Reptile keepers and members of all of Florida’s animal industries will also oppose FWC’s “Whitelist” regulatory proposals to restrict import of nonnative animals.
In the wake of the “Holy Thursday Massacre” on April 6 a now world famous event in which Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) Law Enforcement Officers unnecessarily and inhumanely slaughtered over 30 pet snakes in Broward County, Florida, reptile keepers are expected to demand a change in the direction of the agency at the FWC Commission Meeting on Thursday, May 11 in Miami, FL. Item 10.A. on the agenda of the meeting, which is currently scheduled for the morning of Thursday, May 11, will include a draft rule to further crack down on imports of pet and food animals to supposedly address nonnative species issues in Florida. In addition to that item, reptile keepers will voice their comments on the FWC snake massacre in the “Items not on the Agenda” item at the end of the meeting on Thursday afternoon. This meeting may be viewed live and replayed at thefloridachannel.org.
The agenda for the FWC Commission Meeting May 10-11 in Miami, Florida may be viewed here:
In addition to the “Holy Thursday Massacre,” reptile keepers and members of all of Florida’s animal industries are expected to vehemently oppose FWC’s draconian “Whitelist” regulatory proposals to restrict import of nonnative animals into Florida. This is agenda item 10.A., which is expected to be heard on Thursday morning at 8:30AM. Whitelist regulatory systems allow a certain list of approved species to be imported or sold and ban all others by default. At the recent FWC Technical Assistance Group (TAG) meeting, members of Florida zoos as well as aquaculture and pet industries decried the ill-conceived proposals as “industry killers.” The “options” for regulatory systems being presented by FWC staff are based on interpretations of FWC Chairman Rodney Barreto’s words from the February FWC Meeting in which he said, “I have no qualms worth of saying we’re shutting Florida down,” in reference to nonnative animal species entering Florida. Animal industry leaders believe that Barreto’s words were ill-informed and ill-conceived, as the results of such an action would likely be the loss of tens of thousands of jobs and hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue to family farms and small businesses dealing in livestock.
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USARK FL Representative Joe Hiduke suggested a Blacklist approach which bans only certain species proven to be problematic, since a Whitelist system would require the evaluation of tens of thousands of species and the identification of those species by law enforcement. Hiduke said, “We’ve seen in the last month the pretty significant problems that law enforcement can have identification: things like boas and pythons.” Art Roybal, the United States Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) representative on the TAG, opposed FWC’s Whitelist system, saying, “I do know that blacklists work. Whitelists have some problems.” In the wake of FWC’s slaughter of pet snakes, FWC’s further crackdown on pets seems especially egregious.
A video on the last FWC Nonnative Species TAG webinar may be seen here:
One of the pet snakes killed by FWC officers on April 6 was a pregnant pet Boa constrictor named “Big Shirl,” which was owned by Bill McAdam and kept at his facility in Sunrise, Florida. Boas are among the most popular pet snakes and are legal to own in Florida. Video of the incident shows the animal writhing on the floor for more than 20 minutes after the FWC officers administered a single bolt charge to its head. During the Holy Thursday Massacre, FWC officers also killed 29 Reticulated pythons and five Burmese pythons owned by Chris Coffee and housed at McAdam’s facility. One of these snakes was a Burmese python named “Sweetie.” FWC Officer Lex Corteguera called that snake “the puppy dog” before pulling it out of the cage and administering the bolt gun charge to its head. After this Corteguera could be seen directing Officer Jonathan Wright to take a cell phone photo of him holding “Sweetie,” as if it was a trophy kill, before throwing it into a trash can. USARK FL has requested that photo from FWC, but FWC has not provided it.
FWC considers those python species to be “Prohibited” under rules passed in 2021. Coffee was unable to rehome some of his snakes within the arbitrary 90-day time period allowed by FWC after the ban passed in 2021. After contacting FWC to ask for help, officers executed a constructive seizure on the snakes in February 2022 which forced Coffee to feed and care for the animals until FWC took final action, which did not occur until April 6, 2023 when the animals were killed by officers.
Video footage shot by Chris Coffee documenting the FWC massacre may be viewed on the USARK FL YouTube channel here:
USARK FL maintains that none of the pythons in this case should have been killed because they were legally owned prior to the administrative rule change. As a matter of law, they should have been grandfathered without condition. USARK FL is currently in a lawsuit with FWC challenging validity and constitutionality of these rules and has asked for FWC to stop seizing and euthanizing captive animals until this legal challenge is resolved. Contrary to some media reports, the Reticulated python is not an invasive species in Florida. USARK FL’s Motion for Summary Judgment in their lawsuit against FWC may be viewed here:
In addition to the snakes owned by McAdam and Coffee, USARK FL recently learned that on April 5, Officer Wright confiscated a tame Reticulated python from Daniel Golightly. This snake was caught by his daughter, 16-year old snake enthusiast Onya Golightly, after a neighbor requested that the snake be removed from his yard. Onya Golightly found the snake to be very friendly and named it “Frederick.” Officer Wright told Onya’s father, Daniel Golightly, that the snake would be “rehomed.” According the FWC’s Incident Report, on the morning of April 6, “Frederick” was killed with a bolt gun by Officer Wright. Daniel and Onya Golightly were shocked to find out that “Frederick” had been killed by Officer Wright after that fact was revealed to them by USARK FL President Elizabeth Wisneski at the recent Boyton Beach Reptiday. Onya Golightly caught “Frederick” in Pembroke Pines, over 13 miles from McAdam’s facility in Sunrise. Despite the crawl from Sunrise to Pembroke Pines being an impossible journey for a large and slow moving reptile, FWC used the capture of “Frederick” as cause to initiate contact with Coffee about his pythons, which were also killed by bolt gun later the snake day.
USARK FL’s video detailing the story of Onya Golightly and “Frederick” the Python may be viewed here:
Many have questioned FWC’s dispatching technique on these snakes. FWC’s own website describes a two-step euthanasia process for wild pythons. This process involves applying the bolt charge to the head, followed by the complete destruction of the brain by pithing. The officers in this case followed only one of two of those steps.
According to veterinarian Dr. Ivan Alfonso DVM, even the field methods FWC describes on its website were not adequate in this case. “Euthanasia guidelines provided by the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) clearly distinguish between ‘in the field’ euthanasia methods versus pet euthanasia methods. These snakes were not wild. Even if they had been wild, using just the bolt gun was only one step in the euthanasia method. If actually necessary, this should have been conducted by a licensed veterinarian or properly-trained veterinary health professional,” said Alfonso. He added, “There is no excuse for using the bolt gun method on pet snakes or pets of any species. The AVMA lists bolt guns and pithing as a secondary method when nothing else is safe or possible on captive reptiles. This was not the case here.”
Dr. Alfonso referred us to page 92 of the AVMA Euthanasia Guidelines here.