.
I am disappointed in the USGS and the people who will let them submit falsehood as truth. The USGS slogan reads, “Science for a Changing World”. It should read, “Science for Changing the World”.