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Feds Likely To Face Legal Battle Over Burmese Python Ban

Most of us rejoiced earlier this year when Secretary of Interior Ken Salazar announced a new set of restrictions on the much loathed, much feared, much hyped Burmese python.  


But six months after the feds announced a ban on the importation and interstate sale of Burmese pythons and three other snake species, the reptile industry is starting to mount a resistance that could very well culminate in a costly lawsuit against the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

This week the United States Association of Reptile Keepers said that it is taking up funds to prepare for a judicial joust over the right to breed and sell these beastly snakes to whomever is willing to pay top dollar. 

"There are a few legal avenues we are exploring first that may bring satisfaction without the need for a lawsuit," says Andrew Wyatt, president of the industry group. "The remedy of last resort is to file a federal lawsuit."


Under the current ban, reptile farmers are free to raise and sell Burmese pythons, so long as the snakes don't make their way over state lines. Wyatt says this is troublesome because reptiles are a multi-million-dollar industry, and breeders sell their snakes to zoos, research facilities and pet shops around the world.  

For example, if a breeder in North Carolina gets an order from a lab in France, it might not be possible to complete the sale because there's a good chance the snake would pass through a FedEx facility outside of North Carolina, say in Georgia for example. If that were to happen, the seller would then be in violation of federal law and could be hit with stiff fines and potential jail time. 

Florida already had a set of rules governing the snakes, and the reptile industry isn't pleased that the feds are pushing in on a problem that affects only a few counties in Florida. Down here, Burmese can't be acquired as pets, and only registered, licensed dealers, researchers and exhibitors are allowed to own the reptiles. 

Wyatt makes no attempt to conceal that USARK is an industry group putting its financial interests first.  

"We are an industry group trying to keep our businesses going," he says. "There's nothing wrong with farming livestock for profit. We produce high quality, captive-bred reptiles."

Burmese pythons have captured headlines in recent years for allegedly terrorizing the Everglades. One study suggested the snakes decimated mammal populations in the Everglades, but critics said the data were flawed and the study should have never been published.

It remains unclear exactly how many of the snakes remain in Florida; estimates range from a few thousand to more than 100,000. 

In the recent past, Scott Hardin of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission said it's not likely that Burmese pythons pose any significant threat, and that wild hogs are the most problematic invasive species in the Sunshine State. 

Wyatt alleges that "a small cabal of scientists has sensationalized the threat Burmese pythons pose to South Florida and exaggerated it to secure federal funding for research." He also expresses concern that a ban on shipping these snakes across state lines does absolutely nothing to address the remnant population of pythons in the Everglades. 

USARK asserts that Fish and Wildlife has "exceeded its Lacey Act authority in terms of the breadth of the restrictions" it placed on the four snake species. It's now taking up donations to challenge the law. 

Wyatt says the group plans to file a lawsuit by the end of the year if the issue is not resolved through other means.

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