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FWC Proposes New Reptile Rules

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FWC Photo by Alicia Wellman, FWC Flickr, Creative Commons
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This is a young (small) black and white tegu that was kept as a pet.

Updated 2/25/21 at 3:50pm: On February 25th, FWC voted in favor of the ban.

On Thursday, February 25, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission will consider rules that are meant to keep invasive species of reptiles, such as boa constrictors, pythons, and tegus, from continuing to wreak havoc in the Everglades and across the state. While Audubon Florida supports the rule, the reptile industry says the proposal will do more harm than good—and that they'd prefer to be regulated the way Florida's zoos are.

Rules being considered by the FWC would eliminate commercial breeding and pet ownership of reptiles such as pythons, tegus, and green iguanas, in order to protect Florida’s environment and economy. The proposed rules will place these reptiles on the Prohibited species list, limiting possession to permitted facilities engaged in educational exhibition, research, or eradication or control activities.

Chris Farrell, Northeast Policy Associate at Audubon Florida, says these rules are needed.

"These reptiles that have escaped captivity spread throughout our natural systems and caused significant environmental harm and economic damage," Farrell said.

Phil Goss, president of the U.S. Association of Reptile Keepers, or ARK, says his organization’s members--reptile keepers and especially those who own reptile businesses--are concerned.

"They'll have to end their businesses," says Goss. "Only some of the businesses will be allowed to continue for three years, and for the bulk of species, will only have 90 days to either euthanize, surrender or move their animals outside of Florida."

Goss says that he and his members are not against regulations. In fact, he’d rather see “conditional species permits,” or CSPs, which are highly restrictive and not unlike permits required of Florida’s zoos.

"That's what should be happening instead of banning tegus and green iguanas and listing them as prohibited, they should be listed under this conditional species classification," said Goss.

Goss wants Florida’s reptile breeders and dealers to follow the same rules, regulations, and permitting requirements as the state’s zoos, which mandate things like escape-proof cages, microchipping, and inventories, rather than ban the species from the industry outright.

"We absolutely think there should be common sense regulation on them. But, you know, we're just foregoing all that and jumping to a prohibited species listings?"

Goss says stringent facilities requirements of CSPs would have stopped the Burmese python from invading the Everglades, pointing to Hurricane Andrew as the source of their escape into the natural environment and the lack of such stringent requirements, such as concrete flooring and secured structures, at the time.

"Burmese pythons eat dozens of species of birds and small mammals," says Farrell. "Several of these are species of conservation concern. The wading birds in the Everglades, they nest in the trees and big colonies. And they have the alligators underneath them to kind of protect them. As guards. Not a lot of predators can get past the alligators and get up into the trees. But that doesn't affect the pythons. The Python will sometimes fight with the alligators or they'll just ignore them, they'll climb up the trees, they can eat all of the nest, and eggs and birds in these large colonies."

Farrell also points to the damage the reptiles cause to water management structures and public works infrastructure.

"The industry certainly is not upset about the species being regulated. But we're not seeing any regulation. FWC may label it as a regulation, but it is a ban." said Goss.

Florida, says Farrell, has hundreds of invasive species. "They have to spend millions of dollars managing them, and they cause millions to hundreds of millions of dollars of harm. So it's important that FWC moves forward," he says.

Florida isn’t the only state grappling with invasive reptiles and the reptile industry. Last week the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources unanimously approved regulations that will end the possession, sale, import and breeding of the invasive Argentine black and white tegu lizard.

FWC will decide on Thursday February 25th whether or not to move forward with the proposed new rule.