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IL" Law would put the squeeze on state's

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Posted by: EricWI at Thu Feb 16 14:58:17 2012  [ Report Abuse ] [ Email Message ] [ Show All Posts by EricWI ]  

Law would put the squeeze on state's reptile business

A local reptile breeder wants to educate the public and lawmakers about changes to the exotic animal law being considered in Springfield.

Justin Guyer has been interested in reptiles since he was five years old. In college he took extra science and biology classes to learn more about them. He often spends his free time looking for, photographing and documenting local species. He breeds boa constrictors and pythons as well as other exotic reptiles.

But a new law updating the state's dangerous animal regulations would outlaw many of the animals he works with. He wants to educate the public and lawmakers before the new law is passed.

"Laws must be passed based on facts and science," Guyer said. "Not sensationalism, fear and ignorance."

Agency spokesman Chris McCloud said the Illinois Department of Natural Resources is pushing for a rewrite of the state's dangerous animal laws because the statutes haven't been beefed up since 1969.

"This is something we had thought about for a while. We thought it would be a good time to do something," McCloud said. "Clearly, the case in Ohio brought some publicity to it."

According to existing Illinois law, no person may harbor, care for, act as a custodian, or maintain in his possession any dangerous animal or primate except at a properly maintained zoological park, federally licensed exhibit, circus, scientific institution, research laboratory, veterinary hospital or animal refuge.

"Dangerous animal" means a lion, tiger, leopard, ocelot, jaguar, cheetah, margay, mountain lion, lynx, bobcat, jaguarundi, bear, hyena, wolf, coyote, or any poisonous life-threatening reptile. There are no state requirements for a person possessing other exotic species not defined as "dangerous animals."

Senate Bill 3264 filed recently by state Sen. Heather Steans, D-Chicago, would update guidelines for permits, transportation and record-keeping for exotic animal owners. The law affects people who own a variety of wild game, including lions, tigers, cougars and leopards. It also covers the owners of bears, hyenas, elephants, gila monsters, kangaroos, wallabies, scorpions and certain dangerously venomous spiders. The proposed update also addresses a number of types of snakes, including boas and pythons.

The proposal has drawn the attention of reptile owners, like Guyer, who are concerned the proposal is too broad.

Guyer says the exotic animal business is an entire industry composed of breeders, collectors, suppliers and shippers.

"I am a registered business," Guyer said. "I pay taxes, buy supplies at Rural King and Wal-Mart, and spend thousands of dollars to ship animals across the country."

Guyer specializes in ball pythons and genetic variations of the breed, but also breeds other snakes and reptiles. An ordinary small ball python sells for around $30, an albino can go for $400 to $500, an albino jaguar carpet ball could sell for $20,000.

"You don't make a pet of $20,000 python," Guyer said.

Money is not the only consideration. "You have to love these animals to work with them," he added.

Most snakes in the wild only breed every two to three years. They typically lay from five to 10 eggs. "It is not hard to breed them, but conditions must be right," Guyer said.

Last year he hatched about 300 snakes and shipped them all over the lower 48 states. He keeps around 250 in inventory and for breeding purposes. He also raises some of his own feed animals in addition to purchasing frozen carcasses.

Guyer said reptile lovers need to band together.

"We have to get our side out there," he said. "We have an obligation to the animals and the public; we can't be putting them in people's faces, we have to be respectful."

Guyer often does educational seminars for kids and the public about snakes and other reptiles. He said he would be happy to help educate law enforcement or politicians about snakes.

Andrew Wyatt, chief executive owner of the U.S. Association of Reptile Keepers, said the organization plans to fight the proposal, which would alter state laws for people who own boas, pythons and anacondas.

"Essentially, this would ban private ownership," Wyatt said. "I'm not particularly happy about it. Reptiles had nothing to do with what happened in Zanesville, Ohio."

In the Ohio case, police officers were forced to kill more than 50 animals after their owner let them loose and killed himself.

Guyer pointed out that those were fur-barring animals. "Boas and pythons could not survive an Illinois winter," he said.

McCloud said ownership of dangerous animals has changed., and that the proposal is not a done deal.

"This is just the introduction. I think the staff is open to hearing comments from folks," McCloud said. "We would like to have comments from everyone."

SB 3264 is being reviewed by the Agricultural Committee.


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>> Next Message:  RE: IL" Law would put the squeeze on state's - marcp, Thu Feb 16 20:34:18 2012