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Reptile trade group sues over federal ban on some snake species

It was a snake that reportedly led to the ban on humans in the Garden of Eden. Now a reptile trade group wants to overturn a national ban on importing four giant snakes or transporting them across state lines.

The United States Assn. of Reptile Keepers has filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Department of the Interior seeking to overturn the ban on Burmese pythons, yellow anacondas and northern and southern African pythons. The suit calls the ban “injurious.”

“This is a powerful day for the Reptile Nation, as we fight to protect your rights to pursue your passion and defend your businesses against unwarranted and unnecessary government intrusion," the group said in a post on its website.

The issue is that the snakes are native to Asia. They, especially the Burmese python, have taken up residence in the Florida Everglades where they have no natural enemies. In effect, for the foreign reptiles, it is like they are living in the Garden of Eden, able to chomp on native animals with impunity.

In response, the federal government has banned the reptiles everywhere, an action that has created what the association argues are sizable economic losses for breeders and animal handlers. Initially, nine species were part of the federal ban that prohibited moving the snakes across state lines. Five species, including boa constrictors, have been dropped.

The federal ban will help prevent non-native snakes from spreading while protecting wildlife, Ken Warren, spokesman for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, told the Associated Press.

“This is in response to significant ecological impacts observed as a result of a self-sustaining, wild population of Burmese pythons in Florida,” Warren told the news service. “These snakes have the potential to expand beyond South Florida. Large constrictor snakes have demonstrated that they are highly adaptable to new environments, consume a large number and variety of native species, and dramatically change the ecosystems they invade.”

Florida law prohibits the possession or sale of Burmese pythons and southern or northern African pythons -- and some large non-native snakes not included in the federal ban -- for use as pets. The reptile keepers association isn't challenging the Florida law, just the federal action banning the species in other states.

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