By MICHAEL PELTIER
June 29, 2007
TALLAHASSEE — Hoping to eliminate problems with big, exotic snakes on planes or anywhere else, Gov. Charlie Crist on Thursday met with a local lawmaker after ceremoniously signing into law a measure to help state officials stop the spread of reptile pets gone wild.
Sponsored by Rep. Ralph Poppell, R-Vero Beach, the law requires owners of many exotic reptiles including Burmese pythons to show they can afford them by paying the state a $100 annual fee. The proceeds will go toward bolstering enforcement and education efforts. New rules take effect Jan. 1.
"This bill is about good governance; giving (wildlife officials) the tools they need to promote responsible ownership and a uniform standard for the possession of dangerous, exotic or invasive wildlife," Poppell said in a statement.
Florida wildlife officials have been complaining for years exotic, non-venomous reptiles are being released into the Florida wild where they have few, if any, natural predators.
As their cute little pets grow into hulking adolescents, uncomfortable owners have used the Everglades and other natural areas as forced relocation centers for reptiles that soon grow into something to be reckoned with. In one case in 2005, a 13-foot python in Everglades National Park devoured a 6-foot alligator but burst in the process.
But it's not just a South Florida problem. Vero Beach Animal Control Officer Bruce Dangerfield, for example, has rounded up more than 30 large snakes in the past eight years.
The measure also requires owners of other exotic animals such as baboons, gorillas, leopards and other species to post a deposit of at least $10,000 or carry $2 million in insurance coverage. The measure sets up a series of increasingly stiff penalties for owners, sellers and traffickers. The maximum penalty for negligent handling and selling is a third degree felony, punishable by up to five years in jail and a $5,000 fine.
Crist's signature comes more than two years after Poppell first introduced the measure. Earlier versions went into hibernation as owners of lions, tigers and bears objected to their inclusion. Poppell's bill couldn't squeeze through.
This year, Poppell and Senate sponsor Bill Posey, R-Rockledge, shed the furry exotics from most provisions of the bill, but still require owners to prove they have the financial capacity to pay claims in the event of an attack. The bill slid through with little objection.