FL Snake Breeders, Owners To Protest Rules Making Some Snakes Illegal

FLORIDA — In the wake of the controversial slaughter of 35 snakes last month, members of the United States Association of Reptile Keepers, Florida, plan to attend the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission meeting in Miami Thursday to protest a proposal to further limit the ownership and sale of nonnative reptiles in Florida.

The protest comes in the wake of the April 6 event that USARK dubbed the “Holy Thursday Massacre.” On that day, FWC officers entered a licensed reptile-breeding facility in Broward County and slaughtered 35 snakes including the owner’s 11-year-old pet snake, Big Shirl, a rare Red Dragon boa constrictor, that was pregnant at the time.

Not only was the slaughter unnecessary because the snakes were being housed in a concrete facility where there was no chance of them escaping into the wild, but Orlando veterinarian Dr. Ivan Alfonso, an expert in reptiles, said the FWC officers used a bolt gun to kill the snakes, a method that is painful and considered cruel by the American Veterinary Medical Association.

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“There was no urgency in this case,” said Alfonso. “If actually necessary, this should have been conducted by a licensed veterinarian or properly trained veterinary health professional.”

A video taken of the snake slaughter shows Big Shirl writhing in pain on the floor for more than 20 minutes after the FWC officers administered a single bolt charge to her head.

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Related: Vet Calls FWC Slaughter Of 35 Pet Snakes ‘Cruel,’ ‘Unconscionable’

At the commission meeting, USARKFL spokesman Daniel Parker said reptile keepers are expected to demand a change in the direction of the FWC regarding rules regulating nonnative species.

FWC commissioners are meeting in Miami Wednesday and Thursday to discuss proposed rules and actions. An item on the commission’s meeting agenda, scheduled for discussion on Thursday morning, includes a draft rule to further crack down on imports of pet and food animals to prevent the possibility of these nonnative animal species escaping or being intentionally released into the wild.

Parker said the new rules will essentially put thousands of reptile breeders in Florida out of business and “would likely be the loss of tens of thousands of jobs and hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue to family farms and small businesses dealing in livestock.”

The FWC commission meeting can be viewed live at thefloridachannel.org.

The FWC has been grappling with a growing population of nonnative animals, especially reptiles including green iguanas, tegus, boa constrictors and reticulated pythons, that have been released into the wild, endangering native species by eating the eggs of threatened birds and tortoises, and preying on rodents and other animals that are the major food source of native species like the Florida panther.

Video Of Snake Slaughter

The video also shows FWC Officer Lex Corteguera pulling a pet Burmese python, named Sweetie because of its sweet disposition, out of a cage and killing it with a bolt gun.

Afterward, Corteguera can be seen on video directing FWC Officer Jonathan Wright to take a cell phone photo of him holding “Sweetie,” as if the pet snake was a trophy kill, before tossing the dead snake into a trash can.

In addition to slaughtering the snakes at the Broward County breeding facility owned by Bill McAdam, USARKFL learned that, on April 5, Wright confiscated and killed a 16-year-old tame pet reticulated python named Frederick owned by a Pembroke Pines teen, Onya Golightly.

Wright told Onya’s father, Daniel Golightly, that the snake would be “rehomed.” However, according to an FWC incident report, Wright killed Frederick with a bolt gun on April 6. Daniel Golightly said his daughter was devastated when she learned the fate of her pet snake.

In a statement posted on the FWC website, the FWC apologized for the slaughter of the snakes, saying, “This mistake is being taken seriously, and we are examining our procedures to ensure similar events like this don’t happen again.”

All of the FWC officers involved in the slaughter are still employed.

The slaughter of the snakes last month in Broward County stems from a rule approved by FWC commissioners on Feb. 25, 2021, that placed 16 “high-risk” nonnative reptiles on Florida’s list of prohibited species. While these nonnative reptiles can be used for education and research, only the green iguana and tegu are permitted to be sold commercially and kept as pets.

Following passage of the new rule on nonnative species, the United States Association of Reptile Keepers, Florida, fought to have the licenses of existing breeders grandfathered in, arguing their reptiles are kept in contained indoor cages as required by state law so they can’t escape. and they are regularly inspected by the FWC so they pose no threat to native wildlife.

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However, the FWC refused to yield and those in possession of prohibited reptiles were ordered to “liquidate their inventory.”

However, Parker said any actions by the FWC were placed on hold after USARKFL filed a motion for a summary judgement to a lawsuit it filed in Leon County Circuit Court challenging the new FWC rule.

USARKFL is asking the court to decide whether the FWC has violated the constitutional rights of reptile breeders to raise and sell reptiles that are kept in indoor cages and pose no threat to native wildlife. USARKFL maintains that the rule essentially puts hundreds of reptile

Bill McAdam, who owns the reptile breeding facility in Broward County where the snakes were slaughtered, has a Class III wildlife license issued by the state, which allows him to exhibit, sell, import and own prohibited reptiles as personal pets.

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