March 17, 2014

By the time this column is printed, we should know if a beautiful icon of reptile keeping is now lost to American hobbyists forever.  That animal is the common boa constrictor.

The red tailed boa constrictor has proven over decades to be a great pet for intermediate to advanced hobbyists, but now she is on the chopping block, thanks to some shoddy science, the USFWS and the misguided agenda of a couple off-the-wall animal rights groups.

I remember as a child catching and keeping many colubrids like garter snakes and rat snakes, but when I was old enough and educated enough to move on to something more exotic, the boa constrictor was my new found love.  I would eventually go on to keep and breed Burmese and reticulated pythons, both of which are more than capable of being very calm and amusing pets when kept by responsible keepers with the proper space to house them correctly.  Both, unfortunately, are under or have fallen to the same persecution as the boa.

Ruby was one of my first loves, and to this day remains the reason I am still enamored with large constrictors.  Even my mom, who was not crazy about snakes in general, found the beauty in Ruby’s pattern and was very pleased by her slow, deliberate movements as opposed to the many wriggling, writhing colubrids I’d brought home before.

I got Ruby as a yearling when I was 9 years old. Sadly, she passed away when I was 31. For 22 years, I enjoyed walking around with her, sitting in the living room with her, and educating those friends and family who had irrational fears of snakes. I used her as an ambassador animal in school presentations and even as a therapy animal at some retirement homes. Ruby helped many people get over their fears and never struck at anyone in her 22 years. She was an old, trusted friend whose memory will never be lost, but I am not sad in her passing because that is part of the education you get when you do decide to keep animals. What makes me the most dismayed is that my sons may never know what it is to enjoy a boa constrictor as a pet for themselves.

There is a huge problem in our beautiful country right now, and that is the under education and misguidance of the public by underfunded biologists looking to collect bounties by signing off on any study with a paycheck attached to it.  There has been an enormous controversy over the Florida Everglades and some Burmese pythons that escaped during a hurricane, the majority of which Mother Nature dealt with herself. Of course, animal rights groups painted that as a pet industry problem.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I am all for responsible keeping of animals for the safety of people and the animal. What I must oppose are the crooked agendas of organizations who decide to make a living by stripping the rights of fellow Americans to enjoy their boas, frogs, and dare I say, cats and dogs. These people have strategies and decide which section of the pet industry to attack on their way to snuffing out the whole thing.

Their newest attack seems to be on the constrictors, with another proposed federal ban being presented to Congress again. They’ve already been victorious with several of the largest animals, and so they continue down the line now with reticulated pythons and boas. And after that, they set their sights on ball pythons. Ball pythons? The barely 4-foot shy serpents who’d rather roll into a ball than fight, ball pythons? Yes, those ball pythons. Now you see the problem with shoddy science.  While I realize many of you reading may not keep or even like our scaly friends, we must stand united. We must work together because, today, it is all the large beautiful constrictors we’ve kept for decades without problems. Tomorrow it is goldfish, hamsters, and then cats and dogs.

In my opinion, there are no bad animals, only bad keepers. But like any other industry, we cannot allow the few rotten apples to ruin the barrel for the vast majority of responsible, amazing hobbyists with whom I am proud stand with.

As a member of both the reptile community and pet industry for more than 20 years, I must implore all animal keepers, pet store owners and pet professionals, even dog walkers and groomers, to help in the struggle the reptile community is in right now. We must show a unified front as animal lovers, and when they come for your birds, we’ll be there and when they come after the cats and dogs, we’ll be there, too.

Please contact United States Association of Reptile Keepers at www.usark.org or the Pet Industry Joint Advisory Council at www.pijac.org, to find out more information on proposed laws and how you can help. Your pet’s legality may depend on it.

– Rob Stephenson

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