Report Reveals Ecological Risks Associated with Giant Non-Native Snakes
Five giant non-native snake species would pose high risks to the health of ecosystems in the United States should they become established here, according to a U.S. Geological Survey report released on Oct. 13.
The 302-page report details the ecological risks associated with nine non-native boa, anaconda and python species that are invasive or potentially invasive in the United States.
The five high-risk species identified in the report include Burmese pythons, northern and southern African pythons, boa constrictors and yellow anaconda. According to the report, these five snakes put larger portions of the U.S. mainland at risk, constitute a greater ecological threat, or are more common in trade and commerce.
The other four snakes studied — reticulated python, Deschauensee’s anaconda, green anaconda and Beni anaconda — were assessed as posing a medium-risk.
Florida appears to be a hot spot of snake activity. According to the report, snakes from each group have been discovered in the wild in Florida, but evidence of reproduction is only available for three species: the Burmese python, the Northern African python, and the boa constrictor.
The report suggests that the probability of establishment is greater in south Florida, because its climate is suitable to the giant constrictors and much of the commercial trade in giant constrictors passes through southern Florida.
The risk to humans appears low. The report compares the risk to that of alligator attacks: attacks in the wild are improbable but possible.
“Although the largest individuals of all the species covered in this work are probably capable of killing a human, most seem disinclined to do so,” the report states.
The Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Park Service will use the report to assist in developing management actions. In addition, the risk assessment will provide science-based information for management authorities to use in evaluating prospective regulations that might prevent further colonization of the snakes.
While the giant constrictors are considered an “exceptional threat” to native ecosystems, co-authors Gordon Rodda and Robert Reed noted that the snakes constitute an important element of the large and growing trade in living reptiles. Rodda and Reed said economic benefits are associated with the reptile trade and that ownership of such giant snakes can foster positive attitudes about the protection of nature.
“Federal regulators have the task of appraising the importation risks and balancing those risks against economic, social, and ecological benefits associated with the importation,” they said in the report.
With regard to potential regulatory action, Marshall Meyers, chief executive officer of the Pet Industry Joint Advisory Council, said the government must first determine the scope of the problem and whether the issue should be dealt with on a national or state level. Meyers raised concerns about the possibility of the federal government banning importation and interstate commerce of the snakes — a move he said could push the trade underground and potentially cause those already in possession of the specimens to euthanize the animals or release them into the wild.
“In our opinion, the federal law they would be using is not equipped to deal with the specimens that are already in private hands,” he said. <HOME>
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