Florida may tighten restrictions on pythons

South Florida Sun-Sentinel

With giant snakes battling alligators in the Everglades, the state wildlife commission has proposed sharp restrictions on the owners of Burmese pythons and four other nonnative reptiles, including a requirement to implant their slithery pets with computer identification chips.

Florida's hot and wet climate has made the state a congenial home for species from Africa, Asia and South America let loose by their owners after they become too big or too high-maintenance. A breeding population of Burmese pythons has been discovered in Everglades National Park, where the constrictors have killed native birds, mammals, and in one notorious incident, an alligator. Elsewhere in the state, trappers routinely catch pythons and other large non-native snakes.

The new rules would limit sales of constricting snakes that grow to at least 12 feet, specifically Burmese pythons, reticulated pythons, African rock pythons, amethystine or scrub pythons, and green anacondas. The rules would also restrict sales of Nile monitors, carnivorous lizards that can grow up to 6 feet and already have established a breeding population on Florida's Gulf coast, where they menace burrowing owls and gopher tortoises.

Under the new rules, python buyers would have to be 18 years old, complete a questionnaire, apply for a state permit, submit a plan for keeping the animal secure in case of a hurricane or other disaster, and have the reptile implanted with a computer chip.

The rules would go into effect Jan. 1, 2008.

Like the ones used to help return lost dogs, cats and birds, the computer chip identifying the reptile's owner would be implanted by a vet. If wildlife officials caught the snake in the wild, they could check the chip, find the owner and charge him or her with a second-degree misdemeanor for allowing the non-native animal to get loose. The maximum penalty would be a $500 fine and 60 days in jail.

Assuming -- and hoping -- that many owners of the big snakes will find these rules too onerous, the state plans to set up amnesty programs that would allow people to drop off unwanted reptiles.

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