It was probably not a good idea for the man to let his boa constrictor out in his southern Maine yard “to play.”
When it took off, leading to an intensive search and a story on the nightly news, the man told the reporter that he’d let the snake out in the yard before and it had stayed there.
Aren’t you glad you don’t live in his neighborhood?
Well, there may be exotic snakes and other critters in your neighborhood, too. The list of exotic fish and wildlife that Mainers can possess without permits is 16 pages long and includes 35 snakes and more than 50 lizards. Some of these animals are dangerous.
In Boston, a woman got a full face transplant in 2011 after a ferocious attack by her employer’s 200-pound rampaging chimpanzee. She lost her nose, lips, eyelids and hands, and later, doctors had to remove her eyes because of a disease transmitted by the chimp.
In February of this year, Florida officials declared war on invasive snakes, recruiting people for python patrols. A University of Florida herpetologist, Kenneth Krysko, told a Reuters reporter that Florida’s move is too little, too late after Burmese python numbers mushroomed during decades when sales weren’t outlawed and wildlife agencies had few programs to deal with unwanted pets or snakes released in the wild.
Here in Maine, a KJ news story in January informed us that a Portland man settled his lawsuit against pet supply chain store Petco, after he was bitten by a rat purchased at Petco’s South Portland store. He had bought the rat to feed to his son’s pet boa constrictor. “He could have died,” said Dominic Profenno Jr.’s attorney. “He spent a lot of time at Maine Medical Center and then New England Rehabilitation Hospital.” A 10-year-old California boy did die of rat-bite fever in February.
In Auburn a few years ago, firefighters arrived at a fire in a third-floor tenement house to find boa constrictors slithering all over the apartment. They saved some of them, but others died in the fire.
For three years, Maine’s Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, with assistance from a task force, has been working to get on top of this expensive and alarming problem. DIF&W shares responsibility for exotic animals with the Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry, but most of the job rests with DIF&W wildlife staff and game wardens. And the agency gets no public funding for this work, so sportsmen are paying for it. That is just plain wrong.
Animals not on the unrestricted list require a permit, priced ridiculously low at $25, with lots of requirements including annual inspections of cages by game wardens. You would be right if you think that doesn’t happen very often.
I attended a couple of the exotic animal task force meetings and remember a great question asked by Jim Connolly, DIF&W’s top professional in charge of both the fisheries and wildlife divisions. Connolly asked, “Should the department be considering any request from anywhere in the world just because somebody wants to have something?” I don’t think so. Connolly told me several members of his staff spend a lot of time on exotic animal issues.
I wrote an outdoor news column about this issue a year and a half ago and got clobbered by exotic animal lovers. “You are an idiot, George,” wrote one. “You are a freaking idiot,” wrote another. “You, sir, are an idiot,” wrote a third. OK, they established that I’m an idiot.
But I’m not wrong on this. While we once thought these animals to be harmless, unable to exist in the wilds of Maine, we have been proven wrong. And with the changing climate, many exotic species are now able to survive and thrive in Maine. I don’t think they should be allowed here, period.
And the Legislature seems to agree with me. This session, with good guidance from DIF&W, legislators enacted significant changes to the law governing the possession of exotic species in Maine. Fees for permits were increased, DIF&W was given broad new authority on inspections, cages and other details, and the agency was directed to “adopt rules necessary… to safeguard the interests of the wildlife and citizens of the State.” DIF&W can even charge responsible parties now for the cost of removing or euthanizing unpermitted, regulated fish or wildlife species. The agency also was directed to revisit the list of exotics allowed without a permit. Let’s hope it gets shorter.
“This is a huge step and will hopefully reduce the number of these animals in Maine,” said Rep. Dale Crafts, R-Lisbon, a member of the Legislature’s Inland Fisheries and Wildlife Committee.
That committee was really focused on limiting the number of exotic animals and severely penalizing those who possess them without required permits. And for that, they deserve a big thank you.