Giant snakes are at the center of a lawsuit, aimed at overturning a national ban on ownership of the animals. In 2012, the federal government banned the sale of yellow anacondas, northern and southern African rock pythons, and Burmese pythons through the Lacey Act.
The United States Association of Reptile Keepers has filed the lawsuit, claiming sales of snakes support research and conservation activities. They also told the court they engage in breeding endangered animals, and help to remove the animals from areas they present a risk to people or the environment.
Interior Secretary Sally Jewell and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, however, have filed a motion denying those claims. They stated the import of the animals and their transport across state lines can not be justified. They also told the court the North Carolina-based group never adequately explained how snake sales funded their activities.
"Not only are these interests entirely economic, they are also totally unrelated to the environment: they involve the breeding and selling of captive snakes as part of the pet industry," the government officials wrote in the motion.
The group of reptile keepers said the ban on the sale of four species of snake has cost the reptile industry tens of millions of dollars. Court papers were filed in December, questioning the science behind the ban, seeking to have the law overturned.
Government officials state the ban protects native wildlife from invasive species. Burmese pythons, native to India and other parts of Asia, have proliferated in the Florida Everglades. Wildlife officials are uncertain how they were introduced to the environment. The snakes may have first arrived in the park after being brought there by pet owners, or due to flooding from Hurricane Andrew in 1992. The Lacey Act also prevents the transportation of the giant snakes over state lines.
Those giant snakes are responsible for an increasing number of mammal deaths in the park over the last few years. A group of African rock pythons is thought to live on the Tamiami Trail, east of the Everglades.
A coalition of more than 20 lawmakers have asked the Obama Administration to ban the sale of an additional five species of giant snakes, including three more types of anaconda, reticulated pythons and boa constrictors. They stated these animals present an unacceptable and preventable risk to both humans and the environment.
"[T]hese highly adaptable, invasive snakes have severely damaged precious native ecosystems, as we have seen with the Burmese python's decimation of mammal populations in the Florida Everglades, and the boa constrictor's displacement of native reptiles in Puerto Rico. We cannot afford to risk the introduction of additional invasive species that will be expensive and difficult to eradicate," the lawmakers wrote in the letter.
A water maintenance crew in Florida recently discovered a Burmese python measuring 18 feet long, weighing an estimated 150 pounds. Sales of that species and several other giant snakes is banned under Florida law.