New Reptile Laws For Ohio?

Tuesday, July 6, 2010 at 2:03 PM Bookmark and Share
Last week Ohio Governor Ted Strickland made an agreement with the Humane Society of America and "agricultural interests" that may impact laws regarding the owership of large reptiles.  You can read some press here, here and here.  A copy of the agreement can be found here and here.

Of particular interest are these two points in the agreement (emphasis added by me):
2) The Ohio Department of Agriculture and the Ohio Department of Natural Resources will coordinate and take action on wild and dangerous animals including the prohibition of the sale and/or possession of big cats, bears, primates, large constricting and venomous snakes and alligators and crocodiles. Existing owners will be grandfathered in, but they could not breed or obtain new animals.

10) The HSUS will not submit a constitutional amendment on animal welfare in 2010 to the Ohio Secretary of State. Failure to implement the provisions related to wild and dangerous animals or the reforms recommended to the OLCSB by December 31, 2010 could void the agreement and allow the HSUS to pursue a ballot initiative whenever it chooses. However, if the terms of this agreement are met and implemented to the satisfaction of all parties, the agreement will extend to January 1, 2014. At that time the agreement shall be extended through January 1, 2017, and subsequently through January 1, 2020, if the terms continue to be met, and no party shall reasonably withhold its consent to the extensions. Any future pursuit of a ballot initiative by HSUS could nullify the limitation on gestation crate or battery cage facilities until and unless other lawful prohibitions come to exist.

It's sad the agreement uses such vague terminology. What about other large predators, like hyenas or wild canines? And what counts as "large" or "venomous"?  Do they count venomous species like the harmless-to-humans Ringneck Snakes?  Would a stringy, 13 foot carpet python  be too big?

HSUS appears to only condone keeping pets if those pets are mammals, birds or fish.  Reptiles and amphibians? Nah -- they all make bad pets. 

Here's what HSUS has to say about snakes...
So many people seem to be afraid of snakes that some experts speculate this is a predisposition inherited from our distant primate ancestors. But snakes are not out to get us, and will avoid people as much as they possibly can. These incredible creatures fare best when left alone in their natural environment, not as pets.

As beautiful as some snakes are, they do not make good pets. A girl was killed by a python kept as a pet in 2009. People get snakes when they’re small and may let them loose as they grow. Burmese pythons have invaded the Everglades and could spread—and other species may follow. Help stop the trade in large constrictor snakes as pets.
Seems odd for them to include mention of a snake-related death here (e.g. no mention of deaths on their dog page) but I suppose it's an otherwise reasonable blurb. Well, except that they're wrong. Some snakes do make good pets! At least as good as fish and birds, if I do say so myself.

So why all the fuss?  Maybe it's a safety concern? How big of a problem are large captive snakes?

According to REXANO (Responsible Exotic Animal Ownership) in this summary (PDF), the number of deaths from large constrictors in the U.S. between 1990 and 2008 was a whopping eight.   Yup, eight deaths over almost two decades.

While each of those deaths is tragic, this statistic hardly warrants a campaign to completely ban "large" constrictors. Even correcting for the number of snakes in the U.S. over that time period, it still strikes me as a very low number.   If 8 deaths in 18 years warrants a ban, then it's puzzling how we can still comfortably allow dogs, horses, and backyard swimming pools - each of which kill more people in a single year than large constrictors have killed in nearly two decades. Banning big snakes is not the solution.

My advice for HSUS is that it needs to reevaluate (or be more clear about) it's motives and rationale, particularly regarding why a ban is the best solution to whatever problem(s) they are concerned about. After all, "so many people seem to be afraid of snakes..."

ADDENDUM:  All that said, there is plenty of room to improve the humane treatment of captive reptiles and to protect wild reptile populations.  For more on the reptile trade, I highly recommend Bryan Christy's book and blog.


Posted by: Controversy.Animal.Welfare.Rights | 7/18/2010 4:55 PM

Good blog post. Yes, REXANO has many statistics showing bans are not necessary. Ohio doesn't need any ban but does need legislators to wake up to standing up for the people-not giving in to an animal rights organization. Election time is coming up...

Posted by: Russ | 7/20/2010 12:25 AM

Come on - what your post says is 'including the prohibition of the sale and/or possession of big cats, bears, primates, large constricting and venomous snakes and alligators and crocodiles.!

Too often the owners don't/won't take care of the critters and the problem comes.

Nothing unreasonable at all - unless you are on some kind of a campaign.

Posted by: holly | 11/29/2010 2:34 PM

i think that its messed up for the animals being blamed and not the owners if people cant take care of them then y buy them i own 5 large constrictor snakes and i love them and they are handled great and never hurt anybody

Posted by: Ben | 2/25/2011 1:33 AM

I agree there is no need for a ban. I own several venomous and large snakes as well as a 10 foot alligator. I have no problems with mine. If housed and cared for properly there is no problem. You are more likely to get killed by dogs or horses than a captive reptile in Ohio. This is a terrible law and needs to go away. If you are afraid of snakes or other reptiles than dont get one it is as simple as that. I also think there is no way you can compare a snake to a lion or bear or other large land carnivore. Housing a snake is much much easier than housing a large land carnivore. You cant punish all for the mistakes of one.

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