Congress asked to weigh ban on Burmese pythons
An estimated 100,000 of the snakes have infested a top federal park in Florida
July 8, 2009
WASHINGTON, D.C. - U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson in testimony today pressed Congress for a federal ban on pet pythons.
His call before a Senate environment panel came in the wake of a Burmese python strangling to death a two-year-old girl in Sumter County, Florida. Her tragic death happened last week in a rural community just northwest of Orlando.
Nelson had been warning about the dangers from the exotic pet snakes since February when he filed legislation to ban the importation of Burmese pythons. One of the biggest problems his legislation targets is pet owners abandoning their snakes in places like the Everglades, where the snakes now are an invasive species threatening wildlife and, some fear, humans.
By the estimate of a top federal biologist there are 100,000-or-more pythons in the Everglades. "The crown jewel of our national park system has been transformed into a hunting ground for these predators," Nelson testified before the Environment and Public Works Subcommittee on Water and Wildlife. "It's just a matter of time before one of these snakes gets to a visitor."
But it was a tragedy involving a little girl named Shaiunna Hare that kept lawmakers' attention at Thursday's hearing in the nation's capital.
"An eight foot albino Burmese python escaped from its container, slithered through the house and up into a crib where two-year-old Shaiunna lay asleep," Nelson said. "The snake bit the child and wrapped itself around her body. By the time the paramedics had arrived, the child was already dead from asphyxiation."
Sadly, Shaiunna's story is not an isolated one.
Over the last ten years, according to the Humane Society, at least 17 people have been attacked by pythons. Seven have died.
He asked lawmakers to pass his bill that would classify pythons as an injurious animal. The bill also would stop the importation of these snakes between states. This is of particular importance because the U.S. Geological Service says roughly a third of the country is considered a suitable habitat.
Florida officials have been working on their end to get a handle on the problem.
They now require a yearly registration fee. Owners must display knowledge of handling and care. And snakes are micro-chipped - so if one gets loose there's a chance of catching it.
"It's time for the federal government to step up and address this ecological crisis," Nelson said. "We must change the law and we must do it quickly."
Nelson's bill must face a vote before the full Environment Committee; while other witnesses Wednesday agreed it offered a cost-effective solution.
"Preventing the introduction and spread of non-native invasive species . . . is the most cost-effective way," said Gary Frazier, an assistant director for Fisheries and Habitat Conservation with the Fish and Wildlife Service.