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January 17, 2012

The HSUS Recognizes a Step Forward on Exotic Snakes Rule, But Criticizes Obama Administration for Failing to Ban Commerce in Reticulated Pythons and Other Large Constricting Snakes That Dominate Trade

Without Follow-Up Action, Trade Will Shift to Other Species

Interior Secretary Salazar’s announcement banning trade in Burmese pythons is a welcome move, but The Humane Society of the United States is disappointed that the Obama administration dramatically weakened an Interior Department proposal to list nine species of large constrictor snakes as “injurious” under the Lacey Act, which would prohibit importation and interstate movement of these deadly non-native snakes as pets. 

Though the original proposal, issued in March 2010, called for a ban in trade of nine species, the administration moved ahead with a trade ban for just four of them – the Indian python (including Burmese python), Northern African python, Southern African python and yellow anaconda. These four species represent only 30 percent of imports of the nine species identified as posing a significant risk to the environment by the U.S. Geological Survey. After dragging its feet for 22 months, the Obama administration ultimately failed to include in its rule reticulated pythons, which have killed more U.S. citizens than any other constrictor snake, boa constrictors, green anaconda, DeSchauensee's anaconda and Beni anaconda.

“This rule was swallowed up in the federal bureaucracy for 22 months, and put through a political meat grinder, leaving us with a severely diminished final action,” said Wayne Pacelle, president and CEO of The HSUS, which was one of dozens of groups pushing for the enactment of the original proposal. “We expect trade to shift to the species omitted from the trade ban, and we can only hope that the Interior Department takes a careful look and revisits the issue.”

Large constrictor snakes have been released or escaped into the environment and have colonized Everglades National Park and other portions of south Florida. The United States has already spent billions of dollars to restore the Everglades, including protection efforts for endangered species, such as the Florida panther. The U.S. Department of Interior expected to spend $100 million in 2011 controlling invasive species, including the pythons breeding wild in Florida.

This original rule proposed by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, and supported by a bipartisan group of congressional leaders, as well as nearly all major Florida newspapers, would have closed a major pathway of introduction and helped prevent the spread of these animals to new areas and the establishment of additional species in areas where constrictor snakes already pose a problem. The HSUS has long advocated for policies to restrict the trade in dangerous wild animals as pets.

Wild animals kept as pets can injure and kill, can spread disease, and the average pet owner cannot provide the sophisticated care needed to maintain these animals in a humane and healthy manner. Though often marketed as low maintenance pets, constrictor snakes can suffer from starvation, dehydration and other symptoms of neglect.

This important rule had been delayed and weakened by the very industry that peddles high-maintenance dangerous predators to unqualified people at flea markets, swap meets and over the Internet. Constrictor snakes have killed 15 people in the United States, including seven children.

According to the U.S. Geological Survey report, imports of large constrictor snakes from 1977 to 2007 were more than 1.1 million, including the following species:
• P. sebae - African rock pythons: 32,738 – 2.9 percent
• P. molurus - Burmese python: 297,443 – 26.8 percent
• B. reticulatus - Reticulated python: 147,485 – 13.3 percent
• E. notaeus - Yellow anaconda: 1,968 – 0.2 percent
• E. murinus - Green Anaconda: 13,262 – 1.2 percent
• B. constrictor - Boa constrictor: 618,872 – 55.7 percent

The White House’s final rule addresses just 30 percent of the problem, while leaving 70 percent unchecked—including reticulated pythons and boa constrictors which represent more than two-thirds of large constrictor snakes in the U.S. trade. The U.S. Geological Survey report also noted that all nine species present ecological risk, concluding the following (emphasis added):

"High-risk species are Burmese pythons, northern and southern African pythons, boa constrictors, and yellow anacondas. High-risk species, if established in this country, put larger portions of the U.S. mainland at risk, constitute a greater ecological threat, or are more common in trade and commerce. Medium-risk species were reticulated python, DeSchauensee’s anaconda, green anaconda, and Beni anaconda. These species constitute lesser threats in these areas, but still are potentially serious threats. Because all nine species share characteristics associated with greater risks, none was found to be low-risk."

Media Contact: Pepper Van Tassell: 301-258-1417; pvantassell@humanesociety.org

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