29 of the snakes killed were reticulated pythons. Reticulated pythons ARE NOT an invasive species in Florida and this has been misreported in many media articles.
A pregnant pet named Big Shirl was inhumanely and unnecessarily slaughtered by Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) Law Enforcement Officers on April 6. Big Shirl was raised from birth for over ten years by Bill McAdam. This butchery was part of an event which has become known as the “Holy Thursday Massacre” and it happened at Bill McAdam’s animal facility in Sunrise, FL in Broward County. 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 the head. Before reading on, take pause and let it sink in that a healthy, legally owned pet was carelessly destroyed.
Regardless of how you may feel about the types of animals involved, none of the Holy Thursday Massacre was necessary and there was no urgency surrounding this event. Big Shirl was a beloved pet Boa constrictor, a species of snake that is docile under human care and commonly kept as pets. A necropsy has revealed that Big Shirl was carrying 32 babies which were only a few weeks away from being born. Boas give birth to live young rather than laying eggs like many other snakes. In addition to slaying Big Shirl, 34 pythons were executed.
The necropsy, performed by Dr. Dale Porcher DVM, found the cause of death of the adult female Boa to be the penetrating wound caused by a bolt gun charge, which passed entirely through the snake’s head and exited through the lower jaw. Dr. Porcher confirmed that the Boa appeared very healthy and the babies were developing normally.
During the Holy Thursday Massacre, FWC officers also killed 29 Reticulated pythons and five Burmese pythons owned by Chris Coffee. 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.
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.
See video on the killing of Big Shirl the Boa and her subsequent necropsy on the USARK FL YouTube channel
Many have questioned FWC’s dispatching technique on these snakes. In the video of the incident recorded by Coffee, officers can be seen yanking snakes out of cages, administering a bolt charge to the head, and then leaving the snakes writhing on the floor or throwing them into trash cans. 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. Being pets, these animals should have been afforded the pet euthanasia method which involves chemical immobilization or sedation and then chemical euthanasia. There was no urgency in this case. 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.
The value of the baby boas in the reptile hobby is estimated at potentially over $100,000. The litter of babies likely included rare color morphs known as “Red Dragon” and “Blood Albino,” some of which are known to sell for $5000 to $7500 each. Aside from just the value of this litter, the long-term value of the female boa as a breeder over the course of her lifetime must be considered. Regardless of the snake’s monetary value or the value of her offspring, owner Bill McAdam just misses his pet, Big Shirl.
“It was heart wrenching,” said Bill McAdam in a media interview. “That’s one snake that had a name because she was special,” he added.
Undeniable Facts Regarding the April 6 Killing of 35 Snakes
- A Boa constrictor was misidentified and killed. This boa was completely legal to own in Florida as Boa constrictors are not on the FWC Prohibited Species list in Florida. The snake was 10-years-old and had been raised by the owner, Bill McAdam, since it was a baby. The boa was gravid (pregnant) with 32 fully-developed babies.
- 29 reticulated pythons and 5 Burmese pythons were also killed. All appeared healthy. All snakes were in locked cages. All snakes were microchipped, registered, and on documented inventory with FWC as the owner was in full compliance with the Conditional Species Permit rules before that program was terminated by FWC for these species in 2021.
- On February 7, 2022 (14 months prior to this incident), FWC visited Chris Coffee (owner of the 34 pythons that were killed) and cited him with several dozen counts for violations to the new Prohibited Species rules passed by FWC in 2021. During this February 2022 visit, FWC informed Coffee that he had to keep all of the snakes. He was not allowed to sell, rehome, or euthanize them.
- On February 7, 2022, FWC executed a constructive seizure. This FWC-issued constructive seizure meant the agency seized the property (snakes) but the property was left in the control of the owner (Coffee). Coffee had to keep and maintain, with no other option, the animals until FWC took final action (which was not until 14 months later). Basically, a constructive seizure means that property has been officially seized by law enforcement but they will come back to take physical possession at a later date.
- Chris Coffee fed, maintained, and humanely kept all of these pythons from February 2022 until April 6, 2023 (as ordered by FWC in February 2022). On April 6, FWC officers killed 34 of Coffee’s animals, many of which he hatched and raised, along with the misidentified boa constrictor.
- 29 of the snakes killed were reticulated pythons. Reticulated pythons ARE NOT an invasive species in Florida and this has been misreported in many media articles.
- These pythons were killed because FWC moved the species from Conditional Species to Prohibited Species. Licensed individuals who had been raising, breeding and selling (only to out-of-state buyers or other Florida Conditional Species Permit holders) for many years were not grandfathered. FWC did not allow snake breeders and sellers to keep any of the snakes, even as non-breeding pets. These Conditional Species owners had only 90 days to sell, euthanize, or rehome all of their animals. Coffee had sold most of his snakes within the 90 days but not all of them. When the Prohibited Species rules passed, some exhibitors and zoos were allowed to keep some animals now listed as Prohibited Species, but snake keepers and breeders were NOT allowed to be grandfathered.
- The 34 pythons owned by Chris Coffee were being kept at a facility owned by Bill McAdam (owner of the killed boa constrictor). Coffee informed FWC that this is where the snakes were housed.
- On April 6, the one-step process utilized was inhumane and unlawful. The officers failed to complete a two-step process but even this two-step process is intended only for emergency and “in the wild” purposes. This situation did not require the snakes to be killed in this manner, or at all.
- The FWC officers did not follow the two-step process for humanely killing reptiles as stipulated by FWC that is even publicly posted on its own website. The officers only performed Step 1 and never completed the humane process by carrying out Step 2. This protocol is posted at: https://myfwc.com/wildlifehabitats/nonnatives/python/humane-killing-methods/
- The camera that filmed the killing of the snakes was not a hidden camera and the FWC officers were made aware that the camera was filming.
Video footage shot by Chris Coffee documenting the FWC massacre may be viewed on the USARK FL YouTube channel here:
For background on this story, see original press release at: www.usarkfl.net/news