The Recent US Federal Review of Boas & Pythons - what it means and why it should matter to us

John

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John Clare
Firstly, for anyone reaching this through an Internet search or an external link, let me define some terminology. Within the animals known as Phylum Chordata (possessing a spinal cord), reptiles have their own parent class of animal, Class Reptilia. Mammals like human beings are classified as Class Mammalia. Amphibians (some of which are the topic of the website you're viewing) also have their own class, class Amphibia. My point? Reptiles, Amphibians and Mammals are distinct enough to be considered ~equally and sufficiently different to warrant their own branches of the classification tree. However for various (not so scientific) reasons Amphibians and Reptiles are often thought of collectively, and the term for that collective is the "Herpetiles" ("herps" for short). This piece is the opinion of the author and does not necessarily reflect the views of the members of Caudata.org.

At the end of January 2008 the US Department of the Interior Fish and Wildlife Service issued notice of an inquiry into "Injurious Wildlife Species; Review of Information Concerning Constrictor Snakes From Python, Boa, and Eunectes genera". There has been a lot of commotion on the Internet amongst reptile enthusiasts over the past few months regarding this issue. The word "ban" is being used with alarming frequency and in my opinion we're not there yet (reptile hobbyist links talking about the "ban": kingsnake/pethobbyist.com, repticzone.com, redtailboa.net, and there are many more).

Most readers of this piece will be enthusiasts of amphibians, not reptiles, so why should you continue reading? In short, because this inquiry could be the first step towards a ban on these snakes. That won't alarm many amphibian enthusiasts but what should alarm you is the precedent it sets: one category of non-venomous, mostly non-threatening herpetiles could be banned and it's not such a leap for further reptile bans to occur, followed by a ban on amphibians, and who knows, someday perhaps a total ban on so-called "exotic pets".

In my opinion, if such a ban simply caused the reduction or elimination of the collection of these herpetiles from the wild, particularly in the many cases where species are under threat from a variety of factors including collection, then the majority of people would certainly be in favor of it. However that's just my fantasy. Let's deal with the matter at hand: the inquiry by the US Department of the Interior Fish and Wildlife Service regarding "Injurious Wildlife Species" of the constrictor genera named above.

Having read it (there's a link at the top of this page - I encourage everyone to read it), it seems sensible and innocuous. The inquiry accepted comments until April 30th this year and they also consulted with various bodies, including pet industry representatives (www.pijac.org), who appear to be at least nominally against a future ban. Taken on its own, the inquiry seems reasonable, but one has to factor in other information to get a better sense of what this means.

The United States Geological Survey released this piece of data shortly after the Fish and Wildlife Service inquiry began. It shows two maps of the US with areas shaded to denote compatibility with the native climate of boas and pythons. One map is present-day USA, the second is a theorized USA in 2100 having undergone considerable global warming. For a Federal Agency to publish maps indicating several areas of desert are suitable habitat for species of snake that naturally live in Jungle is perhaps somewhat misleading. And then we have the media publishing alarming articles like these, to name but a few: USA Today, Fox News. The more sensible articles are harder to find but here is one.

This is the kind of issue that the media can really spin in a damaging and unhelpful way, as shown in some of these articles, and with federal bodies adding alarmist flames to the fire it's not hard to see this issue getting out of control.

So what can we do? Keep informed - watch the news services and hobbyist sites and by all means post what you find here. When given the opportunity by the bodies in question, make your opinion heard - it's too late to comment on this particular inquiry but there will almost certainly be other opportunities in the future to make sure legislators and federal authorities know what you think on the issue. If you are a dealer in herpetiles (such as a breeder and seller of amphibians), consider joining pijac. And lastly, be a responsible enthusiast, breeder or scientist - promote good husbandry, sensible practices and encourage captive breeding over wild collection.

Let's keep an eye out.

-John Clare

Addendum: In case you think I'm being alarmist myself, read this.
 
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