If reptile breeders think new rules in Florida are pushing them out of business, they may be right, said Nick Atwood, campaign manager for the Animal Rights Foundation of Florida.
Gov. Ron DeSantis signed a bill Monday that adds two reptiles to the list of species banned from sale, import, breeding and ownership in Florida — the green iguana and the tegu. They join five species of the python snake on a short list of invasive reptiles that state wildlife officials fear will colonize the state and kill off local wildlife.
The large tegu is considered particularly hazardous as it can survive in colder weather and eats eggs of other reptiles such as alligators. Charlotte County was the third-highest county in the state for tegus. Most live in the eastern Charlotte County.
As a relatively recent arrival, environmental advocates believe there’s still a chance to keep the tegu in check, Atwood said.
You may still see these animals in captivity in Charlotte County. The law exempts reptiles kept for education, research and eradication purposes. It also grandfathers the permits of existing breeders.
One of those breeders is Ty Park of Ty’s Lizards. Park has been planning to open a small reptile zoo at his facility on Bermont Road. He told the Sun Tuesday he is hoping to open it in December. Last year, the local Board of Zoning Appeals granted him a permit to open the zoo, provided he got rid of most of his tegus.
“I understand why there should be legislation for tegus,” Park said of the voracious reptile that grows up to 4 feet.
But reptile breeders believe the public fails to value ownership rights for reptile lovers, because their animals are not cats and dogs.
“We love these guys, just as dog lovers love their dogs,” Park said.
For breeders, the growing list of banned species threatens their ability to make a living, Park said.
Having made the shift to being more of a zoo keeper, Park said he is not as affected by the expanded law, plus, his breeding permit is grandfathered. He can still sell outside of the state of Florida.
But he is concerned for other breeders.
Reptile breeders and owners across the nation are so concerned about the expansion of this law, Park said, that one organization is thinking of suing. That is the U.S. Association of Reptile Keepers.
Reptile breeders believe that there is nothing to stop legislators from placing any and all reptiles on a list of banned species, Park said.
“They have almost carte blanche to add species,” he said of legislators.
For example, Park said, the bearded dragon is a popular iguana in pet stores. What if those were banned? Reptile breeders feel they are under attack.
They’re right, said Atwood. The bearded dragon could be the next pet that slips out the door into the wild, aided by frustrated owners. Wildlife advocates are not in favor of the breeding and sale of these potentially invasive animals, he said.
“I think their future is threatened as people become environmentally conscious,” Atwood said of commercial reptile breeders.
USARK fought the inclusion of the Burmese python as an illegal invasive reptile, Atwood said. Today, the state Fish and Wildlife Commission sponsors python hunts to remove the giant snake from the Everglades where it is responsible for killing everything from song birds to deer.