More snakes to join Burmese python on restricted list

This Burmese python was caught in the Everglades after it had consumed a full-sized deer.
This Burmese python was caught in the Everglades after it had consumed a full-sized deer. Sun Sentinel

Move over Burmese python. You’re getting company on the list of outlaw snakes.

On Friday, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Director Dan Ashe is expected to announce a decision on whether to restrict the import and sale of the popular boa constrictor and four other large exotic constrictor snakes. The new rules would make it illegal to import or sell them across state lines.

The move comes three years after federal officials enacted the same ban on the Burmese, the voracious, fast-growing snake that got loose in South Florida and quickly gobbled its way across the Everglades.

“The overall goal is to limit the spread of these nonnative invasive species,” said agency spokesman Ken Warren. “We’ve already seen with the Burmese how they can get established and almost single-handedly wreck an ecosystem.”

Expected to become law in about a month, the measure could all but end the sale of the large constrictors being considered, including boa constrictors, reticulated pythons and three anacondas — the DeSchauensee’s anaconda, green anaconda and Beni anaconda.

Environmentalists applauded the measure as long overdue. Three years ago when Burmese pythons were restricted along with three other snakes, federal officials opted not to include the additional five and study the matter further.

“While we still need comprehensive solutions to address the snakes already in the Everglades, this is an important step toward making sure the problem doesn’t get worse,” said Julie Hill-Gabriel, Everglades policy director of Audubon Florida.

But reptile dealers and snake enthusiasts blasted the measure for applying a national solution to a South Florida problem.

“It’s absurd,” said Phil Goss, president of the United States Association of Reptile Keepers, which sued the federal government over the Burmese ban in 2013. “It’s overreach.”

Rather than make it harder to keep snakes and punish dealers, wildlife biologist Joe Wasilewski said officials should promote responsible pet ownership.

“The horse is already out of the barn. It’s a little too late to close the barn door,” he said. “You’re going to stop more from coming in. OK. But there’s a huge industry with boa constrictors.”

Ashe plans to announce the decision on the ruling Friday at the Arthur R. Marshall Loxahatchee National Wildlife in Boynton Beach, where earlier this year state officials hosted how-to classes for python hunters hoping to snag one of the invasive snakes in the wild.

An earlier version of this story inaccurately reported that restrictions were expected on all five constrictors.