By Erika N. Chen-Walsh
This post was previously published on my personal blog, A Legal Perspective, on December 3, 2012.
Wayne Pacelle, CEO and president of the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) blogged today, lambasting Andrew Wyatt and U.S. Rep. Steve Southerland (R-FL) for opposing U.S. Rep. Tom Rooney’s (R-FL) animal rights driven House Resolution 511. HR 511 seeks to amend title 18, United States Code (the “Lacey Act”), to prohibit the importation of nine species of constrictor snakes as injurious species. These include the Burmese python, the reticulated python, the North African rock python, the South African rock python, the Boa constrictor, and three species of anaconda.
Apparently, the reptile community, led by Andrew Wyatt, has struck a nerve with the $200 million plus per year animal rights legal behemoth, HSUS. Pacelle’s angst at Wyatt is not particularly surprising. Since co-founding the United States Association of Reptile Keepers in 2008, Wyatt has emerged victorious in more than two dozen state engagements defending the rights of herptile owners as well as multiple federal entanglements. These victories have come on a shoestring budget and against HSUS’s powerhouse millions. Wyatt is most certainly a bothersome thorn in Pacelle’s manicured paw, and one that will not go away.
Pacelle said today, “But the reptile lobby—yes, there is such a thing—has been thrashing its collective tail and saying how benign these snakes are and that cold weather will prevent the snakes from going much farther than the Everglades (I guess it’s no matter to these supposed snake “lovers” that the snakes will freeze to death).”
Pacelle’s comment is interesting for two reasons. First, using HSUS’s own statistics, 17 people have been killed by large constrictors in the US since 1978. HSUS further claims that there have been 1,111,768 large constrictors imported since 1977. Using those figures alone, without factoring in the millions of large constrictors bred in captivity this country since 1978, it makes the risk of death from a large constrictor less than 0.01%. Large constrictors may not be “benign,” but the risk of being killed by a vending machine, a clothes dryer, a sand hole, a shark attack, a dog or a bee are significantly higher than the statistical risk of being killed by a large constrictor.
Second, Pacelle seems to concede that the snakes will freeze to death if they travel north of the most southern tip of Florida. HSUSclaims on its own web site about reptiles, “Wild animals are best left in the wild where they belong.” As great a shock as it may come to HSUS, animals in the wild are not frolicking about making daisy chains and counting stars as they do in Disney movies. Wild animals die of disease, injury, predation, starvation, and yes, from the elements of nature.
Clearly, Pacelle’s remark is intended only to inure sympathy from animal lovers who don’t truly understand the issue. HSUS has used similar rhetoric about dog breeders, showing a decided recalcitrance to distinguish between responsible breeders and puppy mills. Responsible reptile owners and breeders do not want to see the suffering of any herptile, and they certainly don’t advocate releasing any captive reptiles into the wild.
Pacelle’s tantrum continues, “Somehow the snake lobby, in the form of the U.S. Association of Reptile Keepers, has hoodwinked a number of Republican House members and apparently convinced them that this is a matter of “economic freedom.”
This is about economic freedom. HSUS does not have the right to deprive American citizens of their property interests and their livelihoods simply because Pacelle doesn’t agree with reptile ownership. It must be incredibly empowering for one person to believe that his ideology should translate into law for every American citizen, but it is the duty of lawmakers to protect the interests of their constituents, no matter how much it upsets Mr. Pacelle. The majority of people involved in true herpetoculture, the breeding and ownership of captive bred reptiles, care immensely about the health and welfare of the animals they keep. (If Pacelle is truly concerned about the welfare of animals, perhaps he should revisit his endorsement of convicted dog fighting felon, Michael Vick, who, for a monetary donation, now receives Pacelle’s endorsement.)
Pacelle speciously condemns U.S. Rep. Southerland for condoning the import of “dangerous invasive species into the country for use as pets, even if they are creating ecological havoc, injuring and killing private citizens, and costing the nation millions of dollars in terms of containment activities.” (When he hasn’t got facts, he embellishes.) Notably, Pacelle provides no back up for his inflammatory and false rhetoric. HSUS’s fall back plan is to continue to terrify the public about non existent threats in order to feather HSUS’s own legal nest. (HSUS has conceded in its Motion to Intervene in Ohio that it has an economic interest in winning legislative engagements because doing so attracts more monetary donations. I will be writing on that topic next.) If Pacelle needs to succeed in state and federal legislatures in order to attract the hundreds of millions of dollars that pay his six figure salary, perhaps he should set his sights on those more dangerous predators, such as vending machines, clothes dryers and sand holes.
U.S. Representatives Fleming and Southerland, Dr. Brady Barr, Shawn Heflick, Colette Sutherland and Andrew Wyatt should be commended for bringing facts to the table regarding the threat of pythons in the Everglades and the economic impact of arbitrary and capricious government action. The role of our representatives in Congress is to protect our rights from unnecessary and harmful legislation, not to ensure that Pacelle has enough “wins” to fund HSUS into perpetuity.