In this corner…weighing in at 1000 pounds and at 15 hands high, wearing the brown fur with black mane…the wild horse!
And in this corner…weighing in at 200 pounds and at 18 feet long, wearing the brown and beige scales…the Burmese Python!
When people are out driving and they see a wild horse, they pull over, grab their cameras and take pictures so they can share them their friends and family to ooo and ahhh over. People in this country have this romantic abstraction with horses due to their historical significance. And because of this, they choose to look the other way when it comes to the abundant amount of problems these animals cause.
The truth is, wild horses are a non-native, invasive species. Hmm, where have we heard that term a lot lately?
Wild horses have established populations in over half of the states in our union, with the largest populations located in the Western United States. Horses are large, hardy, warm-blooded animals that are highly adaptable to a wide variety of habitats.
In comparison, Burmese pythons are only established in a small region in the southernmost tip of Florida. Pythons being cold-blooded, environmentally dependant animals are not highly adaptable and require very specific conditions to survive.
Now let’s take a look at environmental impact. Large populations of horses are known to over-forage areas leaving little or no food for native foraging wildlife to feed on. This also displaces other wildlife by destroying habitat and shelter. Over-foraging also often leads to land erosion which in turn also destroys the shelters of many burrowing animals, and also can cause harmful effects on nearby natural water sources. The totality of this destruction effects dozens of species of animal, large and small.
Now let’s compare this to Burmese pythons in the Everglades. Pythons do need to eat and are efficient hunters. However, due to their slow metabolism, pythons rarely need to eat more than one or two good meals per month, and a large meal can sustain them for up to 6 months. Aside from eating the occasional native animal, they do nothing more to harm the environment.
Now let’s address the concerns of public safety. Throughout the country, there are over a hundred injuries reported due to conflicts with wild horses, sometimes these even result in death. These are almost always random, unexpected encounters.
I have been unable to find any incidents of wild Burmese pythons causing human injuries aside from the occasional bite due to a person deliberately choosing to engage the animal. I have not found any incidents reported of an injury or death due to a random, unexpected encounter with a wild python.
Now, I’d like to take a look at economic impact. The BLM spends 40-60 million dollars a year to ‘manage’ wild horse populations. On top of this, millions more are spent on state and local levels, and from private organizations. Wild horses also cause tens of thousands of dollars in personal property damage which often has to come out of individual’s pockets.
I have been unable to find any concrete numbers of how much money is spent on managing wild Burmese pythons, I only seem to hear about the billions of dollars that have been spent over the past few decades to restore the Everglades due to other problems, not including pythons. No doubt money is being spent on the cause, but it is undoubtedly NOT to the same extent as managing wild horses. Also, Burmese pythons do not cause private property damage.
It is exceedingly apparent that horses are far more harmful to the environment, to public safety, and to finance than the Burmese pythons could ever be. Now let’s see what our government chooses to do about this.
In 1971, at the recommendation of the DOI and BLM, congress enacted the Wild Horse and Burro Act, to require protection, management, and control of wild free-roaming horses and burros on public lands. It is the policy of Congress that wild free-roaming horses and burros shall be protected from capture, branding, harassment, or death.
So basically they take this non-native, invasive species and protect them, rather than take measures to protect native wildlife and habitat.
On the other hand, at the recommendation of the DOI and USFWS, wild Burmese pythons were classified as injurious species and listed on the Lacey Act outlawing importation and transportation across state lines, affecting businesses and owners across the entire country, but doing nothing to address the issues in Florida. Then to top it off, the FWC creates a contest encouraging people to go hunt and kill these animals, offering cash prizes for the reptilian corpses turned in!
The definition of an invasive/injurious species is:
A plant, animal, or other organism that is not native to the ecosystem under consideration, and whose introduction causes (or is likely to cause) economic or environmental harm or harm to human health.
That definition absolutely includes horses as well as cats, dogs, and many other animals. Why aren’t they on the list? The issue with the Burmese python is a small localized issue confined to a tiny portion of one state, it is not a national problem and biologically it is impossible for it to become so. Wild horses ARE a national problem, yet instead they choose to protect them?
Wild horses are rounded up every year, and kept at BLM facilities, or adopted out to spend their remaining days in people’s care.
Burmese pythons that are captured, are brutally dispatched and afforded no recourse to live at all.
Now, I’m not saying these things about wild horses because I believe anything should change with them. I’m saying these things to make a comparison and show the bias that we are facing. This recent addition of large constrictors to the Lacey Act is only the tip of the iceberg. Many states across the country, are now trying to jump onboard and flat-out BAN ownership of exotic animals. I know Exotic Animal Owners can’t be the only ones that see the flaws in the logic of our government. And this is why I have chosen to write this. To bring awareness to the prejudice and discrimination exotic animal owners are facing now, more than ever and in epic proportions. Even though Exotic Pets historically carry significantly less personal and environmental risk than domesticated animals do….they are continuously vilified because of people’s fear and lack of understanding. Most exotic animal owners are already on-board to protect our hobby, businesses and passions and all I can ask is for us all to come together to provide a united front against these injustices, and take some time to properly educate the public.
To everyone else, I plead that before you join the lynch mob against exotic animals and their owners, that you take a moment to learn about and understand these magnificent creatures and learn the facts behind all of these recent attempts to take them away from us. You will find that most exotic animal owners are very eager to share and will happily take the time to impart their knowledge and introduce their beloved pets to you.
John Potash ©2012Want more great information like what you have seen here? Herpetoculture House