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PA Press x2: Owning exotic snake legal

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Posted by: W von Papinešu at Tue Aug 17 09:51:32 2010  [ Report Abuse ] [ Email Message ] [ Show All Posts by W von Papinešu ]  

PUBLIC OPINION (Chambersburg, Pennsylvania) 14 August 10 Chambersburg man bitten by snake listed in stable condition
Chambersburg resident Barry Lee Painter Sr., 38, who was bitten by a pet viper Wednesday, was listed in stable condition Saturday evening at Community General Hospital in Harrisburg, according to a hospital spokeswoman.
Pennsylvania State Police in Chambersburg reported Thursday that Painter was intoxicated and playing with a venomous western Gaboon viper at a home in Cumberland County when he was bitten.
It took hours to find antivenin.
Painter's family said he could still lose his hand.
After Painter was bitten, his friend Michael E. Keefer began driving him to Chambersburg Hospital, according to police. They apparently did not make it there before Painter lost consciousness.
Troopers met the car at a gas station off of Exit 20 in Greene Township.
Painter was taken to Chambersburg Hospital, then flown by helicopter to Harrisburg.

PUBLIC OPINION (Chambersburg, Pennsylvania) 14 August 10 Owning an exotic snake is legal in Pa. (Jim Hook)
Owning an exotic poisonous snake is perfectly legal in Pennsylvania, as long as the species is not on the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species list.
The state prohibits possession of native venomous snakes -- the timber rattlesnake, copperhead and eastern massasauga. But ownership of a western Gaboon viper or other non-native venomous snake is OK.
"In Pennsylvania you do not need a license to own an exotic pet," said Greg Curry, who owns a python in Greencastle.
It's also OK by federal law.
"There's no real federal involvement with the possession of a snake unless it's endangered or there's evidence it was smuggled into the country," said Neil Mendelsohn, assistant special agent with the Northeast region of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
The agency may list exotic constrictors as "injurious species," which would restrict owning them, but there are no exotic vipers on the injurious species list. Constrictors have been escaping in Florida and reproducing.
Owning a poisonous snake carries an obvious risk. A person bitten by a viper is usually treated with antivenin. Most hobbyists don't keep the expensive antivenin on hand.
"Getting the proper antivenin to the person is a major issue," said David Long, a Shippensburg University biology professor who has a lifelong interest in snakes. "I think snakes are wonderful to keep as pets. I don't think venomous snakes should be kept by the average Joe. That's where machismo comes in. I can see the attraction, but I never thought it was worth the risk."
Zoos keep antivenin on the back door of their snake exhibits, he said.
Antivenin for a western Gaboon viper is not as expensive as antivenin for native snake species, according to Capt. Jeffrey Fobb of the Miami-Dade Fire Rescue Venom Response Unit. He estimates that the antivenin costs less than $500 a vial. offers a gram of western Gaboon antivenin for $231.
The amount of antivenin required in treatment depends on the level of the snake's aggravation, Fobb said. The snake can control the dose of venom. An adult western Gaboon viper can have fangs 2 inches long and equally large venom glands.
Barry Painter Sr.'s snake was a pretty large viper, he said.
Western Gaboon vipers average 3 feet long.
A sizable bite will require about 20 vials of antivenin to treat, according to Fobb.
That $10,000 total is quite a bit less than the $185,000 it cost to treat a person struck by a native pygmy rattlesnake in Florida, Fobb said. The rattlesnake-bite victim was in the emergency room and intensive care unit for almost three days.
Antivenin for an exotic species typically is stored at a zoo or research facility that has that species of snake, Fobb said. It has a shelf life of two to five years. The Miami venom response unit stocks 49 types of antivenin.
"In the last 30 years interest in keeping reptiles as pets has increased," Long said.
Owning a venomous snake is graduating to the next level of the hobby, according to Curry. He has handled snakes for most of his 53 years and spent two seasons caring for reptiles at the Catoctin Mountain Zoo in Thurmont, Md.
"It's fascinating, but you have to be careful," Curry said. "It's never a good idea to buy something you're not familiar with, especially a viper."
Reptile shows are conducted across the country. Two are in Hamburg, where vendors set up in a field house and sell everything from cages to feeder mice to snakes. The shows in Hamburg are "hot" because venomous snakes are sold there, Curry said.
"Most animals (at the shows) are captive bred, so they don't take them out of the wild," Long said. "The Gaboon has been around a long time, and I'm sure someone is breeding them."
About 99 percent of snake bites in the U.S. are from pit vipers, such as rattlesnakes and copperheads.
The U.S. experiences fewer than 10 deaths a year from snake bites. Most fatalities are from eastern and western diamondback rattlesnake bites.
Fobb said the Miami venom response unit answered calls for 70 snake bites last year and 115 in 2008. Historically fewer than one percent are from non-native snakes, he said.
"Snakes are escape artists," Long said. "I almost always find them."
Long said one of the real dangers of having exotic poisonous snakes is that the neighbors probably don't know that a snake collector lives next door, and may not be wary enough for their children's safety.


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