“Cats are destructive little bastards.” That was a comment from Jason Perillo who was testifying against my proposal to require permits for all exotic animals and require the Warden Service and neighbors to be notified if that exotic animal gets loose.
Perillo has a business in Winthrop that includes 1400 exotic animals, none of which require a permit. He acknowledged that the Warden Service confiscated his boa constrictors, and that he has applied for permits to acquire other exotics, but had no luck in getting those permits.
Senator Scott Cyrway, Senate chair of the IFW Committee, sponsored my proposal and worked closely with me on it. IFW Committee member Catherine Nadeau cosponsored the bill.
The Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife opposed the bill, explaining the current situation with exotics in Maine, and updating the committee on their work to establish three lists: exotics that require permits, exotics that don’t require permits, and exotics that you cannot possess.
Because they testified before I did, I was able to respond to some of their concerns, suggesting we simply needed one list: exotics you can possess with a permit. All others would be banned. And I focused on dangerous animals that get loose, without the neighbors knowing.
You can be fined if your dog runs loose, but not your python. That is just wrong.
The legislature rewrote the laws governing possession of exotic animals last session. The Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife is in the process of creating new lists of exotics that can be possessed with permits, those that can be possessed without permits, and those that are banned.
This legislation will require a permit to possess all exotic animals in Maine, and require the owners of exotics to notify the Maine Warden Service if their exotic animal gets loose along with any neighbors within that animal’s range of travel. It would also authorize DIF&W to require an ID chip in some exotic animals.
How would you like to have been the couple in Veazie who woke up to a shocking surprise slithering around in their shower: a 3-foot-long ball python? The python’s owner acknowledged that the python escaped its tank a month earlier. But she was under no obligation to let her neighbors know.
Or how about the 3 ½ foot python that showed up in a Fairfield apartment, trying to eat the residents’ pet parakeets. Fairfield police arrived and confiscated the snake, which was given to the Maine Warden Service, which either took it to an animal rehab facility or, more likely, killed it.
Of course you may think I should be a fan of pythons, now that they’re a huntable critter in Florida. But that state had to open a season on the non-native Burmese pythons because they have taken over the state, which now has an estimate 30,000 of them crawling around. So far the hunts have been largely unsuccessful, with less than 200 pythons being killed by hunters each year.
Florida recently recruited tribesman from India to hunt the pythons which are decimating native mammals in the Everglades. The Irula tribesmen are well-known for their snake-catching skills. They are going to be joined by dogs trained to sniff out pythons.
Maine’s lists of exotic animals you can possess, with or without a permit, were established with the understanding that these animals, if they got loose, could not live in our state due to our winter climate. That is no longer true for many animals.
Perhaps we should treat all exotics like we treat hybrid wolves. They must be registered, micro-chipped, and neutered or spayed.
This isn’t as far-fetched as you might think. Ringnecked pheasants that are raised here and released in the fall for hunters to pursue, must be identified with a permanent leg band before being released. This permanent leg band must remain attached to the bird until that bird is finally prepared for consumption.
In fact, any wild animals possessed by those who have a permit to possess, propagate, and sell wild birds and animals, must be identified with a securely attached tag or seal before being removed from the premises of the permittee, and that tag or seal must remain on the bird or animal until it is consumed or manufactured into a finished product. Sounds very sensible to me.
DIF&W prepared a report on exotic animals for the legislature a couple years ago. In the report’s list of challenges were these:
- The easiest way to prevent an exotic animal from becoming an exotic pest or invasive is never allowing it into the State of Maine to begin with. This puts the Department at odds with a number of individuals who wish to own exotic pets. DIF&W has an important stake in this area because it has the potential to put our native animals and habitats at risk if pets become pests.
- Animals are adaptable to changes in the environment and habitat needs. Some states set standards and limitations on importation based solely on climate. Allowing animals to be kept as pets here under the assumption they would not survive our colder climate if released is not a sure thing. Red-Eared Sliders, a species of turtles, are an example of a species that was thought to be a safe pet species and has been released by owners into the wild and has become established outside its native range.
- Exotic pet owners often feel it is more humane to release an exotic animal into the wild in Maine than to turn it into a shelter if they feel it might be euthanized. This is especially true if the animal is in Maine illegally.
I know this is a touchy subject. When I wrote about this issue in 2014, I got clobbered. “You are an idiot George,” wrote one person. “You are a freaking idiot,” parodied another. “You sir are an idiot” wrote a third.
“Open a book, dickhole,” suggested a woman who thought I needed to be educated. “It’s people like you that make this country unlivable,” continued the woman who lived in Ohio.
“This is the most ignorant article that I have ever read,” wrote another. “This guy is a total nutbag,” suggested someone else. I was called a moron, ignorant, and sickening. Comments came from all over the country and throughout Maine.
I thought working for sportsmen was a rough job, until I began writing about exotic animal issues and problems. Some of the owners of exotics sounded downright dangerous to me – never mind their pets!
“No one should have the right to take away my loved and well cared for pets because they don’t like them!” wrote one woman. “I’m not petitioning for children to be outlawed because I don’t like them! These exotics ARE my children.” Enough said.
Just in case you think this is just about snakes, consider this. In 2012 a Eurasian wild boar was shot by a hunter in Somerset County, after it killed a domestic pig. Ten fallow deer were rounded up in Nobleboro one year. And a 2-foot long lizard was captured by Camden police in 2013.
In Australia, two non-native animals – feral cats and red foxes – have wiped out 10 percent of the native land mammals. That country is in the midst of a campaign to shoot and poison two million feral cats.
James Connolly, the very capable director of DIF&W’s Wildlife and Fisheries Divisions, suggested at one meeting of the agency’s exotic animal working group that exotics in Maine must be better documented and more transparent so the public knows what is allowed and what is not, with a more appropriate and effective enforcement process, plus a means of handling and caring for confiscated and abandoned animals.
At another meeting, Connolly expressed my thoughts exactly when he said, “I have a basic concern: should the department be considering any request from anywhere in the world, just because somebody wants to have something.”
I have been an advocate for Maine’s native fish and wildlife my entire career, and might prefer that no exotic animal be allowed into our state. But at a minimum, I believe strongly that we need to know who has these exotic animals, and be alerted if they get loose. I hope you agree.