Politics & Government

N.C. moves to tighten reptile laws

RALEIGH — The Burmese python can grow longer than 20 feet, produce several dozen offspring in a litter and devour small children and pets. In North Carolina, it has a new natural enemy: the lawmaker.

There could be thousands of exotic, deadly snakes slithering loose in the state with the potential to harm, in addition to people and animals, entire ecosystems. This is not to mention the possibility of crocodiles.

But the legislature is likely to give final approval next week to a bill that would restrict the ownership and prevent the escape of venomous and large constrictor snakes, as well other dangerous reptiles.

The bill adds provisions to a law that hasn't been updated since 1949, when large snakes were less of a problem. In the intervening decades, perhaps abetted by Alice Cooper, Nastassja Kinski and wrestler Jake the Snake, the reptiles have gained a certain popularity as household pets.

The bill, which received preliminary approval Thursday in the House and has already passed the Senate, would require these reptiles to be housed and transported in escape-proof containers and would punish people for violating safety precautions.

While it seems like common sense to not let deadly animals escape, that hasn't stopped it from happening.

"Snakes are escape artists," said Andy Wood, an education director for the N.C. Audubon society, who has handled snakes since he was young. "And they escape due to human error."

In North Carolina, Wood said, he regularly sees evidence of these escaped creatures in the wild, and there could be a thousand slithering around the state. He once found the skin of a 20-foot python under a house, where it had survived the winter.

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