Python Politics: Coalition Criticizes President for Inaction on Long-Sought Ban on Python Imports

Congresswoman calls pythons "an invasive species that is going to kill the character of the Everglades.”

By Jeff Burnside
|  Friday, Dec 23, 2011  |  Updated 8:00 PM EDT
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Congresswoman calls pythons

Congresswoman calls pythons "an invasive species that is going to kill the character of the Everglades.”

The latest political standoff between the White House and members of Congress is not about taxes or jobs. It’s about pythons.

Python politics is focusing on a long-proposed ban on importing pythons and several other snake species into the United States, an attempt to slow the snake’s expanding presence in the South Florida wilds where disillusioned owners are dumping them. A government biologist estimated their numbers at 180,000 in 2008. That number could be vastly higher by now.

But the ban has been languishing amid inaction on President Obama’s desk, despite a hearty endorsement from his own interior secretary, the superintendent of Everglades National Park, the head of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the South Florida Water Management District, and the entire South Florida Congressional delegation.

“This is one of those few issues that unites our delegation,” a smiling Republican Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen told NBC Miami. “Republicans and Democrats share this great concern.”

So she and the others wrote letters to the president imploring that it’s been “inordinately delayed” and urging “swift action.” All Obama needs to do is instruct his own administration to invoke the ban.

The Humane Society of the United States, the world’s largest animal advocacy group, is worried the lucrative pet trade is lobbying the White House. Its president, Wayne Pacelle, said the ban “is a no-brainer.”

Ros-Lehtinen threw the Democratic president a soft one. “I don’t know that the president is being pressured by the pet industry,” she said. “Maybe he’s just taking a lot of things into consideration before he makes such a directive.”

Zoo Miami’s Ron Magill, who has worked with pythons all his life, said, “I wish the president would get on it, because quite frankly there is no reason to be importing these snakes into this country any longer.”

Magill, holding a 10-foot albino python that a pet owner gave to the zoo years ago, said there are so many pythons already in captivity that banning foreign imports should not impact the pet trade industry anyway.

"People have come to the reality that they just don’t make good pets,” he said.

“They think that the Everglades is a dumping ground,” said Ros-Lehtinen, adding that the ban is “a very simple thing to do. It just says this is not a pet. It should not be in the pet category, or regulated as a pet. It is an invasive species that is going to kill the character of the Everglades.”

Pacelle is urging the president to sign the ban before the end of the year.

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