A reptile industry trade group has gone to court to overturn a federal ban on the import of four species of large snake, including the Burmese pythons that have infested the Everglades.The United States Association of Reptile Keepers, which represents dealers, importers, breeders and hobbyists, filed suit in federal court Thursday to overturn a 2012 ban on the import and interstate trade in Burmese pythons, northern and southern African pythons and yellow anacondas.
The group said the federal ban rested on shaky scientific evidence, including a highly exaggerated projection of the snakes' potential geographic range in the United States, and inadequate economic analysis that understated the potential harm to the reptile industry.
"This is a powerful day for the Reptile Nation, as we fight to protect your rights to pursue your passion and defend your businesses against unwarranted and unnecessary government intrusion," stated an email Friday to members of the reptile group.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service banned the import and interstate trade in the snakes on Jan. 17, 2012, with then Interior Secretary Ken Salazar traveling to Everglades National Park to make the announcement.
Biologists at the park have called the python a major threat to native wildlife, with the huge snakes consuming rabbits, birds, raccoons, alligators and full-grown deer. East of the park, African rock pythons are suspected of establishing a breeding population along Tamiami Trail.
Tom MacKenzie, spokesman for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, said the ban was necessary to protect native wildlife. "Banning the import and interstate movement of these large, non-native snakes will help prevent spread of these snakes into wild populations beyond those already established," he said.The Humane Society of the United States called the lawsuit an attempt to protect profits from the sale of dangerous animals that have killed 15 people in the United States.
"This is the very industry that peddles high-maintenance dangerous predators to unqualified people at flea markets, swap meets, and over the Internet," said Debbie Leahy, captive wildlife specialist for the Humane Society. "Banning just a handful of dangerous species has little impact on businesses, since there are literally hundreds of less risky snake and reptile species available to pet purchasers."
But the reptile keepers group said the government ignored contrary evidence presented during the public comment period.
A ban on five other species of large constrictors is under review. These include the boa constrictor, which has established a breeding population in Miami-Dade County, the reticulated python, DeSchauensee's anaconda, green anaconda and Beni anaconda.
The reptile group, which said a ban on all nine species could cost the industry up to $1.2 billion over 10 years, said this lawsuit would "put the government on notice" that it intends to fight any additional bans.
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