Ohio Naturalist Considers Large Snake Restrictions ‘Rubbish’ [Interview]

Ohio’s pending exotic pets laws have those that work with or keep large snakes very concerned. The laws designed to protect both the massive snakes and the public are part of an act which mandates stricter regulation of non-traditional dangerous exotic animals in the Buckeye State. Before Governor John Kasich put together a task force of animal and wildlife experts to draft the legislation, Ohio had some of the most lax exotic pets laws in the nation.

Implementation of the Ohio Dangerous Exotic Pets Act was placed on hold after a lawsuit claiming a violation of owners’ Constitutional rights was filed. Hocking Woods Nature Center Director Dave Sagan is an avid fan of large snakes and often uses them as educational tools both at Hocking College and around the state at wildlife events.

Sagan sat down with The Inquisitr to expand upon comments made during his earlier interview where he voiced opposition to the Ohio Dangerous Exotic Pets Act.

IQ – How did your relationship with large snakes begin?

Sagan – Over 17 years ago I acquired a Burmese python named Taz. I was working as a naturalist, and I made a point of making an informed decision, knowing this snake would get just big. In the 17 years, Taz has gone swimming with kids in a pool, crawled across the legs of tens of thousands of children and adults, and been petted enough times to paint the White House twice. Now, Taz can no longer do any of that again for the simple reason he is a Burmese python, and he is over 12 feet long.

IQ – Many Ohioans feel that something had to be done in regards to exotic pet safety after the tragedy at Zanesville farm owned by Terry Thompson last year. How do you feel about this and the impact the new laws will have on large snakes?

Sagan – Ohio has had its worst-case scenario with exotic animals when 30 plus animals were released near Zanesville last year. These animals were quickly killed, without any injury to person or damage to property. Large snakes have absolutely nothing in common with this overall issue, besides the common cold of ignorant fear, and fear is now the currency our leaders want to use above all else. Large snakes will die outside at or around 40 degrees, and will go into a total stupor called torpor if the body temperature of the animal drops much below 70 degrees. This will effectively neutralize and eliminate any large python outside seven months out of the year in Ohio.

IQ – What information can you share about large snakes to alleviate public fears associated with the reptiles?

Sagan – Large pythons cannot cover any significant distances in a short amount of time like large mammals. What you see on TV, movies, and the internet, is about as real as you child’s monsters under their bed, they may be scary, but not real. Large snakes, and little ones too, want to hide. This is a simple principle that people who keep snakes take advantage of. By providing a “hide” within the captive environment, along with water and regular feedings and cleanings, the snake will be reluctant to venture.

IQ – What about the issues of public safety when it comes to large snake husbandry?

Sagan – The application of proper housing, care and feeding for any large python is the basis for animals wellbeing and thus, the owners safety. I have, and originally proposed to the State of Ohio, if basic guidelines for keeping these pythons were required, then the public safety issue would be addressed. In cases where a python does escape, it is usually a fast growing 2 to 4 year old, and more than likely, an inexperienced owner. Most python owners do not adequately upgrade the size of the snake‘s enclosure as the animal grows to prevent escape. This can be further complicated if the owner does not increase the size or quantity of prey items. A young, underfed python, in a too small of an enclosure is far more dangerous than a 16-foot python, properly fed and enclosed, especially for young children.

IQ – Do you consider large snakes more dangerous than small ones or traditional pets?

Sagan – It is the owner, or a member of the family, unfortunately it is usually a child that is killed by a python. Never has any member of the public been killed by someone’s wandering python. Dogs have killed and maimed far more owners, family members, and members of the public in recent years than the 1.5 people per year done in by their snake. Dogs have far more in common with bears, and the big cats than pythons, but for some reason a child being mauled, yes, shaken and thrashed to death while clamped in dogs mouth, is considered an accident and a gentle snake over 12 feet is a restricted snake.

IQ – How are large snakes used as an educational tool with the public in Ohio?

Sagan – Jack Hanna of the Columbus Zoo took two now restricted pythons on to the David Letterman Show, one was more than 20 feet long. This was the biggest python in the world at the time. The animals were relaxed and calm, even among the churning numbers of people around them. There was no need for barriers or restraint, just some big snakes, casually window shopping the stage of the Letterman Show.

What Jack Hanna did would now be a crime in the State of Ohio. If I take out Taz or any of my other “restricted” pythons and expose them to the public, I am now a criminal. Jack probably has permits or certifications that exempt him from these regulations, but the fact that he spent his time, telling jokes and making Mr. Letterman squirm, how can one argue these animals are a public safety issue?

The numbers of people who have directly interacted in essence, touched, my now restricted pythons over the years is estimated to be well over 37,000 or more. Not everyone wants to touch, or even get near a big snake, but for lawmakers to ignore these numbers and listen to neurotic fears and turn those fears into law? Wrong.

IQ – Do you consider it more dangerous for humans or the reptiles when a large snake is presented in the public realm?

Sagan – Five years ago a 12-foot albino Burmese python named Popcorn was killed in Ohio by a 10-year-old boy at an outdoor event. The snake was casually crawling amongst the crowd, when the 10 year old declared, ‘I hate snakes!’ then killed the snake with one murderous stomp to the head. This snake was completely defenseless from such an act. Therefore more snakes have been killed by contact with the public than the public killed by snakes. With the large pythons I do know or have known, when I look at them, I see them looking back. I see eyes that are connected to a mind. These pythons are intelligent and respond to regular handling and general care with a reserved indifference that can sometimes subtly hint they actually like what you are doing. I respect these animals, and I am in no way afraid of them.

IQ – What would you say to those who are fearful of the presence of large snakes in Ohio?

Sagan – To those who are afraid of snakes, you are phobic and not in control of your fear. It is in control of you. Your fear is real, but you are letting a very primitive part of your brain take over your ability to think and reason. I know the language of fear when it comes to snakes. I have heard it for all my adult life, and the new laws are nothing new. Lawmakers and people who have a neurotic fear of snakes should remove themselves from any legislation regarding the keeping of snakes. It must be pointed out that therapy is available and affordable. So, to those who are fearful of common sense becoming extinct, let’s discuss what we must do, and adopt captive large constrictor guidelines that we can agree upon.