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USARK Sues Over Large Snake Ban

Challenging what it considers government overreach, the United States Association of Reptile Keepers (USARK) sued the U.S. Department of Interior on D

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Challenging what it considers government overreach, the United States Association of Reptile Keepers (USARK) sued the U.S. Department of Interior on Dec. 18 over the agency’s listing of four nonnative pet snakes as “injurious.”

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in 2012 listed the Burmese python, northern and southern African python and yellow anaconda as injurious to native ecosystems and wildlife under the longstanding Lacey Act. The action ended interstate commerce in and the importation and transportation of the four species, USARK President Phil Goss said. 


“The issue with these invasive species should be considered at a local level,” Goss said. Sensational headlines such as “Pythons Swallow Whole Deer” helped force the federal government’s hand, opponents argued.

However, Gavin Shire, acting deputy chief of communications for the Fish and Wildlife Service, called the regulatory action a response to “significant ecological impacts observed as a result of a self-sustaining, wild population of Burmese pythons in Florida.”

“It will protect endemic wildlife, including threatened and endangered species,” he said of the ban.

The agency declined to comment on the lawsuit, which accuses the government of relying on poor science to justify the ban and questions whether the Lacey Act can be used to restrict interstate commerce in listed species. For the federal government, which manages 555 wildlife refuges and nearly 400 national park system units, what’s transpiring in the Everglades has implications outside of Florida. Estimates put the number of Burmese pythons in Everglades National Park in the tens of thousands.

“Banning the import and interstate movement of these large, nonnative snakes will help prevent them from spreading into wild populations beyond those already established,” Shire said.


Goss doesn’t agree.

“A proper review of the science reveals that this issue is isolated to southern Florida,” Goss said.

The wildlife service is considering a similar listing, now in the proposal stage, for five other snakes: reticulated pythons, DeSchauensee’s anacondas, green anacondas, beni anacondas and boa constrictors. Banning boa constrictors would devastate reptile businesses and the hobby itself, Goss said.

“A pet owner who lives on the Wisconsin-Illinois border can’t take their pet to visit a veterinarian across state lines without breaking the law,” he noted.


The current listing has hurt the pet industry, Goss added.

“Small businesses and breeders specializing in these species have been devastated, not only for the four species listed but also for the five species that have been in limbo,” he said.

Reptile industry leaders such as Zoo Med Laboratories and Ralph Davis Reptiles, which both back San Luis Obispo, Calif.-based USARK, see the government actions as an unwarranted and unnecessary intrusion. Business leaders have raised more than $100,000 to litigate the lawsuit.

“We have a solid case and have been building the framework for months,” Goss said.