RALEIGH — The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service placed tough restrictions on four species of giant constrictor snakes Tuesday, calling them a threat to wildlife and habitat across the country.
But to Zachary D'Alessio, a certified reptile rehabilitator in Raleigh who keeps a pair of Burmese pythons, the new rules present a hassle to reptile lovers everywhere - and a severe loss in trade.
U.S. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar announced Tuesday that four snake species - Burmese pythons, South African pythons, North African pythons and yellow anacondas - are illegal to import or move across state lines.
The ban was scaled down from nine species, including the reticulated python, which D'Alessio also keeps. It came in response to the widespread Burmese python population in the Everglades in South Florida, which has eaten endangered species and turned up in backyard pools. One such snake was killed with a 76-pound deer inside it, fully intact.
But to reptile dealers across the Southeast, these are localized problems being treated with an overreaching national law. Thousands of reptile breeders and rescuers will lose income or jobs over the new restrictions, D'Alessio said.
'I've got to keep them'
As president of Reptile Rescue of the Carolinas, he tends to dozens of unwanted or abandoned snakes, as do a handful of other rehabilitators. His two Burmese pythons, measuring 11 feet and 8 feet, came in from Roxboro on Saturday after their owner lost her job and had to file for bankruptcy.
Now, he said, he won't be able to send them across state lines or ship them by plane. Finding a capable owner inside North Carolina could take months, if not years. They were slated for a breeder in South Carolina, but now D'Alessio cannot legally turn them over.
"I've got to keep them," he said. "They eat five pounds of food a month. I'm very disappointed in the federal legal system."
Reptile breeding is big business. D'Alessio knows 25 reticulated python breeders and estimates that sellers of all types of snakes number in the thousands statewide. He dismissed the idea that four species on the federal list is better than nine, arguing that Tuesday's announcement opens the door for more snake restrictions.
Andrew Wyatt, president of the North Carolina-based U.S. Association of Reptile Keepers, estimates that the industry generates $25 million a year in the state.