Federal ban on Burmese python may affect Massachusetts’ residents

By Mounira Al Hmoud

BOSTON – A federal ban on the importation and interstate transportation of certain types of snakes is not likely to have a major impact in Massachusetts at first sight, but some in the pet industry and pet owners could be affected.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service added four types of non-native snake species as injurious under the Lacey Act, which forbids their importation and interstate transportation after March 23. The four species are the North and South African python, also called Rock python, the yellow anaconda, and the Burmese python.

The Lacey Act is a conservation law aimed at protecting plants and wildlife by creating civil and criminal penalties for trade violations

Sen. Marc R. Pacheco, D-Taunton, chairman of the Joint Committee on Environment, Natural Resources, and Agriculture said Massachusetts already has one of the strictest statutes.

“Some of the creatures are not well suited for the climate that we have and it is not good neither for them or for the human population that those animals are owned,” said Pacheco. “The federal ban is fairly restrictive and Massachusetts’ law is too.”

Massachusetts does not allow private citizens to own North and South African pythons and anacondas anyway. However permits can be issued for zoological, scientific and educational purposes. Burmese pythons are the only ones that private citizens can own without having a permit.

Thomas French, assistant director of Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife, says the federal ban is not likely to affect Massachusetts’ pet shops.

“About 700 private citizens have Burmese pythons as pets, they can be sold in pet stores and this is where the change will be,” said French. “Pet industries say it is going to hurt them financially, but I don’t think so because the average person does not buy them, they are too big. Owners of Burmese pythons are really into pets and they get them from elsewhere anyway.”

Ray Ward, owner of Bwana Iguana Reptile Adventure, an educational and entertainment company in Rhode Island, says the ban could be legally problematic and have a financial impact on the pet industry.

“Some people who make supplemental income by providing frozen rodents for python owners will have to stop if they are no more pythons,” he said.

The Burmese python is native to Southeast Asia. It is one of the largest snake species, reaching lengths of up to 20-ft. It can swallow prey four to five times as wide as their heads, according to Washington National Zoo website.

Animals listed as injurious in the legislation have either demonstrated that they are harmful, or have the potential to be harmful to either the health and welfare of humans, the interests of forestry, agriculture, or horticulture, (…) wildlife, or the resources that wildlife depend on, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Richard K. Sullivan Jr., the secretary of Energy and Environmental Affairs, said the ban was designed to protect other species in Southern states, particularly Florida.

“These species have established a breeding foothold in the Everglades,” said Sullivan. “There is no fear of these snakes becoming an established species here because of our winters – even the mildest ones.”

The ban does not affect present owners, which means they can keep them. But they cannot buy new ones or transport them across state lines.

Rhode Island’ Senate is debating a bill that would make the ownership of alligators, crocodiles, pythons, and boa constrictors punishable by a fine of $1,000 or more. Pacheco said if the bill passes, it would bring Rhode Island’s legislation closer to Massachusetts’.

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