Bill aims to keep Everglades free of exotic pets

The Miami HeraldMay 18, 2009 

An alligator basks in the midday sun at Everglades National Park in Florida.

CHAS METIVIER — KRT

Water managers dispatched two experts to Washington, D.C., recently to back a controversial congressional bill targeting an Everglades problem that seems to get bigger every year.

The latest, largest evidence emerged last week: A Burmese python stretching 16 ½ feet, the longest yet of hundreds, perhaps thousands of the exotic constrictors the South Florida Water Management District has pulled off its lands and levees in the past few years.

More sobering: The female, found on the L-67 levee south of Tamiami Trail, was pregnant, carrying a clutch of 59 eggs – more proof the giant snakes are breeding in the wild.

"These are not little snakes running around. These are massive, dangerous animals," said district spokesman Randy Smith.

The surge of invasive serpents is the prime reason the district, which oversees 2.2 million acres of state-owned marshlands, has thrown its support behind a House bill that could end the import and breeding not just of pythons, but a whole host of tropical invaders that have settled in South Florida.

But at its first hearing in April, the bill ran into what a cosponsor quipped was a "hornet's nest of opposition" from pet owners, breeders, hobbyists and pet stores. They expressed outrage to lawmakers in telephone calls, e-mails and YouTube videos – including one titled Pets in Peril, Politicians Gone Wild – arguing that the legislation would bar the ownership of anything more exotic than a Doberman or a Siamese cat.

"One-third of our nation has nonnative species as pets, and apart from dogs, cats and goldfish, which are exempt [in the bill], virtually every species in those homes falls under" the legislation, said Marshall Meyers, chief executive officer of the Pet Industry Joint Advisory Council. The board of directors of the trade group – which comprises pet retailers, wholesalers and hobbyists – spans the spectrum from executives with retail giants Petsmart and PETCO to the owner of the Gourmet Rodent in Jonesville, Fla.

The bill, warned Meyers in a "pet alert" summoning pet owners to action, "could shut down major segments of the pet industry virtually overnight."

To read the complete article, visit www.miamiherald.com.

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