February 28, 2012
The HSUS Applauds House Judiciary Committee Passage of Bill to Restrict Trade in Dangerous Constricting Snakes
House Action Comes Just Weeks After Announcement of Final Interior Department Rule That Covered Just Four of Nine Species Posing Risk
The Humane Society of the United States applauds the U.S. House Judiciary Committee’s passage of H.R. 511, a bill that will add nine species of large constrictor snakes to the list of injurious species under the Lacey Act.
“The House Judiciary Committee recognized that the trade in large, constricting snakes is reckless and irresponsible, putting people, ecosystems and the animals that live in them, and the snakes themselves at risk,” said Wayne Pacelle, president and CEO of The Humane Society of the United States. “We hope that the bill is scheduled for a vote on the House floor soon, and that the Senate takes up the matter expeditiously.”
The HSUS thanks the author of the bill, Rep. Tom Rooney, R-Fla., for his leadership on the issue, and House Judiciary Committee Chairman Lamar Smith, R-Texas, and Ranking Member John Conyers, D-Mich., Subcommittee Chairman Jim Sensenbrenner, R-Wisc., and Ranking Member Bobby Scott, D-Va., for their strong support of the legislation. Three other committee members, Reps. Elton Gallegly, R-Calif., Howard Berman, D-Calif., and Ted Deutch. D-Fla., showed tremendous leadership in advocating for the legislation and fending off some harmful amendments.
H.R. 511 would ban the import or interstate trade for use as pets of the Indian python (including Burmese python), reticulated python, Northern African python, Southern African python, boa constrictor, green anaconda, yellow anaconda, DeSchauensee’s anaconda and Beni anaconda. The bill addresses the trade in nine species identified by the U.S. Geological Survey as posing “high” or “medium” risk of becoming established in the wild as an invasive species. Passage of this legislation would spare thousands of high-maintenance, powerful predators the suffering of the exotic animal trade.
In March 2010, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service proposed a rule to ban nine species of pythons, boa constrictors, and anacondas identified in the USGS report as posing significant risk to the environment. In January 2012, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar announced a final rule restricting trade in just four of the nine species—a helpful step, but one covering just 30 percent of imports of the nine species posing a significant risk to the environment.
By including only some species, the trade will simply shift to the other species—including boa constrictors and reticulated pythons which represent two-thirds of the trade, and boa constrictors identified as posing “high” risk—and the threats to public safety, animal welfare, and the environment will continue uninterrupted. It’s for this reason that The HSUS strongly supports enactment of H.R. 511.
The ecological havoc wrought by invasive snakes is worse than anyone anticipated. A January 2012 report by researchers with the National Academy of Sciences found that Burmese pythons, in a little more than a decade of colonizing the Everglades, have wiped out 99 percent of raccoons, opossums and other small and medium-sized mammals, and 87 percent of bobcats. A great American ecosystem has been put at grave risk because of this invasive species. By having such an impact, it will inevitably harm the ability of Florida panthers, one of the most endangered animals in our nation, to survive. We must act now in order to prevent large constricting snakes from colonizing other ecosystems and having such a devastating impact on them, too.
The U.S. Department of Interior expected to spend $100 million in 2011 controlling invasive species, including the pythons breeding wild in Florida. “We must prevent these problems from developing in the first place, and not spend taxpayer dollars to clean up problems we should have anticipated,” added Pacelle. “It’s fiscally reckless to allow these impacts to continue given their predictability.”
Constrictor snakes have killed 15 people in the United States, including seven children, with reticulated pythons accounting for the largest share of attacks. The tragic death of a Florida toddler in 2009 put a fine point on why the private ownership of these animals is just not worth the risk of children or adults being killed by them.
The Committee rejected an amendment offered by Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, that would have removed boa constrictors from the trade restrictions; boa constrictors represent more than 55 percent of the large constrictor snakes in the trade, are identified as posing “high” risk, have already colonized South Florida, and have killed at least two people in the U.S. including a 34-year-old Nebraska man who was strangled to death in 2010. The Committee accepted an amendment offered by Rep. Dennis Ross, R-Fla., to exempt any USDA-licensed exhibitor from the trade restrictions, which The HSUS believes is too broad and provides a major loophole for the reptile trade, especially since the Secretary of the Interior already has the regulatory authority to grant individual exemptions for legitimate purposes.
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