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Shannon Corregan: Dangerous pythons are not pets

Where did all these snakes come from? Last week in Mission, police discovered nearly 50 illegal pythons in a house only a couple of blocks from a local school. The cache of snakes was unearthed during the owner’s eviction from the house.

Where did all these snakes come from? Last week in Mission, police discovered nearly 50 illegal pythons in a house only a couple of blocks from a local school. The cache of snakes was unearthed during the owner’s eviction from the house.

In an unsettling coincidence, the 46 illegal Mission snakes were seized on the same day that 40 (legal) pythons were found in a motel room in Ontario. Their owners were trying to sell them before they moved to Calgary, also as a result of an eviction.

Snakes have been in the national spotlight for weeks, since two young brothers in New Brunswick were killed by an illegal African rock python that escaped from its enclosure in an apartment above a pet shop.

The tragedy has stuck with us because of its senselessness: The four-metre, 45-kilogram snake escaped through a hole in its enclosure, which was not in the pet shop downstairs as originally reported, but in the apartment itself. It happened upon the boys, who were having a sleepover with the pet-shop owner’s son, and asphyxiated them, perhaps after mistaking them for its natural prey.

Much of the ensuing conversation has focused on the preventability of the boys’ deaths, for it seems clear that the tragedy was caused by human error.

According to New Brunswick’s Department of Natural Resources, African rock pythons are illegal in the province unless the owner has a permit. Permits are granted to zoos, but not to those who intend to keep exotic animals as pets, and the snake’s owner did not have a permit.

Unfortunately, the possession of exotic species in Canada is governed by a complicated mishmash of provincial regulations and municipal bylaws. Many experts are pointing out that as a result, the illegal animal trade in Canada is robust, especially when it comes to exotic reptiles.

Why pythons? Why do we feel the need to keep pythons as pets?

We have dogs and cats and rabbits and guinea pigs and hamsters and gerbils and rats and mice and ferrets and parakeets and parrots and cockatiels and lovebirds and fish and turtles and all manner of barnyard animals, not to mention a vast array of non-venomous, non-dangerous frogs and lizards and snakes. Is that not enough choice for us? Do we need — nay, deserve — mastery over all beasts? Are we so entitled that “that animal is cool and I want one” is a more powerful impulse than the thought of: “Hmm, that animal is dangerous and perhaps not appropriate for my living situation”?

I think snakes are cool, but we’ve got zoos and YouTube, so I’m not sure that there’s any reason dangerous animals should be available as pets.

All animals are potentially dangerous — even domesticated ones. Both my cats have sharp claws and have done painful things to me with those claws when startled or while playing. But there’s a big difference between potentially dangerous and actually dangerous.

All pitbulls are potentially dangerous, because all dogs are potentially dangerous. Pitbulls that have been trained to be aggressive are actually dangerous.

But pythons aren’t dangerous because they’re aggressive, bloodthirsty killers (they’re actually shy, lurking, opportunistic predators, according to Bry Loyst, curator of the Indian River Reptile Zoo in Ontario). No, they’re dangerous because they’re big, heavy carnivores that cannot be domesticated and cannot tell the difference between dinner and “Master.”

In B.C., the purchase of exotic animals has been curtailed, but it’s still easy to buy reptiles online from American sellers.

I imagine that responsible snake owners in B.C. are shaking their fists at the snake owner in Mission, whose illegal reticulated pythons were immediately destroyed.

That makes me sad, because these snakes had done nothing wrong. (Not being creatures with, you know, the capacity for morality, snakes aren’t able to do wrong.) They paid for their owner’s irresponsibility, as well as this idea we have that if we like a thing, we should be able to own that thing.

The prominence of illegal snakes in the headlines this August is reminding us of what we’ve always known: Dangerous animals aren’t dangerous because they’re bloodthirsty killers, but because we lack common sense. When we forget that, we’re not only putting other people in danger, but the animals as well.

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