HONOLULU (AP) — Federal wildlife officials recently proposed strict nationwide limits on importing and shipping boa constrictors and four other snake species in an effort to prevent them from being introduced into the wild.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service would prohibit bringing the snakes into the country and shipping them between states except for scientific and educational purposes. The rules would also apply to reticulated python, green anaconda, Beni anaconda and DeSchauensee's anaconda.
Most of the snakes enter the U.S. as pets, the agency said. Many are released by owners when they grow too big, and other pet snakes escape from inadequately secured pens.
The agency set similar rules for four other snake species two years ago. It considered imposing the rules on the five species now up for consideration, but ended up leaving them off the list.
In January, 18 House members signed a bipartisan letter asking the Obama administration to add the five snakes to the ban.
The snakes pose an "unacceptable and preventable risk" to human safety and have severely damaged native ecosystems, the letter said.
The Fish and Wildlife Service reopened the issue for public comment last month and is accepting input through Thursday. The agency will consider the comments and make a final decision.
Snake owners have protested the rules. A federal lawsuit filed in December by the North Carolina-based United States Association of Reptile Keepers said the proposal to ban all nine snake species would cost the reptile industry tens of millions of dollars.
Boa constrictors are already established in south Florida. Warmer parts of the U.S., including parts of Florida, southern Texas, Hawaii and island territories also have hospitable climates for snakes, federal wildlife officials said.
Importing any type of snake to Hawaii is already illegal under state law. Even so, about 10 snakes are found in the islands each year. In November, a live, 2 ½-foot-long rainbow boa constrictor was found on a sidewalk in Honolulu's Chinatown.
Snakes aren't native to Hawaii and do not have any natural predators in the islands. Officials fear they could prey on native birds, most of which are endangered, if they were to become established in Hawaii.
Christy Martin, a spokeswoman for the Hawaii Coordinating Group on Alien Pest Species, said federal rules would further discourage people from bringing snakes to the islands.