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Serpentes non gratae: 4 species of snakes banned in the United States

Today Interior Secretary Ken Salazar announced a federal ban on 4 species of injurious snakes. Ostensibly this was done to protect the Florida Everglades which some people claim has become the home to hundreds of thousands of invasive Burmese Pythons. Before we get into why that claim is bogus we’ll take a look at what exactly this ban means, what snakes were banned, what snakes face a ban in the future, and what led us to this point today.

What does the snake ban mean?

Before the average snake keeper panics let me be perfectly clear. This ban will in no way, shape or form impact you. Unless…

  • You move across state lines:
    If you own one of the 4 banned species of snakes you will not be able to transport it, or its eggs across state lines once the ban goes into effect
  • You plan to (re)patriate to the United States:
    Short and not-so-sweet fact is that once the ban becomes official you will not be able to bring one of the four banned snakes into the United States. Anywhere.
  • You had plans to begin breeding and selling these snakes:
    Since you can’t move these snakes or their eggs across state lines (or into the United States) you will lose the vast majority of your potential buyers.

The real impact of this ban will be shouldered by small business owners who breed, raise and sell these snakes for their livelihood. There are some breeders who have invested everything into these snakes. Time, money, blood, sweat and even tears. This ban has, with the stroke of a pen, wiped out hundreds if not thousands of businesses across the United States. For as many businesses as it has destroyed it has greatly harmed many, many more.

Let’s look at this logically and you draw your own conclusions –

Acme Snake Breeders (ASB)specializes in proving out Burmese Python morphs. In order to produce a line of morphs that is unique in the snake world they have invested tens of thousands of dollars in buying Burmese pythons from other breeders. They have spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on climate controlled facilities to ensure the snakes have an optimal environment to live in. This money is spent with small businesses that design, manufacture and sell things like heat tape, caging, and thermostats. ASB also spends thousands of dollars a month buying food for the snakes from small businesses that specialize in breeding and selling feeders.

Now instead of one business going under consider that this ban will result in hundreds of businesses going under. While I don’t agree with some who claim the economic impact will be catastrophic there is no doubt it will be huge. Particularly for the businesses and families directly impacted by the ban.

Some of your reading this might wonder why ASB doesn’t just switch to breeding a species of snake that has not been banned. The problem with that is that they likely have very little money to invest on starting a new line of designer morphs using another species of snake. Remember the market has just been torn out from under them due to this ban. The hundreds of thousands of dollars in inventory they were sitting on has just become worthless from a business standpoint. After all who is going to invest in a $10,000 snake when their is virtually no chance of selling the offspring to make any of that money back? In other words they have all kinds of money tied up in inventory that they can no longer liquidate. Years of breeding and proving out genetics has just been flushed down the crapper. All due to ignorance that allowed this ban to pass.

The banned snakes

The following four species of snakes were banned under this ruling:

*: Note that the African Rock Python is one species with the Northern and Southern sub-species both being banned

Snakes that face an uncertain future

Originally the intent was to ban a total of 9 species of snake (pet snakes opposes s373). Due in large part to the efforts of individuals and organizations such as US Association of Reptile Keepers (USARK) 5 of the intended targets were removed from the list. However it would be the very peak of ignorance to assume that those five species are safe from future efforts to ban them. In fact the President and CEO of the Humane Society of the United States (Wayne Pacelle) has openly declared his organizations displeasure that the ban of the 4 species included did not go far enough.

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…

“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.”
HSUS comment on ban of only 4 species of snakes

Secretary Salazar has not ruled out a possible inclusion of more snakes in the future.

Salazar said his agency his “going after those species that present the greatest threat right now” and that five other species are being scrutinized scientifically and for the economic implications of banning those as well.
DOI: scrutinizing 5 more species of snakes

In addition to the Department of the Interior’s Salazar and the HSUS’s Pacelle there are a number of so-called animal welfare and environmental special interest groups who are not pleased with only four snake species being banned. In short they all believe that the reptile industry in the United States has over estimated our value which caused the Obama administration to err on the side of caution.

How we got to where we are

We didn’t reach this point by accident. This was a perfect storm of public outcry, political pandering, irresponsible ownership and a flash point known as the Florida Everglades.

Initially the public demand to ban these snakes was pretty weak. Sure, there were special interest groups who made a lot of noise but this was an issue largely under the radar of the general public. That all changed due to two incidents that occurred 5 months and 1100 miles apart. The first incident involved a chimpanzee named Travis who attacked and severely maimed a woman in Connecticut and the second involved 2 year old Floridian Shaunia Hare who was killed by an eight foot Burmese python improperly kept by her mother and step-father.

When Travis the chimp attacked Charla Nash it put the owners of exotic animals in general in the spotlight. The state of Connecticut, in typical knee-jerk fashion, not only decided to start enforcing a ban on private ownership of exotic animals that had been in place since 2003 but also made the law more restrictive. It was at this point that the general American public got a first hand glimpse of how dangerous exotic animals could be when not properly cared for.

Later that same year 2 year old Shaunia Hare was killed by a Burmese python while she slept in her crib. It just happened to be that Senator Bill Nelson (D) of Florida was making another attempt to get a ban on large constrictor snakes enacted when this tragedy unfolded. And in true political fashion Mr. Nelson seized the opportunity afforded him by the girls death.



It is no secret that groups like the Humane Society of the United States have deep pockets. Pockets with money that politicians and other organizations love to get their hands on. But no one will claim that the HSUS did this alone. Many groups came together in an effort to foist this ban on the American public. Especially environmental and animal rights groups.

I would be remiss not to spend some time pointing the finger where it most needs pointing. At snake owners and breeders who were more concerned with turning a profit than protecting their animals. It was the breeders who sold large and potentially dangerous snakes to people who had no business keeping them. It was the owners who did not educate themselves on what was required to keep a 15 foot, 250 pound snake safely. It was the breeders that didn’t spend a second their time educating the buyer about what to expect. It was the owner who after 18 to 24 months realized the 18 inch cute little worm was now upwards of 8 to 10 feet and overpowering grown men. It was the breeders who flooded the market with these snakes to make a quick dollar. It was the breeders and the owners who instead of euthanizing the snakes turned them loose in the Everglades.

Clearly the above does not apply to all breeders or all owners. In fact it applies to a small minority of them, but the damage done has impacted everyone.

A call to action
This is so simple it shouldn’t even need to be said. Contact your Senators and your Congress men/women and tell them why you oppose the ban. Remember, this is a ruling by the Interior department not an act of Congress. Yes, it is legally binding and yes you do have to follow it, but you can mobilize your politicians to step in and put and end to it.

Some other sites might construct you a letter to use when contacting your representative, or the President but we won’t do that here. If you really want your voice counted you will put into your own words why you oppose this ban and how it affects you and your family on a personal level. You’ll make an emotional connection with your statement and your representative will look at it in a whole different light. Remember Senator Nelson of Florida wanted to get lawmakers to enact a ban but when they wouldn’t do so he circumvented the process by bringing the Department of the Interior into play. Return the favor and get the lawmakers involved once again.

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