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New USGS Snake Report

New USGS report claims ecological risks are associated with nine non-native boa, anaconda and python species in the United States.

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A U.S. Geological Survey report released on Oct. 13., by co-authors Gordon Rodda and Robert Reed, claims ecological risks are associated with nine non-native boaanaconda and python species in the United States.

The five species identified in the report include Burmese pythons, northern and southern African pythons, boa constrictors and the yellow anaconda. According to the report, these five snakes put large portions of the U.S. mainland at risk, constitute a greater ecological threat, or are more common in trade and commerce.


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The other four snakes identified — reticulated python, Deschauensee’s anaconda, green anaconda and Beni anaconda — were assessed as posing a medium risk.

According to the report, snakes from each group have been discovered in the wild in Florida, but evidence of reproduction in the wild is only available for three species: the Burmese python, the Northern African python, and the boa constrictor.

The report claims that the probability of establishment is greater in south Florida, because its climate is suitable to these snakes and much of the commercial snake trade passes through southern Florida.

“Great media interest was generated by Rodda’s previous USGS study that promoted the idea of a giant snake devouring the everglades and moving up through the southern third of the U.S.,” said Andrew Wyatt, President of the United States Association of Reptile Keepers (USARK). “The study swept the media like wildfire. Since when did science morph from a methodology used to solve complex problems into a methodology used to raise more money for more studies?”

The new USGS report by Rodda and Reed also said the risk to humans appears low, and compares the risk to that of alligator attacks: attacks in the wild are improbable but possible.

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“Although the largest individuals of all the species covered in this work are probably capable of killing a human, most seem disinclined to do so,” the report states.

The report claims the snakes should be considered an “exceptional threat” to native ecosystems, but the report also noted that the snakes constitute an important element of the large and growing trade in living reptiles.

Rodda and Reed said economic benefits are associated with the reptile trade and that ownership of these snakes can foster positive attitudes about the protection of nature. “Federal regulators have the task of appraising the importation risks and balancing those risks against economic, social, and ecological benefits associated with the importation,” the report states.

In considering potential regulatory action, Marshall Meyers, chief executive officer of the Pet Industry Joint Advisory Council, said the government must first determine the scope of the problem and whether the issue should be dealt with on a national or state level. Meyers raised concerns about the possibility of the federal government banning importation and interstate commerce of the snakes — a move he said could push the trade underground and potentially cause those already in possession of the specimens to euthanize the animals or release them into the wild.

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“In our opinion, the federal law they would be using is not equipped to deal with the specimens that are already in private hands,” he said.