Injurious? Those Pythons?


     (CN) - The Secretary of the Interior illegally barred from importation three species of pythons and an anaconda as "injurious," which will cost snake traders as much as $100 million a year, the United States Association of Reptile Keepers claims in Federal Court.
     The Department of the Interior and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service have prohibited importation of four species of constrictors - the Burmese python, Northern African python, Southern African python, and yellow anaconda - "largely based on the assumption that Burmese pythons, at least, 'could find suitable climatic conditions in roughly a third of the United States,'" the snake people say in their federal lawsuit.
     Thousands of escaped or released pythons are believed to live in the Everglades today, gobbling up birds, mammals, other reptiles, and whatever they can find. Hobbyists often release them after they become too big to handle.
     The largest python, the reticulated python, can grow to more than 30 feet.
     But the United States Association of Reptile Keepers (USARK) says that's no reason to ban importation of these constrictors.
     "USARK represents all segments of the reptile industry, including breeders, hobbyists, trade show promoters, service providers, scientists, and equipment manufacturers who rely on, trade in, and gain enjoyment from the breeding and maintenance of large, non-native constricting snakes," the lawsuit states.
     "While this segment represents a niche within the larger reptile industry, and the United States pet industry at large, many thousands of small businesses are financially reliant on this trade. In particular, collectors and hobbyists earn substantial revenues from breeding and selling what are referred to as 'morphs,' selectively bred snakes displaying unique colors and genetic traits not found in the species as they exist in the wild. Such morphs can sell for tens of thousands of dollars each. ...
     "In an economic study commissioned by USARK, it was shown that the vast majority of reptile businesses are small, individual or family-run entities, that the reptile industry as a whole generated revenues of $1.0 billion to $1.4 billion per year, and that 4.7 million households evenly distributed throughout the United States own one or several reptile species. Annual revenues generated by the large constricting snake segment exceed $100 million."
     USARK claims that the business is entirely dependent on interstate transportation of snakes, particularly through trade shows.
     It claims that members of the armed forces will be particularly affected: "a large portion of the industry's customer base are men and women in the armed services who tend to own large reptiles, including the species at issue, in larger proportion than the public as a whole. Military personnel are subject to frequent reassignments, and thus are particularly dependent on the need to move with their pets across state lines."
     USARK says it also represents conservation biologists and herpetologists "who are passionate about large constricting snakes."
     Fish and Wildlife in 2010 proposed adding nine non-native constrictors to the list of "injurious" species, but ended up barring only four of them, under the Lacey Act, in January 2012.
     The snake people claim Fish and Wildlife's ruling "was based on a study employing a novel and highly imprecise climate matching model based, inter alia, on mean monthly temperatures in the species' native range and locations in the United States."
     They claim that three of the four species prefer tropical and subtropical habitat - "the Burmese python being the exception" - so that the three species could not actually adapt to life in the United States, no matter what Fish and Wildlife says.
     Plus which, not even the Burmese python can survive a prolonged freeze, the snake people say.
     "(T)he Burmese python, Reticulated python, and Boa constrictor are the major species in trade, with Boa constrictor accounting for the majority of revenues," according to the complaint.
     It adds: "The proposal to list the nine species as injurious and to ban their interstate transport itself caused tens of millions of dollars in economic losses to the reptile industry. These losses were due to a market contraction fed by buyers' fears of making a large investment in a pet or broodstock in light of FWS' proposed ban on interstate transport. As a result of the proposed rule alone, many of USARK's members were forced to euthanize broodstock representing hundreds of thousands of dollars in investment due to the high cost of maintaining species in the face of a market which had evaporated. ...
     "Total economic losses over a ten year period from the proposed action, assuming historic growth patterns, range from $505 million $1.2 billion."
     The snake people want the rule enjoined and vacated as ultra vires under the Lacey Act, and a violation of the National Environmental Policy Act and the Administrative Procedures Act. They also want attorney's fees.
     They are represented by Shawn Gehan, with Kelley, Drye & Warren, in District of Columbia Federal Court.
     Constrictors kill their prey by squeezing so hard that their lungs cannot expand, so the critters suffocate. The snakes then swallow them whole, usually head first.
     Snake people say that if a constrictor wraps itself around you, you can merely grab its tail and unwrap it. Statistics are unavailable on how many snake people have ever tried it.