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FWC approves ban on keeping invasive species as pets

In an attempt to save our ecosystem, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission has banned 16 non-native reptiles, including some pythons and iguanas, from being sold and kept as pets.

These invasive species are taking a toll on Southwest Florida’s environment, and the agency is trying to stop the damage those species are causing.

The Everglades is part of what makes Florida unique, but we know that Burmese pythons are killing native creatures and plant life. The reptiles are part of the reason that more than 20% of mammals in the Everglades are gone.

“Now their populations are really getting out of control. It feels like too little, too late,” said Matt Metcalf, a visiting instructor for FGCU Department of Biological Sciences. “Once an exotic species has become established, it is almost impossible to get rid of it.”

The ban that the FWC approved on Thursday eliminates commercial breeding and pet ownership of animals like iguanas and tegus, which have been seen eating tortoise eggs as far north as Charlotte County.

It doesn’t mean that current owners will have to give up their pets, though.

“Their pets are their pets. They will continue to be their pets and we made sure to make it very clear.”

More than 170 people from around Florida called into Thursday’s meeting to comment on the proposal.

Conservation groups were all for it, but emotional pet owners say restricting pet ownership won’t help save the Everglades, and those in the industry say it would negatively impact them from an economic standpoint, as well.

“There’s so many different things that are affecting our native species and that’s typically what we care about, like Burmese pythons and iguanas. But it’s such a small piece of the overarching piece that’s happening in our landscape,” Metcalf said.

The FWC and federal agencies spend about $10 million a year to manage the non-native species.

Along with the ban on commercial sales and pet ownership of the reptiles, the move puts the high-risk reptiles on the state’s prohibited species list and limits possession to permitted facilities engaged in educational exhibition, research, eradication or control activities.

The 16 reptiles include Burmese pythons, reticulated pythons, scrub pythons, Northern African pythons, Southern African Pythons, amethystine pythons, green anacondas, Nile monitor lizards, tegus (all species), and green iguanas.

Reporter:Andrea Guerrero
Writer:Jackie Winchester
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