The New York State Assembly began drafting a bill to prohibit the ownership of potentially dangerous exotic animals early in 2001. Although there has never been a fatality from an exotic animal attack in New York history, lawmakers felt that some exotics were unsuitable as pets and constituted a risk to the public.
The bill came to my attention in June of 2001, and by July I was consulting with Assemblyman Paul Tonko's office. In addition to those animals prohibited by the new law, the first draft also prohibited venomous fish, poisonous amphibians and all snakes over 10 feet, as well as all member of the family Boidae; the family of snakes that includes boas and pythons.
I informed the lawmakers that of the 73 snake species in the family Boidae, only 4 could really be considered a public health risk. The others were too small to be dangerous or too rare and expensive to be commonly owned. These four were the African Rock Python, Reticulated Python, Burmese Python (the Indian Python is included with this, as New York DEC does not recognize subspecies; the Burmese Python is a subspecies of the Indian Python) and the Green Anaconda.
The rule prohibiting snakes over 10' posed a problem for two reasons. It was not made clear whether this meant specific snakes that were actually over 10' or snake species which were able to attain lengths over 10'. This was not simply a question of semantics, since the giant constrictors are nearly always sold as babies. Would they be legal until they reached 10', and if so, what would happen to them after that? Also, some snake species which reach lengths over 10' are very thin and totally harmless to humans.
An agreement was reached where the four species mentioned above would be prohibited, along with the yellow Anaconda. While this species seldom attains lengths of 10', it can be difficult for law enforcement officials to differentiate between the green and yellow Anaconda.
The legislator's stance on venomous reptiles was much more rigid. Even though the Gila Monster (one of only two venomous lizards) is generally considered to be only moderately venomous and several species of rear fanged snakes are essentially harmless to humans, they would not bend in their insistence that all venomous reptiles be prohibited. Up until the signing of this law, anyone could own a venomous reptile in NY after obtaining a venomous interim permit that was issued upon request.
I then suggested that the term "venomous by nature" be inserted, thereby prohibiting venomoid snakes as well. Venomoid snakes are those that have had their venom glands surgically removed. Snakes that have undergone this procedure are generally favored by young, inexperienced keepers or those who have a need to feel powerful or impress their friends. It is ill advised and potentially very dangerous for a number of reasons.
The next area of revision was the monitor lizard section. Under the wording of the first draft of the bill, all monitors would have been banned. Again I explained that of the 50-60 known monitor species, only 5 were large enough to cause any significant harm to humans. These are the Nile, Water, Crocodile, White Throat and Black Throat Monitors. Assemblyman Tonko's office agreed with this, and the wording was changed.
Another change I suggested was the addition of a licensing requirement for Green Iguanas. Iguanas make far poorer pets than most people realize, and constitute the bulk of the reptiles turned over to the animal shelters each year. This licensing requirement was agreed to, but was later dropped after intense pressure by the pet store lobby.
Prohibition of venomous fish and poisonous amphibians were later removed after the decision was made that they posed no significant threat to the general public or their own keepers.
The Bill passes
the Assembly and reaches the senate.
When I was informed that Boidae was put back into the ban, I immediately urged Assemblyman Tonko's office to remove that language from the bill. While it was too late to remove the language, the assembly used an amendment to remove Boidae. I did not know that the Australian Scrub Python was added by the Senate. While this addition was silly (they are rare, very few people own them, and they don't tend to get very large) and illogical (this is a subspecies of other scrub pythons that are not banned, and again, NY DEC does not recognize subspecies), it was not a deal breaker as far as I was concerned. It was a case of someone in the senate watching too much Animal Planet.
The Bill passes
both houses and is signed by Governor Pataki.
The current state
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