In 2012 the questions of what constitutes a dangerous animal or a public safety risk were brought to the fore in a well publicized incident in Zanesville, Ohio. A mentally disturbed exotic animal keeper released his collection of lions, tigers, bears and primates immediately prior to committing suicide. The majority of the loosed animals were killed by local law enforcement in relatively short order. The state of Ohio reacted by banning many reptiles and other animals to the detriment of thousands of individuals and hundreds of small businesses.
Although no one was injured, animal rights organizations, the media and politicians sensationalized this isolated incident. They characterized the threat of another Zanesville as an unacceptable and imminent public safety threat. The historical and statistical data did not support the the knee jerk legislative response that resulted in one of the most draconian anti-animal laws in the country. The fact that no reptiles were involved in the incident, nor had they ever presented a demonstrable public safety risk in Ohio, did not stop hundreds of species of reptiles from being banned or restricted without regard for any threat to public safety or economic impact. Today there is nothing in the new law to stop an unbalanced individual from repeating this scenario; however, hundreds of responsible reptile keepers have been economically destroyed because lawmakers did not consider the economic consequences of their actions.
Extremely large specimens of the five largest snake species, venomous snakes and crocodilians present a minimal occupational hazard to their keepers. However, the risk is demonstrably less than that associated with other traditional livestock or pets. In recent years the Animal Rights (AR) movement has waged an aggressive campaign to depict this occupational hazard as a threat to public safety. This claim is untrue, confusing occupational hazard and public safety. Less than one person per year dies as the result of contact with a captive reptile; and it is virtually always the keeper or someone within the facility where the animal is housed. Since 1990, it has never been an innocent member of the public. Contrast that with the 25-35 fatal encounters every year with our favorite family pet, the dog. Dog attacks on members of the general public outside of the home are fairly common by comparison. Captive reptiles have never represented a public safety risk in the United States or anywhere else.
We already know that the Humane Society of The United States (HSUS) seeks to leverage their victory in Ohio to spread the long held doctrine of “reptiles should not be kept (in captivity).” Compounding this fact is the recent endorsement by the American Bar Association (ABA) Animal Law Committee of the HSUS model Dangerous Wild Animals (DWA) legislation as a legal recommendation for legislation nationwide. You can believe that they are touting the ABA endorsement in every statehood in the country even now!
The HSUS uses antiquated stereo types and cultural bias, carefully calculated and incorporated into slick propaganda, in order to scare law makers and the general public into thinking there is an imminent threat from reptiles. This message is more than misleading; it is patently false. The HSUS argument is that the facts and statistics don’t matter, that this is a question of “common sense”; and anyone (with “common sense”) can see that reptiles are clearly dangerous. Regardless of HSUS propaganda, the evidence is clear that reptiles pose virtually zero public safety risk and a minimal occupational risk. Whether the HSUS likes it or not, we have established that there is a $1.4 billion herpetoculture industry in this country.
Thousands of families rely on herpetoculture for all or part of their income. We are hard working American taxpayers. We care for our animals and have great concern for their welfare. The truth is on our side. Economics is our sword and science is our shield. We will fight for our right to exist and pursue our passion and livelihood.
US Herpetoculture Alliance OPPOSES any legislation or regulation that designates any reptiles as “Dangerous,” “Inherently Dangerous,” “Potentially Dangerous,” or “Dangerous Wild Animals.”