WASHINGTON — Eat. Sleep. Kill.
This is the constant focus for a python.
David Tetzlaff, director of the Naples Zoo, said the prehistory creatures are animals, after all, and defense is their natural instinct.
After 46 years of experience handling snakes, Tetzlaff bares the scars of dozens of snake bites.
A Burmese python reaches an average length of 14 to 18 feet and can weigh more than 200 pounds, Tetzlaff said. Once a snake reaches five feet, it could easily kill a small child and anything longer than 10 feet could kill an adult.
“There is no reason these types of snakes should be readily available for the public,” Tetzlaff said. “The average person shouldn’t have a snake this size as a pet. It could kill you. There is no reason to have that in your house.”
And Tetzlaff is not alone in that belief.
U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson presented a bill to Congress that would restrict access and transportation of pythons at a hearing Wednesday.
Nelson, D-Fla., began his argument by describing the recent death of a 2-year-old girl caused by a pet python in Sumter County.
“An eight-foot albino Burmese python escaped from its container, slithered through the house and up into a crib where 2-year-old Shaiunna lay asleep,” Nelson said. “The snake bit the child and wrapped itself around her body. By the time the paramedics had arrived, the child was already dead from asphyxiation.”
Shaiunna is the fourth death by a python in the U.S. since 2006, according to the Humane Society. There have been 12 since 1980.
Senate Bill 373 would classify pythons as an injurious animal, and would prohibit the importation of the snakes between states.
The hope is that the bill would make the transportation and ownership of a python difficult and eventually lead to the demise of pet pythons in the U.S., according to staff from Nelson’s Washington office.
Beth Preiss, director of the Exotic Pets Campaign for the national Humane Society, said preventing interstate trade of the snakes will go a long way toward decreasing the number of pet pythons.
“We strongly support Senator Nelson’s bill,” Preiss said.
To keep a python in Florida, an owner must comply with state restrictions which include handling experience, permits and implanting a chip in the snake.
Mike Shepherd, owner of Pets Plus in Golden Gate, said lawmakers are trying to destroy the pet industry completely and this bill would make it nearly impossible to get a python.
Shepherd said the recent tragedy is an isolated incident that is being blown out of proportion and is an excuse to shut down the snake industry.
“It’s not the snake’s fault, what happened to that little girl,” Shepherd said. “Just like any other pet, it’s the responsibility of the owner to make sure the snake is in the proper cage.”
Shepherd said he has had hundreds of snakes, including pythons, in his house and never experienced any problems.
He said snakes actually make great pets because they are low maintenance and quiet.
“They won’t bother anyone,” Shepherd said.
Shepherd said that snakes measuring more than 12 feet are not appropriate house pets.
Nelson said the pythons are not only an unsafe pet but are also causing ecological problems in the Everglades by preying on other wildlife.
There are an estimated 100,000 or more pythons in the Everglades, according to a press release from Nelson’s office.
Nelson said pythons are an “endangerment to humans, and endangerment to the natural ecological phenomena of what mother nature intended because of this snake going after all other prey.”
The increasing python population is due to local pet owners abandoning their snakes in the Everglades, Nelson said.
Tetzlaff said he is also concerned about the pythons in the Everglades harming not only the ecosystem but humans.
“It’s only a matter of time before one of those snakes gets someone,” Tetzlaff said.
Nelson filed the legislation to ban the importation of Burmese pythons in February, but said he has been pushing for action for three years.
“Because we have this problem in Florida, I have been asking the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, administratively, to do something about the import and for three years, and they have not,” Nelson said during the hearing.
The bill will go to a vote by the full Environment Committee.
Nelson told members of Congress his proposal is a slight change in the law and that it would be a solution to the “ecological crisis” caused by the pythons.
Shepherd had a solution of his own.
“We should keep all the snakes and get rid of the senators,” Shepherd said.