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Posted by BGF on January 30, 2003 at 15:03:55:

In Reply to: WASHINGTON TO OUTLAW IGUANAS, SNAKES, OTHER posted by mic. on January 30, 2003 at 13:40:18:

Bloody hell! This crap seems to pop up annually. Feel free to use, modify, disseminate the below



My name is Dr. Bryan Grieg Fry, I am a US Citizen specialising in research on venomous snakes. I am writing in regards to the proposed legislation to ban exotic animals, on the surface this may appear to be reasonable to protect the public. However, a closer examination reveals that the such protection may not be needed. The incidence of exotic animal related injuries is far dwarfed by that of 'companion' animals such as dogs and cats. In their citing of venomous animal related injuries, the vast majority of cases are due to native species in the wild. The bites to private keepers by exotic snakes is quite low and there has never been an instance of one of these snakes escaping and injuring a member of the public. Further, the habitat is unsuitable so in the case of an escape, the chances of long term survival is very unlikely.

These pieces of legislation are popping up regularly and are part of a concerted campaign by extremist animmal rights groups ban the keeping of all animals as pets. While they operate under the guise of concern for public safety, their motivation is simply outlawing pets pure and simple.

In my personal and professional opinion, a lot of benefit, both scientifically and ecologically, arises from the captive keeping of venomous snakes. Rather than ban them and make the permits for the existing snakes prohibitively expensive, why not implement a system similar to the rational one in place in Florida? By allowing private keepers who have demonstrated competence to keep the snakes, public safety will actually be improved. Rational regulation such as this allows keepers to be above board and thus seek proper medical care in the event of an envenomation rather than 'trying to ride it out' so that they don't risk losing their snakes. Further, a system such as Florida's will better ensure that the snakes are kept in secure enclosures rather than banning them. If the snakes are banned, then no system will be in place to make sure they are kept properly. People will still keep the snakes, they just will be more furtive about it. As for the specific species of snakes mentioned, the ones in the colubridae are not accurate as a reflection of potential danger. Other than outsized specimens chewing on children for an hour in Guan, no Boiga species has ever caused a serious envenomation. That said, Rhapbophis species are well known to produce serious envenomation. Thus I would recommend the dropping of Boiga and the addition of the Rhabdophis genus. As for the monitor lizards, while Varanus salvator is one of the largest, it is also one of the tamest of all the Varanus species and thus is of very low danger.

In regards to Zoonosis (diseases spread by animals to humans). I have attached below a letter by veterinarians.

If I can be of any further assistance, please do not hesitate to contact me.

All the best,
Bryan Grieg Fry, Ph.D.
Australian Venom Research Unit
Department of Pharmacology
University of Melbourne
Parkville, Vic
3010 Australia



November 10, 2001

To the editor,

We are writing in response to the recent publication by the Humane
Society of the United States (HSUS), "Reptiles as Pets: An
Examination of the Trade in Live Reptiles in the United States."
While we applaud HSUS for highlighting many of the problems
associated with the trade in live reptiles, we cannot agree with
their conclusion that the reptile trade must be ended, and that the
sale of reptiles as pets should be banned. Maintaining captive
reptiles can be a rewarding, educational experience, and in some
cases may have significant conservation value. Problems associated
with the reptile pet trade have been noted by conservation
biologists, herpetologists, and veterinarians for decades. These
problems include, but are not limited to, zoonotic diseases such as
Salmonellosis, damage to wild populations of rare species due to over-
collection, introduction of non-native species or exotic diseases,
and animal welfare issues regarding transportation of reptiles and
survival of reptiles in captivity. These are serious concerns;
however, such problems can be overcome by effective education,
legislation, and research.
Caring for a captive reptile, like caring for any animal, can
provide an understanding of the organism that can be achieved in no
other way. It may pique ones curiosity, leading to further, more
advanced study. Most professional herpetologists, reptile
veterinarians, reptile curators, etc. report that maintaining
reptiles as pets was an influential part of their childhood and may
have guided their career choice. As habitat loss and urbanization
continue, maintaining captive reptiles may provide ones only exposure
to these organisms. Individuals that maintain captive reptiles are
likely to be more concerned with local, regional, and global reptile
conservation issues than individuals that have never seen or touched
a live reptile. In her recent book "Why the Wild Things Are: Animals
in the Lives of Children", psychologist Gail Melson investigates the
potential benefit that animals may provide in childhood development.
While the field is largely unexplored, Melson suggests that pets may
play a role in the development of nurturing skills, compassion,
affection, and "may function as a meaning system through which
children make sense of both themselves and their surrounding
environments." We believe that these theories are true, and that
owning a corn snake as a child can be as developmentally important as
owning a dog. Obviously, good judgement on the part of a responsible
adult is needed, and one must ensure that children caring for
reptiles are mature enough to provide proper care and hygiene for the
animal, while maintaining their own safety from zoonotic disease.
Owning a reptile requires a commitment of time and money as
with any pet. It also requires that an appropriate animal be chosen
for a given circumstance, and that ethical concerns be addressed. It
is no more reasonable to think that a large aggressive reptile will
be a good pet than to think that a large aggressive dog will be a
good pet. It is no more reasonable to expect an ill, dehydrated,
imported reptile to adapt to captivity than to expect a parasitized,
parvovirus-infected puppy from a poor source to thrive in its new
home. There are a number of species of reptiles now available in the
pet trade that are born in captivity, remain relatively small, have
known husbandry requirements, and can be obtained in healthy
condition from reputable sources. Examples of species in this
category are bearded dragons, leopard geckos, corn snakes, milk
snakes, ball pythons, and Mediterranean tortoises.
Salmonella is a well-known zoonotic disease associated with
keeping captive reptiles. Human fatalities do occur from reptile-
associated Salmonellosis. However, we are well aware of the risk of
zoonotic disease associated with owning dogs, cats, birds, horses,
etc, as well as the threat of fatal trauma induced by some dogs or
horses. An estimated three to four million dog bites occur each year
in the US, half of which involve children. Salmonella is just one of
dozens of zoonotic diseases we may get from our pets. Should we avoid
owning all animals to prevent zoonoses? The risk of Salmonellosis can
be reduced by following guidelines established by the Centers for
Disease Control (CDC) and the Association of Reptilian and Amphibian
Veterinarians (ARAV), which are available from the ARAV.
Decreasing the massive importation and exportation of
reptiles may be desirable, particularly for species whose post-
importation survival is known to be poor. As an example, we know that
hingeback tortoises (Kinixys spp.), that were imported by the
thousands from Africa in the past decade, do very poorly in
captivity, as do many, many other species. Ending the trade in such
species would likely be met with little resistance, and is becoming
more practical as more captive-born animals of other species become
available However, we are not in favor of complete shut-down of the
international reptile trade. There are many very motivated,
dedicated private reptile keepers that have made tremendous
contributions to herpetological taxonomy, husbandry techniques, and
conservation based on the availability of imported animals. As an
example, the endangered radiated tortoise (Geochelone radiata) from
Madagascar was first bred in the US by a private individual in the
1970s. The progeny of this individuals group formed the basis of much
of the captive-breeding program for this species later adopted by
zoos throughout the country. More recently, the worlds known
population of the endangered McCords box turtle (Cuora mccordi) has
been nearly doubled by the breeding groups of private individuals.
Completely eliminating the availability of imported specimens may
prevent the development of captive assurance colonies of species that
are being driven to extinction in their native habitats. While
collection for the pet trade has undoubtedly damaged some species
populations, habitat destruction and consumption in the international
food trade remain the most significant threats to most reptile
Concerns regarding the welfare of animals in transit and in
captivity are valid. Improper shipping techniques and improper
husbandry can result in mortality. However, I believe that the best
approach to this is not to stop the trade in reptiles, but to work to
constantly improve shipping regulations, inspections, penalties for
violations, and dissemination of proper husbandry information. We
have developed techniques to allow the humane movement of other
species, and such techniques can be developed for reptiles. This may
involve decreasing the numbers of animals moved in a given shipment,
and may mean that prices of animals will increase; but such changes
may be inevitable if the demand for healthy, ethically shipped
animals increases. Husbandry techniques have improved greatly in the
past decade and many excellent texts exist for most of the commonly
kept reptiles. Owners that do not provide adequate husbandry simply
have not done their research. This should not motivate a ban on
reptile pets any more than the dog owner who calls their veterinarian
on the day their bitch whelps and asks "what do I do?" should
motivate a ban on dog ownership.
Finally, regarding the issue of the introduction of exotic
disease by imported reptiles, we are quite concerned. It is clear
that the potential for exotic disease entering the US with reptiles
exists. The case of African tortoises imported to Florida, found to
be infected with ticks carrying the causative agent of Heartwater
disease, brought this risk to the attention of many interested
parties. However, this is another situation where research, rather
than banishment, is needed. Since the original incident, and
stimulated by the incident, an effective and safe acaracide has been
identified for use in tortoises. By thinking about the problems,
identifying risks, and increasing the vigilance of monitoring, it is
possible to discover and address previously unrecognized diseases. If
certain diseases are found that cannot be controlled, then an
importation ban on the involved reptile species may be warranted.
In conclusion, we believe that reptiles should be available
as pets. It is desirable to greatly reduce the large-scale sale and
importation of reptiles in favor of supporting the more selective
sale of domestically bred reptiles of relatively easy to maintain
species. The path to this end will involve participation of many
groups, but at the forefront should be individual state governments.
State governments have control over allowing collection of native
animals, as well as which species may be sold in pet stores. In the
past, many states have taken the approach of banning a few
undesirable species, while allowing the sale of all other species.
Perhaps states should consider instead allowing the sale of only
certain species that have been captive bred and have known husbandry
requirements. Provisions for more serious keepers to obtain permits
to maintain restricted species could be issued based on guidelines
established by each state. We encourage the veterinary and
herpetological communities to voice their dissent to the conclusions
of the HSUS Live Reptile Trade report.


Charles J. Innis, VMD
President, Association of Reptilian and Amphibian Veterinarians

Teresa Bradley. DVM
Belton, MO

Mark Mitchell, DVM, PhD
Louisiana State University

Elliot Jacobson, DVM, PhD, DACZM
University of Florida

Dale DeNardo, DVM, PhD
University of Arizona

Kevin Wright, DVM
Phoenix, AZ

William Griswold, DVM
Tempe, AZ

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