Fish and Wildlife Service banned imports and interstate commerce activities that includes the following species:
- Python molurus (which includes Burmese python Python molurus bivittatus and Indian python Python molurus molurus),
- Northern African python (Python sebae),
- Southern African python (Python natalensis), and
- Yellow anaconda (Eunectes notaeus)
The official notice was published in 77 Fed. Reg. 3,330. The notice labels, under Lacey Act, these species as “injurous,” and therefore gives basis to exclude them from interstate commerce. The notice leaves the door open for exceptions, by permit, and on case by case basis. But, the notice goes on to state that “[t]he rule does not address under what circumstances a person may qualify for exception to the importation or interstate transportation prohibitions under the zoological purposes provisions,” leaving circus performers in the dark.
One thing that is clear, is that a traveling circus performer will need to apply for the permit to take applicable snakes out of state. If that is not done, and if caught, the performer may get criminal charges filed against him. The example statement in the notice provides a good example of what can happen:
A person would violate the injurious wildlife provisions of the Lacey Act (18 U.S.C. 42) if he or she did one of the following with any one of the four constrictor species listed as injurious:
(1) Transported between the States, the District of Columbia, Hawaii, the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, or any territory or possession of the United States by any means whatsoever; or
(2) imported into the United States from another country.
In either case, notwithstanding there may be other laws being broken by the action that we are not considering here, these violations are considered misdemeanors and carry penalties of up to 6 months in prison and a $5,000 fine for an individual or a $10,000 fine for an organization under 18 U.S.C. 42. If, however, another law was also broken, the violation could become a felony under 16 U.S.C. 3372, which carries higher penalties. For example, if the owner of a Burmese python in Florida didn’t have a permit as required by Florida State law, and that person transported the snake to another State, then the fact that the State law was broken in the process of transporting it across State lines makes it a title 16 violation. Therefore, while it may put as many as a million American citizens in possession of injurious wildlife, none will be in violation of the Lacey Act automatically. Furthermore, unless these people break laws under title 16, they would not be subject to potential felony prosecution under the Lacey Act. Hobbyists’ current activities would not become crimes provided their snakes stayed in-State or were exported directly out of the country from a designated port within their State’s borders.
This, combined with the fact that many circus performers are immigrants or here on visas and can be subject to deportation upon violation of certain laws, can have big consequences for unaware.
Outside of the circus industry, this notice should come as of no surprise to any fans of Animal Planet or Discovery channels. The fact that pythons made South Florida their new home has became a common knowledge in the American communities.