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August 09, 2013

Yes, That’s the Tolling of a Wake Up Call…Again.

For years, The HSUS warned Ohio policy makers about the madness of allowing private citizens to keep dangerous wild animals as pets. They ignored the issue, or what to me is more incriminating, they bowed to the influence and pressure of the rowdy band of exotic animal owners who claimed it was their right to have any animals they want.

Pretty much every sane person got clarity on the issue in 2011 after Terry Thompson released nearly 50 large dangerous wild animals in Zanesville, just before taking his own life. Law enforcement personnel dramatically hunted the creatures down as dusk enveloped the eastern Ohio town, in an attempt to protect the community from the tigers, grizzly bears and cougars that were on the loose.

Burmese python
William Warby/Flickr

The question is, why risk the lives of people and animals just so someone can claim bragging rights by having a big powerful animal in his control? Hey, I get the human-animal bond as well as anyone, but that can be satisfied with a domesticated dog or cat. Getting your animal fix need not require a chimp or a tiger or a boa constrictor. The risks far exceed the rewards for society. And yes, we are members of a society, with a collective set of rules. It’s not a free-for-all, where we do anything we wish, regardless of the consequences.

So this brings me to Monday's incident, where a 100-pound African rock python escaped from a New Brunswick apartment above a pet store and found its way into an adjacent room and killed two little boys by asphyxiating them.

Even though it occurred over the national border in Canada, will this be our wake-up moment in the United States on the reckless trade in large constricting snakes? Do we have to have a mass release of pythons or anacondas in a community, a colonization of a fragile ecosystem and destruction of the native wildlife, the death or injury of more innocent people, the demise of thousands of more large constricting snakes in trade, in order to get clarity on this situation?

Eighteen months ago, the Obama administration took a half step on the issue, banning trade in just four of nine large constricting snakes that the U.S. Geological Survey had recommended for listing under the Lacey Act. Amazingly enough, it was the hollering of reptile breeders and snake owners – and their false claims about an outrageously large economic impact – that prevented the White House from taking stronger action.

With the election now in the rear-view mirror, it’s time for the Obama administration to complete the job. One of Vermont’s largest papers, The Brattleboro Reformer, weighed in on the issue today with authority and clarity. The paper has it just right, and it’s my hope that the new interior secretary and the White House will act with all deliberate speed to get a new policy in place. There’s no compelling rationale for inaction. We should not wait until crises happen before we enact sensible policies. We should prevent problems before they occur.

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