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US House Committee Takes Action to Stem Trade in Burmese Pythons

The Humane Society of the United States

WASHINGTON — The Humane Society of the United States thanked the U.S. House Judiciary Committee for yesterday approving legislation that would prohibit importation and interstate commerce of dangerous Burmese pythons and African rock pythons for the pet trade. But the nation's largest animal welfare group said the proposal has been weakened and more needs to be done, since the original bill would have banned additional species of deadly snakes.

The sale of exotic pets has caused an ecological and public safety disaster in the United States that will ultimately cost taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars as local, state and federal governments contend with the costs of containment of exotic species. Interests supporting this commercial trade worked with lawmakers to weaken the bill and dramatically gut important provisions.

The bill, H.R. 2811, introduced by Rep. Kendrick Meek, D-Fla., and co-sponsored by Rep. Tom Rooney, R-Fla., now moves to the full House of Representatives for consideration, after being narrowed to deal with only two species of pythons. Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., has introduced companion legislation in the U.S. Senate, S. 373.

"The Humane Society of the United States commends Chairman Conyers and the Judiciary Committee for addressing the urgent need to stop the trade in large constrictor snakes as pets," said Wayne Pacelle, president and CEO of The HSUS. "These snakes are dangerous to people and can have devastating impacts on our natural resources. As the bill moves forward we hope the Congress will take a more comprehensive approach and prohibit the trade in other species that pose similar threats. By prohibiting only two species, The Congress would be addressing only a portion of the problem."

The legislation should be amended to include a ban on the import and interstate trade of reticulated pythons, amethystine pythons and anacondas. The potential dangers of enormous constrictor snakes were underscored when a two-year-old Florida girl was tragically killed by a Burmese python kept as a pet in her home on July 1. She was the fourth person killed by a pet python since 2006 — two of them adults killed by reticulated pythons.

Burmese pythons escaped or released from the pet trade have become established in the Everglades, now number in the tens of thousands and are probably ineradicable. The U.S. Geological Service says their potential range is vastly larger, including much of the south and California. Once established, removing the animals is expensive and may be impossible because of their remarkable reproductive abilities and their ability to blend into the environment.

H.R. 2811 takes a proactive approach by establishing policy to prevent Burmese pythons from spreading to other parts of the country and to block African rock pythons from being introduced. However, by covering only these two species, the trade can move to other large constrictors.

Indeed, that trend is already evident. The number of Burmese pythons imported dropped in recent years. The trade shifted to animals bred in captivity and other species. Imports of reticulated pythons and anacondas increased substantially. These snakes can reach lengths exceeding 25 feet and weigh several hundred pounds, and can kill an adult or child. The discovery of an anaconda in Florida's Big Cypress Swamp in 2004 highlighted concerns about their invasive potential.

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The Humane Society of the United States is the nation's largest animal protection organization — backed by 11 million Americans, or one of every 28. For more than a half-century, The HSUS has been fighting for the protection of all animals through advocacy, education and hands-on programs. Celebrating animals and confronting cruelty — On the web at humanesociety.org.