Wildlife officials in Florida are deliberating tighter rules and even a complete ban on the ownership of venomous pet snakes. The contemplation came following two incidents in the past months wherein venomous pet snakes slithered out of their respective homes.

A pet owner in the Orlando area lost an 8-foot king cobra. The venomous snake was found in October, roughly one month after its successful escape.

In November, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) officers caught a 5-foot Asian monocled cobra that slipped out of its Fort Meyers area home. In the two documented cases, both owners have FWC-issued documents to keep the snakes.

News about missing pet snakes makes people nervous, commented Nick Wiley, FWC's executive director. Wiley stressed that the commission is investigating the cases closely and coming up with ways to tackle the issue, which could include a total ban.

Pet Snakes In Florida

FWC issues permits for both "venomous reptiles" and "conditional reptiles" ownership. Green anacondas, Nile monitors and some other varieties of python species are classified as "conditional reptiles." "Venomous reptiles" include all other non-native and native snake species.

The FWC-issued permits come with annual inspections wherein a wildlife staff investigates and ensures that the pet snakes are safely, properly, and securely contained. The two incidents led to tighter inspections from the wildlife staff. However, many incidents involving snake run-aways persist.

In early December, a 9-foot green anaconda was discovered swimming in the St. Johns River. The snake was spotted by a boater who reported the incident to the commission officials.

"With recent issues involving escapes, we're currently working on inspections of all permit holders as soon as possible," said Wiley whose team will inspect all pet snake owners regardless of the yearly schedule.

Permit holders will also be called to give their input. Wiley, who plans to present the findings in spring, added the importance of meeting these people as it could result in the discontinuance of pet snake ownership.

FWC Chairman Brian Yablonski added that he couldn't find any benefits in getting venomous snakes for pets. Many non-native snakes adapt easily to the state's climate but for average Floridians, they must also be asking why some people get king cobras for pets.

"With freedom comes responsibility, and somehow with the responsibility side the wheels have fallen off a little bit," said Yablonski.

Currently, there are 10 conditional reptiles permit holders in Northwest Florida, three of which are in Bay County. There are also 17 venomous reptiles permit holders in the area, one of which is in Bay County.

FWC Northwest Florida office spokeswoman Bekah Nelson said there are many issues involving people who don't have commission-issued permits to keep certain snake species.

Photo: Luca Boldrini | Flickr

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