Friday, November 6, 2009

Congress to Consider Python Ban; Noted Reptile Experts Question Science

/PRNewswire/ -- Today a U.S. House Subcommittee will consider H.R. 2811 a bill that could determine the fate of much of the reptile trade in the United States. Introduced by U.S. Representative Kendrick Meek (D-FL), who recently announced his candidacy for the U.S. Senate, the bill could add the entire genus python to the Injurious Wildlife list of the Lacey Act; a designation reserved for only the most dangerous alien invaders to our natural eco-system. Such a move would prevent all import, export, and interstate transport of pythons in the U.S. The scientific justification for such a move hinges on a recently published report of the United States Geological Survey (USGS) entitled 'Risk Assessment of Nine Large Constricting Snakes', which paints a picture of large constrictor snakes on the verge of taking over much of the U.S.

Proponents of H.R. 2811 including the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) are quick to suggest potential environmental harm from trade in large constrictor snakes, and have hailed the 300-page USGS report as "erasing any doubt."

However, critics of a python ban maintain the science is simply not there to justify such a move. "H.R. 2811 aims to legislate science," responded Andrew Wyatt, president of the United States Association of Reptile Keepers (USARK), a national trade association advocating responsible private ownership of, and trade in reptiles. "There exists a scientific process at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to make these types of determinations. For sake of expediency, or political gain, Congress appears intent on destroying a viable industry and forcing reptiles out of the homes of responsible owners," added Wyatt. "The scientific basis for such an action is simply not there."

Over the past 60 years, the practice of keeping reptiles has changed from an obscure hobby to an incredibly widespread and mainstream part of the American experience. With over 5 million Americans involved, and thousands of small businesses, the reptile trade in the U.S. is reported to represent 3 billion dollars annually.

Dr. Elliott Jacobson, Professor of Zoological Medicine at University of Florida, and a highly respected expert in reptile biology also remains unconvinced on the science. "Although the USGS Report is an attempt to assess the ability of large constrictor snakes to invade substantial areas of the US, it is an oversimplification of a very complicated topic," said Dr. Jacobson. "The fact that the boa constrictor can be found in Mexico near the Arizona border, but has never entered the U.S. means there are factors operating that cannot be explained by this report."

H.R. 2811 will receive a hearing in the U.S. House Judiciary Committee, Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism & Homeland Security, 2141 Rayburn House Office Building at 10:00AM.

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