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What to do about large reptiles?

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Posted by: rugbyman2000 at Wed Aug 9 20:33:28 2006  [ Report Abuse ] [ Email Message ] [ Show All Posts by rugbyman2000 ]  
   

It was a "BIG Summer" for our nonprofit reptile rescue, especially if you measured it by the average size of our rescued herps. Last year we received about a dozen Sulcatta Tortoises, which made for a fun and worry-free summer of herbivorous grazing. This year brought us some of the largest carnivorous reptiles in the world, which was anything but a care-free experience.

In June our rescue saw several large constrictors. A couple 8-ft Burmese Pythons started it all off, followed by a run of four Red Tail Boa Constrictors, and also a couple Ball Pythons. Those are just the snakes which actually made it to the rescue. We had calls for several others which never showed up here.

Somehow our July theme switched from constrictors to crocodilians. Our previous record for gator calls in one month was 10, set back in February of 2006. July dwarfed that figure, however, bringing about 20 unwanted alligator calls! We received calls from state and local police forces, several animal shelters, soldiers who were shipping out, kids who were leaving home, parents whose kids had already left . . . the gator calls just kept coming! When my phone rang, I started to anticipate another alligator request before I even picked up the phone . . . and I was usually right!

At one point WHP News 21 (Harrisburg) called to ask for our help with an abandoned alligator story they were covering. Later, when Jack Hubley was at the rescue filming a Wild Moments special about our Alligator Invasion, I received a voicemail that made me laugh, and I handed him the phone so he could hear it. Soon we were both laughing. It was the Harrisburg Humane Society looking for our help, because the Mayor's office wanted some answers about the gator that had turned up by the Susquehana. There was just something inherantly comical about getting an urgent call from the Mayor's office in the Northeast demanding answers about an Alligator, of all things.

Although most of our calls were for gators and pythons, we also had our routine Iguana calls in high numbers. We usually don't accept iguanas at the rescue because we can't place them as fast as they come in. We bent the rules and accepted two iguanas this summer, and turned away several more, asking owners to list them on our website's Public Adoption Forum. Usually we get more iguana calls than any other herp, but alligators were the most common request this summer.

On the smaller side, we did have a few "little critters" come through the rescue. We picked up two sickly Emperor Scorpions in East Pete, although one was D.O.A. A 2-yr-old Corn Snake also came from the same home, after the landlord enforced a "no pets" rule. A Northern Pine Snake was the only "first" for the rescue this summer. It turned up in someone's driveway. Luckily for the snake, he chose a driveway owned by somebody who realized it wasn't native. Eventually it came into the rescue with its trademark warning behavior of hissing and tail rattling. One week and a shed-cycle later, it revealed a beautiful black and white pattern.

The highlight of my summer was my educational shows. I had the opportunity to visit about sixty events in ten counties with my reptiles. This was my first opportunity to have a full-time reptile job, and I have to admit, I loved every minute of it. It was really great to be out in the community meeting people, and also educating the public about the critters we all love so much.

At many of my shows, my live alligator commentary included a question for the audience: "Do you think Alligators make good pets?" Overwhelmingly, hundreds of little kids knew the obvious answer -- no way! In many of our surrounding states, like NJ, NY, DE, and MD, state regulations restrict the ownership of many of the problematic herp species which have plagued our rescue this summer (and which are legal in Pennsylvania and a handful of other states). More often than not, it seems like crocodilians and large constrictors give our hobby a bad name, because very few of them end up in good homes. The combination of a low sticker price and a huge adult size seems to attract the wrong type of buyers.

It's a sad story of the unscrupulous selling the unkeepable to the ignorant, and it's nothing new in our hobby. Unfortunately, the effects of these problem pets are mounting, and some states are starting to enact major bans on reptile ownership. Usually by the time the states get involved, they are ready to ban most reptiles, not just the problem species. This causes me to wonder if the states with ZERO regulation of exotic herps should have state law regulating the ownership of large constrictors, crocodilians, venomous species, and possibley iguanas too. Perhaps if the herp community proactively suggested a good set of herp regs to state legislature, it would keep them from eventually drafting laws that restrict the less problematic herps. If it was illegal to buy and sell burms and crocs, their production would eventually slow down.

I hope our rescue's "BIG Summer" can stimulate discussion on the lack of exotic herp laws in a handful of states, and how it effects our hobby. I know we're not the only rescue with this problem. Should we have more laws restricting ownership and sale of problematic species? How should those laws be shaped?

Ideas, anyone?





Officer Heckart and Jack Hubley stop by the rescue, both on official gator business.
-----
Jesse Rothacker
Forgotten Friend Reptile Sanctuary
www.forgottenfriend.org


   

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