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AFH Guidelines on Keeping Large Serpents

Introduction

The American Federation of Herpetoculturists (AFH) emphasizes responsible herpetoculture as the backbone of its position on the keeping of amphibians and reptiles. With regard to the ownership of large constrictors, an outline of the AFH views which has been approved by the AFH Board of Directors and presented at several hearings in Southern California is as follows:

Responsible Large Constrictor Ownership

A. In consideration of the right of the general public not to be exposed unexpectedly to snakes such as large constrictors and in consideration of the irresponsible behavior of certain snake owners, the AFH recommends that snakes not be openly displayed in a public setting outside of proper and established forums for such practices such as herpetological shows, educational displays, pet stores and presentations, and other special displays whereby members of the public are forewarned that a snake(s) maybe displayed in the open.

B. The AFH recommends that all snakes be transported in a manner that precludes escape: In a sturdy cloth bag free of holes or tears which is then placed inside a box or similar container with holes for aeration. The box or container should then be sealed or locked shut. Another alternative is to double bag snakes. Care must be taken to use sturdy cloth bags with a weave that allows for adequate air flow. Airlines should be consulted as to their requirements when shipping snakes by air.

C. For the keeping of large constrictors 8 feet or more, the AFH recommends general caging regulations whose effects are similar to those which require dog owners to keep their pets within the confines of their property. Caging regulations for large snakes should require owners of such snakes to house them in secure cages with a hinged top, or doors, or a sliding glass front which include a locking mechanism. Such enclosures should preferably be contained in a large room modified to prevent snake escapes and with a door which shall be kept shut or locked when not occupied by the owners. This recommendation is made to require responsible herpetocultural practices by individuals in consideration for the animals, for family members and for members of the general public. As herpetoculturists we will all benefit by adopting these responsible practices.

D. When handling any of the giant snakes (Green anaconda, Indian and Burmese python, African rock python, reticulated python and amethystine python) over 8 feet, the AFH recommends that another individual be present or at the very least within calling reach. The probability of any serious problem occurring when handling such snakes is very remote but the AFH position is that herpetoculturists, out of responsibility to themselves, to family members and to other herpetoculturists, should handle and maintain large snakes in a manner that significantly prevents the likelihood of any accident or incident.

E. The AFH does not recommend the ownership of the above mentioned giant constrictors as well as other large (adult size over 7 feet) boid snakes by minors without parental consent to assume responsibility for proper housing, maintenance and supervision when handling.

F. The AFH recommends that safe procedures be adopted during handling and feeding. These would include the use of a snake hook prior to removing a large python or boa from an enclosure. When feeding, food should never be offered by hand.

G. As with any other animals such as dogs, owners of large constrictors should remember that they can be liable for the medical costs of treating injuries as well as additional financial damages for traumas or damage caused by their animals

What About Regulations?

There appears to have been a trend in the last few years for cities or states to draft ordinances or regulations to control or restrict ownership of large snakes. Various agencies or organizations directly or indirectly support these regulations particularly with regards to the ownership of large constrictors (typically boas and pythons which can achieve an adult length of over 8 feet). They contend that the public should be protected from the remote possibility of danger from these animals. Most of these proposed regulations conceal the underlying persistent bias against snakes which to this day permeates the attitudes of many people against reptiles.

One would assume from these regulations that potentially dangerous things should not, as a matter of course be possessed by the general public. One could also be led to believe that these various agencies look out for our welfare. In fact, our lives are routinely affected by much greater probabilities of danger than presented by large constrictors that are condoned by numerous agencies as well as the federal government. Dogs raised and kept by irresponsible owners are clearly dangerous as plenty of statistical data indicates (10-15 deaths per year, millions of dollars spent in treating bites). Cats can be dangerous. They can claw (many people don't seem to mind). They also account for a significant percentage of reported animal bites and can carry some nasty diseases. Living near other human beings can be very dangerous. In fact, based on available statistics, a human being has a far greater chance of being seriously injured from a bite by a fellow human than by a large constrictor.

The cars we drive are potentially dangerous as several thousand deaths every year indicate. So is ownership of guns. Horses, if one were to look at available data in the U.S., are one of the most dangerous of domestic animals and many times more dangerous than snakes in terms of deaths and accidents. The electrical appliances in your house are dangerous as is the use of natural gas. So is drinking alcohol and smoking.

In the midst of such numerous potential dangers which are an intrinsic part of life, poorly informed and biased state and local agencies regularly propose laws and ordinances which would attempt to ban ownership of large constrictors. If one relied on hard data rather than prejudice, one could make a much better case for banning ownership of dogs, horses, guns, automobiles etc.

In the case of Burmese pythons, what becomes evident is that they have an extremely low behavioral propensity to kill humans by constriction. In one report which investigated authenticated deaths by large constrictors in the U.S . between 1978 and 1988 (4 deaths were reported of which three were caused by reticulated pythons), one incident involved a Burmese python. Furthermore, at least three of the cases involved irresponsible herpetocultural practices. Considering the many large constrictors, including tens of thousands of Burmese pythons which have been imported and sold during that period, and considering the much more threatening dangers which are generally accepted as a normal part of every day life, the potential danger presented by large constrictors pales.

With a minimum of common sense and by adopting the recommendations made by herpetological organizations such as the AFH, any problems associated with the ownership of large snakes can be addressed in a responsible manner without perpetuating bias and misinformation and without threatening the rights of herpetoculturists to practice their avocation.

In Conclusion

Before purchasing a Burmese python or any other large constrictor, check your state, county and local regulations for any provisions applying to the ownership of reptiles by individuals. Besides contacting the agencies in charge of implementing these regulations, other good sources of information are local herpetological societies. It does not pay to break the law in this particular area. Before you know it, you could be making newspaper headlines on the 6 o'clock news. If local authorities call in the state or federal enforcement agencies (State Fish and Game and U.S. Fish and Wildlife) to investigate the possibility of other violations, you could also have an experience of personal violation that you are not about to forget. In some areas, possible possession of an illegal reptile can get more media attention than a major drug bust.

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These Guidelines have been approved by the American Federation of Herpetoculturist's (AFH) Board of Directors as the official Guidelines for the keeping of Large Constrictors. Additional copies of these guidelines are available by writing the AFH, P.O. Box 300067, Escondido, CA 92030-0067.

This document is provided, free of charge, by the AFH. It can be freely distibuted in printed or electronic form, but must have all text intact and credit given to the AFH. The AFH has also developed guidelines for monitor lizards and keeping of large boid snakes in schools. These guidelines have been used, in conjunction with our legislative handbook, to favorably influence municipal, county, and state legislation. The AFH also publishes THE VIVARIUM, the acclaimed journal on the captive breeding of amphibians and reptiles.

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