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Interesting read.....and a picture

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Posted by: drimes at Wed Jan 10 07:03:28 2007   [ Email Message ] [ Show All Posts by drimes ]  

Every time there is a tragic unusual accident, the media gets into heated hysteria to milk the story, often not researching the subject and creating damage in the process by not presenting the whole picture.

Reporters especially love the fatal exotic animal mauling accidents, with reptile attacks being some of their favorite, turning them into sensationalized pieces resembling Hollywood horror movie scripts. Who needs to go to see Samuel Jackson’s "Snakes on the Plane" and deal with noisy popcorn eaters (and dangerous car drivers on cell phones to get there) when you get better entertainment reading morning paper in the safety and privacy of your home.

Private owners of captive reptiles, pet snakes especially, have been coming under ever increasing attacks from the media bandwagon, mostly fueled by the agenda of the AR (animal rights) activists groups. These organizations, under the guise of pretending to care for public safety, hide their real agenda: to end the captive keeping of animals.

The best way to discredit the claim that captive reptiles are a public safety issue and to show no need for more exotic animal over-regulation is to look at the real numbers. Facts don’t lie.

According to the Animal Protection Institute (API) website and various news sources, 17 people were killed by captive reptiles in the USA between 1995 and 2006, which is a one and a half death per year. (API is an animal rights group opposed to captive keeping of exotic and wild animals).

No fatalities were attributed to turtles or tortoises; two were supposedly caused by lizards. One fatality was blamed on salmonella infection supposedly contracted from a pet Iguana, second death was blamed on monitor lizards that were found in the house with their deceased owner. Out of the remaining 15 fatalities, 8 were caused by venomous snake bite and 7 by large constrictors.

None of these deaths were caused by reptiles at large. Instead, all victims were either individuals voluntarily on the property where the animals were kept, or were the owners themselves at their own homes. No members of the public have been killed by captive reptiles in USA since 1995.

Two deaths resulting from the venomous snake bites occurred during voluntary serpent handling religious services in the church, while the remaining 6 involved the owners at their own home at their own risk and discretion.

Two of the deaths caused by large constrictors occurred to the children of the snake owners, at their own home, resulting in the parents being rightfully charged with child endangerment, some also with reckless endangerment and involuntary manslaughter. The remaining five fatalities were owners themselves, whom have accepted and know extremely well the potential risk of their hobby (occupational hazard?).

It doesn’t matter if the child died as a result of an animal attack or by other everyday activity, like drowning in the pool. The parents are responsible for their children and other responsible owners of exotics should not be punished with unfair bans because of parental mistakes of others who just happened to be fellow exotic animal owners.

Now contrast the number of deaths to spinach in the last year (2006). According to the USDA, E. coli caused 199 infections, three deaths and 31 kidney failures nationwide. Add to this that fresh raw vegetables like lettuce, spinach, tomatoes and green onions were responsible for the illness or deaths of nearly 19,000 people nationwide over a five-year period.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), food borne diseases cause approximately 76 million illnesses, 325,000 hospitalizations, and 5,000 deaths in the United States each year. Known pathogens account for an estimated 14 million illnesses, 60,000 hospitalizations, and 1,800 deaths. Three pathogens, Salmonella, Listeria, and Toxoplasma, are responsible for 1,500 deaths each year, more than 75% of those caused by known pathogens, while unknown agents account for the remaining 62 million illnesses, 265,000 hospitalizations, and 3,200 deaths.

Furthermore, according to CDC study 1.4 million human Salmonella infections and an estimated 600 associated deaths occur each year in the United States. However, only 1% of human Salmonella infections are caused by the reptiles.

The CDC study also reported that in the wild, the colonization of Salmonella in iguanas and toads may be related to the eating of feces, which typically contaminates food and water; insects, soil, and pond water have all been shown to carry Salmonella. In the home, reptiles and amphibians might acquire Salmonella from being fed undercooked chicken or meat or by contact with household dust, all of which have the potential to contain Salmonella.
News reported that 23-year-old pregnant woman in Missouri fell ill after purchasing live rats and mice to feed her pet python. No salmonella was isolated from the culture of the snake feces, and the rodents and their cages weren't available for testing. The woman's prematurely born baby also had salmonella and was in intensive care for 56 days before going home.

What this means is that many captive reptiles might not be the primary source of infection, they got infected by their food, raw chicken, eggs and vegetables, the same food their human owners ate.

No one is advocating banning fresh vegetables or eggs, even thought they are a greater threat to public health and safety than reptiles. Considering animal rights groups advocate vegan and vegetarian diets, it seems a little hypocritical to advocate banning captive reptiles in the name of public safety when advocating a diet that causes far more risk to health and life for the general public than any captive reptile.

The odd of being killed by a captive reptile is therefore extremely low. With the current US population being 297,618,284, with one death occurring every 13-14 seconds, this translates to approximately 2,440,000 US deaths per year. With this in mind, the alleged threat of captive reptiles being a public safety issue seems ridiculous with the yearly odds of dying by captive reptile being one in 198,412,189 equaling one and a half fatalities per year.

You have a better chance of winning the lottery Jackpot (1 in 13,983,816, all six winning numbers selected) or even the elusive Mega Millions Lottery jackpot (1 in 175,711,536), than being killed by a captive reptile (1 in 198,412,189). But you must visit someone with a captive reptile to get those odds. Now compare that to deaths by escaped captive reptiles….hmm, can’t find those numbers since nobody ever died as a result of captive reptile running loose. Animal Rights groups claim to want more regulation and/or banning ownership of reptiles in the name of public safety. The odds just don’t add up.

Still, where are the escaped rampaging reptiles killing people and endangering the safety of the general public? More people have died from a runaway NASCAR vehicle than runaway (escaped) reptiles. Shouldn’t we ban racecars?

The best evidence of escaped reptiles not posing a threat to humans would be a situation currently happening in Florida’s Everglades National Park.

It appears that some irresponsible owners of Burmese pythons (non venomous constrictors native to Southeast Asia growing to 20 feet) have released their overgrown pets into the park. These pythons have a preference for rabbits, rodents or birds and are not attacking Florida’s burgeoning human population.

The Burmese python is an ambush predator that tends to wait in one place until prey walks by. The real threat is not to the human safety, but rather to the ecosystem of the park being invaded by non native species. It is already against the law to release exotic animals into the wild, so more unfair regulations or bans will only punish the law abiding responsible owners who are not the problem to begin with.

When in Florida, humans should be more concerned about native wild alligators, cougars and sharks when it comes to public safety.

If the AR groups really care about saving human lives, they should concentrate on the table at the end of this paper.

Now, how scared should we be of captive privately owned reptiles, and how scared should we be of everyday life?

Assuming responsible reptile owners with proper enclosures (with locked doors, secured roofing or in the case of large lizards and crocodilians, double fence inverted toward the inside to prevent climbing over the top to prevent escape) to keep the animals in and the curious public out and to avoid easy trespassing, the best course of action to avoid being killed by a captive reptile is to simply avoid the properties where they are being kept. Can you do that with the rest of your life activities like those outlined below?

Your lifetime Odds of Dying by a captive reptile in USA are 1-in-2,681,245.

The figures below are for US residents, and are based on 2001, the most recent year for which complete data are available. Other odds, indicated with an asterisk (*) are based on long-term data.

Cause of Death
Lifetime Odds

Heart Disease 1-in-5
Cancer 1-in-7
Stroke 1-in-23
Accidental Injury 1-in-36
Motor Vehicle Accident* 1-in-100
Intentional Self-harm (suicide) 1-in-121
Falling Down 1-in-246
Assault by Firearm 1-in-325
Fire or Smoke 1-in-1,116
Natural Forces (heat, cold, storms, quakes, etc.) 1-in-3,357
Electrocution* 1-in-5,000
Drowning 1-in-8,942
Air Travel Accident* 1-in-20,000
Flood* (included also in Natural Forces above) 1-in-30,000
Legal Execution 1-in-58,618
Tornado* (included also in Natural Forces above) 1-in-60,000
Lightning Strike (included also in Natural Forces above) 1-in-83,930
Snake, Bee or other Venomous Bite or Sting* 1-in-100,000
Earthquake (included also in Natural Forces above) 1-in-131,890
Dog Attack 1-in-147,717
Asteroid Impact* 1-in-200,000**

Fireworks Discharge 1-in-615,488
Captive Reptile related fatalities in USA 1-in-2,681,245
Captive Exotic Cat related fatalities in USA 1-in-4,000,000

** Perhaps 1-in-500,000

SOURCES: National Center for Health Statistics, CDC; American Cancer Society; National Safety Council; International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies; World Health Organization; USGS; Clark Chapman, SwRI; David Morrison, NASA; Michael Paine, Planetary Society Australian Volunteers

Are you still worried about captive exotic animal attacks?

Copyright2007 © Zuzana Kukol & Scott Shoemaker


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