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November 6, 2009

The HSUS Testifies in Support of Bill to Restrict Trade in Large Constrictor Snakes

The Humane Society of the United States

WASHINGTON — Nancy Perry, vice president of Government Affairs for The Humane Society of the United States, testified today before the U.S. House of Representatives Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, and Homeland Security in support of H.R. 2811, introduced by Rep. Kendrick Meek, D-Fla. The legislation would add certain nonnative large constrictor snakes to the list of injurious species that cannot be imported or moved in interstate commerce for the pet trade.

Perry urged that the legislation be amended to include all species of large constrictor snakes identified as posing risk to the environment by the U.S. Geological Survey in a new report, "Giant Constrictors: Biological and Management Profiles and an Establishment Risk Assessment for Nine Large Species of Pythons, Anacondas, and the Boa Constrictor." Currently, the bill only includes Burmese pythons and African rock pythons.

"H.R. 2811 is an important step," Perry said. "But if only some large constrictor snakes are included, the trade will simply shift to others, and risks to public safety, animal welfare and the environment will remain. The Humane Society of the United States appreciates and celebrates these animals, but these giant nonnative snakes belong in their natural habitats in their range countries, not in America's wilderness or communities where they harm our natural resources and put people at risk."

Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., has introduced similar legislation in the U.S. Senate, S. 373. The HSUS commends Rep. Meek, Sen. Nelson and the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service for their leadership on this issue. The agency testified that it supports the bill as reported, and recommends amending it in light of the USGS risk assessment to include all nine species. 

People often purchase these animals while they are young and manageable. When they grow too large and dangerous to keep, the animals may be abandoned outdoors. Burmese pythons, boa constrictors and probably some African pythons are already established and breeding as invasive species in parts of Florida. Burmese pythons likely now number in the tens of thousands spread over thousands of square miles. According to the USGS, Burmese pythons are putting a very large number of Florida's imperiled species at risk, and they could find a conducive climate in many other states.

Facts

  • A 2-year-old Florida girl was killed by a Burmese python kept as a pet in her home in July 2009. She was the fourth person killed by a pet python in the United States since 2006. The other three were adults with experience handling reptiles, two of them killed by reticulated pythons.
  • Without an amendment, H.R. 2811 will not address reticulated pythons (the world's longest snakes), anacondas (the world's heaviest snakes) or boa constrictors. In fact, the number of these snakes imported and sold would likely increase, as the trade in Burmese pythons falls.
  • H.R. 2811 does not result in confiscation of existing snakes. It applies to imports and interstate movement, not to the possession of animals within a state. In addition, animals could continue to be imported and moved across state lines for zoological, educational, medical and scientific purposes with a federal permit.
  • Reptiles are often marketed as low-maintenance pets, but keeping them healthy and secure in captivity takes sophisticated care that many owners cannot provide. These snakes grow very large very quickly, resulting in enclosures that are inadequate for their size and to prevent escapes.

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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. 

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