Miami Herald | EDITORIAL

Snakes in the sawgrass


OUR OPINION: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service should broaden ban on invasive constrictors

While the movie Snakes on a Plane might provide a couple of hours of entertainment, the concept of snakes — big ones — in your back yard is anything but amusing.

South Florida happens to have a lot of big snakes in its back yard: Burmese pythons and other large, exotic snakes have infested the Everglades, decimating its native mammal population and discouraging the less adventurous from visiting the national park.

Unlike so many other problems plaguing the Everglades ecosystem, controlling, if not yet eradicating, the increasing snake population there has an easy solution: a federal ban on the sale of nine nonnative invasive snakes called constrictors.

Eighteen members of Congress, including many from South Florida, have sent a letter to Interior Secretary Sally Jewell asking that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service extend its ban on sales of four types of constrictors to include five more: reticulated pythons, DeSchauensee’s anacondas, green anacondas, Beni anacondas and boa constrictors.

The lawmakers say that these five snake species make up most of the trade in large constrictor snakes.

The FWS currently bans sales of Indian pythons, northern and southern African pythons and yellow anacondas based on a 2009 study by scientists at the U.S. Geological Survey. That study concluded that nine species of exotic constrictor snakes present either a “medium” or “high” risk of becoming invasive as they escape cages or are released by owners no longer interested in keeping them.

The ban on the four species represents about 30 percent of the exotic-snake trade in the United States, according to the congressional petitioners, who are asking that the ban be extended to the five species cited above, which represent 70 percent of U.S. constrictor snake traffic.

Obviously, the ban should be extended to cover all nine species. It’s not a difficult thing to accomplish.

The Lacey Act, a federal conservation law on the books since 1900, prohibits the importation and sale of nonnative animals and plants that threaten native species. The act was amended in 2012 to include the FWS ban on sales of the four constrictors.

Not only do these snakes threaten native ecosystems, they also threaten humans and their four-legged pets. According to the Congress members, 12 people in the United States have been fatally strangled by constrictors on the loose, including a 2-year-old Florida girl, who was attacked in her crib. These “pets” are natural-born killers.

Besides being lethal, the snakes are expensive to control. The FWS, working with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission and the South Florida Water Management District, has spent more than $6 million since 2005 to combat the growing number of Burmese pythons and other big snakes in the Everglades and surrounding areas. That’s millions of taxpayer dollars spent to eradicate somebody’s discarded pet reptile.

In the Everglades, the pythons have proven to be disturbingly elusive for hunters, leaving them free to reproduce and eat native warm-blooded creatures and even go one-on-one with an alligator on occasion. In Puerto Rico, roving boa constrictors have displaced the island’s native reptile population.

American reptile fanciers have plenty of nonthreatening cold-blooded creatures to choose from as pets. However, the nine invasive constrictors should not be among the choices.

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