Karrie Herring considered her 11-foot albino Burmese python an attractive, if unusual pet, fond of affectionately coiling itself around her.

State wildlife officials deemed it a threat to public safety, seized it and destroyed it as one of the many species that are illegal to possess in Maine.

“The really large pythons we just don’t put on the list (of allowed pets),” said Phillip deMaynadier, leader of the reptile, amphibian and invertebrate group at the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries & Wildlife. “If they escape, they can eat small pets. They can even pose a risk to small children. And both things have occurred.”

The ability to buy and sell snakes and other exotic pets has ballooned with the popularity of Internet classified sites like Craigslist, said deMaynadier.

“I would say it’s probably one of the largest sources of illegal trade in reptiles and amphibians, which include the really popular pet trade species,” he said.

Herring believes her snakes are the victims of ignorance.

“I think snakes are misunderstood,” she said recently from her home in Scarborough, “just because snakes aren’t fluffy and cuddly like dogs.”

Herring says that with responsible ownership, the 10-pound Burmese python Adidas was less dangerous than many pet dogs. She kept it in a locked cage in a locked room and it would have no chance of surviving a Maine winter, she said.

Herring, 25, has had a fondness for snakes since she was a young girl. She likes their mannerisms and how each has its own personality, which may not be apparent to the casual observer.

“Some of them, like Adidas, when you open her cage, she would come up out of her cage and wrap herself around you. She loved being held. Almost all of them love being held,” Herring said. “Snakes have their good days and bad days like everybody. Some days they just want to be left alone and other days they are like: ‘Hold me.’ ”

She paid $200 for the python, which she found on Craigslist about a year ago, then nursed it back to health from what she described as an upper respiratory infection and an infestation of the only kind of flea that affects snakes. Unlike most of Herring’s 10 remaining snakes, which typically eat frozen rats, Adidas would eat rabbits or chickens, which Herring fed the snake once or twice a month.


Herring said she explored getting a permit for the forbidden snakes, hoping to bring them to schools for educational programs, but was told she wouldn’t be able to because the species had already been considered and rejected.

Wardens say they got a tip from an informant that Herring was keeping illegal snakes. Herring believes it was one of her neighbors whom she and her boyfriend were having a dispute with and who wanted them out of the apartment building they shared in Biddeford at the time.

While on her way to work at York’s Wild Kingdom in August, Herring got a call from game wardens who were at her apartment to inspect her snakes and confiscate any that were illegal, she said.

They took four. In addition to Adidas, the wardens seized DiNozzo, a Hog Island boa; Silver Surfer, a Silver Trans Pecos rat snake; and Zeus, a Colombian boa constrictor.

When the wardens confiscated the snakes, Herring reacted as many pet owners might – she lost it.

“I was crying, swearing at them, calling them every single thing in the book,” she said. She calmed down after they called a police officer to the apartment because she didn’t want to get arrested.

“What would you say if I said they took my dog away?” she asked. “They didn’t do anything wrong,” she said of the confiscated snakes.

She does not believe they pose a threat to native wildlife, as she was told, because they could not survive a Maine winter. She says that when the warden service destroyed the snakes, they actually put the cold-blooded animals in a freezer.

Herring is scheduled to appear in Biddeford District Court on Jan. 19 to face one count of importing or receiving wildlife without a permit, a class E misdemeanor.

“They offered to let me pay a $100 fine and plead guilty, which I’m not going to do. These snakes should not be illegal. We’re one of the few states that think a lot of these snakes should be illegal.”

There are good reasons to limit the exotic wildlife that can come into the state, deMaynadier said.

“One of the threats to Maine’s fish and wildlife resources is invasive species,” he said. They can contribute disease or compete with native species for food.

“It is illegal to import invertebrates, exotic ladybugs, dragonflies for mosquito control, butterflies to release at a wedding … all things that have happened.” he said.


One of the ways the department determines if a species is a threat to Maine plants or animals is if they can survive a Maine winter, which would give them a chance to establish colonies, he said. The red-eared slider turtle, one of the most commonly sold pet turtles, was banned in 2010 after biologists found evidence of a couple of populations growing in York County, he said.

Another reason exotic pets are limited is that some species in demand by collectors are endangered in their native range. The more endangered, the more desirable to an unscrupulous buyer, which drives up the price, a vicious cycle that threatens them even more, deMaynadier said.

“The Madagascar tortoise – whether or not it’s going to survive a Maine winter or is a public safety risk, we’re probably not going to allow it because we do not want to fuel a market for a species that is near extinction,” he said.

“There are species native to Maine on our endangered and threatened species list (for which) one of the contributing threats is illegal collection from the wild for the pet trade,” he said. Spotted and Blanding’s turtles are native and rare and sought-after, and online markets in unusual species can fuel that trade, he said. “Our wardens do their best to monitor the Internet as well as the leads they might get on the ground.”

For Adidas, it came down to public safety, which is another reason certain species are prohibited.

No poisonous snakes are allowed in Maine. Some pythons are permitted because they don’t get too big, he said. Burmese pythons may start out at 12 to 24 inches but they can grow to between 18 and 20 feet long. Adidas may have been just an upstart at 11 feet, but officials have to anticipate how big it could get in the future, deMaynadier said.

“Not in Maine, but elsewhere in the country there are cases where children have been injured, and I believe cases where children have been killed by reticulated pythons and I believe Burmese pythons as well,” deMaynadier said.


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