Wilson County News February 13, 2013 3,879 views 16 comments
A group including herpetological experts and snake breeders is asking the Wilson County Commissioners Court to reconsider the provisions of its Nov. 28 vote to enact restrictions on certain non-indigenous snakes being kept as pets in unincorporated regions of the county. This was a dominant topic of discussion during the commissioners’ Feb. 11 meeting.
The ordinance, which became effective Jan. 1, defines a “controlled exotic snake” as a venomous snake not indigenous to Texas. These are banned from ownership, along with other exotic snakes, such as pythons and anacondas (and hybrids).
Jason Royer, owner of Royer Reptiles located outside La Vernia, also works in Iraq as a civilian contractor. The Wilson County native and his wife breed boa constrictors and ball pythons -- both outlawed by the commissioners’ action --which forced him to make arrangements for friends in other counties to house his snakes.
David Barker, a professional herpetologist from Kendall County, explained to the commissioners that boa constrictors and pythons have gotten a bad rap from TV shows and movies, and that Wilson County’s climate is not conducive to these animals being able to survive if introduced. A cold snap in the Florida Everglades, which is purported to be home to scores of these creatures, killed 90 percent of the pythons during the winter of 2010-11.
“There’s no way they’ll live past the first cold snap,” he said.
Pete Minicos, vice president of the South Texas Herpetological Society, said that captive snakes must be kept in climate-controlled environments, or they will not survive.
Wilson County Judge Marvin Quinney suggested that the group meet with veterinarian George Hill, who helped the county author the ban, to see if a middle ground can be reached.
In other business, the commissioners:
•Gave conditional approval, pending review by its insurance agent, to allow paranormal groups to give tours of the Wilson County Jailhouse Museum in downtown Floresville.
•Approved spending an estimated $8,500 for a structural X-ray technician to take X-rays of the floors of both the Wilson County and the Wilson County Courthouse Annex III, ahead of proposed renovations of both buildings.
In attendance: Wilson County Judge Marvin Quinney and commissioners Albert Gamez Jr., Paul Pfeil, Ricky Morales, and Larry Wiley; Wilson County Sheriff Joe D. Tackitt Jr., interim County Auditor Verna Gorzell, County Clerk Eva Martinez, County Treasurer Jan Hartl, Library Director Nicki Stohr, Pct. 3 Justice of the Peace Jim Burdette, and Emergency Management Coordinator LeAnn Hosek.
Your Opinions and Comments
Jason Royer La Vernia, TX February 18, 2013 6:38pm
And I can't help but comment on this.....let's talk about a REAL problem animal when it comes to our wild Texas populations of animals. We are all talking about taking away a responsible person's ability to keep certain species ... More ›
And I can't help but comment on this.....let's talk about a REAL problem animal when it comes to our wild Texas populations of animals. We are all talking about taking away a responsible person's ability to keep certain species of snakes because the might kill native species, right? Even though this has never really manifested itself in Texas. Have you ever considered what the common house cat does to wild animals in Texas? Would you want to take away everyone's right to own a house cat based on that logic? Have a look at this recent study. How many times has the 'ol barn cat dragged wild animals up on your back porch? http://abcnews.go.com/Technology/cats-kill-billions-animals-annually-study-finds/story?id=18357853
Jason Royer La Vernia, TX February 18, 2013 6:28pm
For us snakes represent so many other things other than just a cool pet. Ever since I was a kid I always imagined working someday with snakes, and I've been fortunate enough to live in a time when having a legitimate snake ... More ›
For us snakes represent so many other things other than just a cool pet. Ever since I was a kid I always imagined working someday with snakes, and I've been fortunate enough to live in a time when having a legitimate snake business is actually a possibility. It's amazing how far the industry has come the last 20 or 30 years. Our understanding of these animals has exploded because of the private keeper. It's really outstanding! There are populations of certain types of reptiles in captivity that no longer exist in the wild because of deforestation, population increase, pollution, etc. The reptile industry, in a huge way, is guaranteeing future generations a way to be able to experience these animals even when they may no longer exist in the wild. Most of the new information on how these animals live, breed and thrive is because of the private keeper....not research facilities or zoos. Most of the books that we own in our reptile library are either authored or co-authored by private keepers based on their experiences. For many people keeping boas and pythons was the beginning of a career in animal science. Most reptile researchers and reptile veterinarians began keeping these animals as kids and young adults. It was a way for them to be introduced to exotic animals when the opportunity to do so is becoming more and more rare in today's urbanized world.
I agree, WHOLEHEARTEDLY that an irresponsible individual that doesn't properly keep ANY animal probably shouldn't be able to keep that animal. I'm not just saying snakes here, Laura, but horses, dogs, cats, cattle. It would really be no different if someone allowed their German Shepherd to roam free and it found it's way into your chicken coup to kill some of your animals. This is the key here. The owner of that dog AND that snake should be held responsible! But should EVERY German Shepherd owner in Wilson County also be punished? Of course not! That would just be silly! Why would ANY responsible owner of ANY animal be punished for what a single, irresponsible person does? All dog owners aren't lumped together with the irresponsible ones, so why should all snake owners be? Our breeding projects revolve mainly around the ball python, the most popular pet snake in the world. It's maximum size is around 4 feet in length with the occasional animal possibly reaching 5 feet in length. They make excellent pets! Their temperament is extremely docile, they vary greatly in color and pattern, they are quiet and require minimum maintenance. We used to breed the burmese python years ago, but in our opinion finding suitable homes and keepers was difficult....so we quit breeding them. We only keep them mainly for educational purposes but we had to move some of our animals out of the county once the ordinance was put in place. My question is why should OUR ability to keep and educate people on the realities of certain species of these animals be taken away because of a rare case of someone else being irresponsible?
To fully write about what is going on in Florida would take me too long....but consider this. Biologists from the USGS stated that there are over 100,000 burmese pythons in the everglades. If that was true, why did over 1,400 hunters only find 68 snakes during a month long hunt? ONE record winter that didn't even come close to what we here in Wilson county experience EVERY YEAR eliminated an estimated 90% of the population there. The everglades are a swampy sub-tropical climate with limited to no access from human beings. Look out your back door. Does our county even remotely resemble the Everglades? Dave Barker, the herpetologist that spoke at the commissioner's court meeting, testified to a US Congressional Committee on this very subject along with a number of respected biologists. Once the report from the USGS made it's way around the scientific community it was completely discredited. Think about their reasoning for doing this....can you think of a more perfect story to bring in federal dollars to the Everglades restoration project than mad pythons invading the Everglades and eating everything in sight? Florida biologists that are there, boots on ground are seeing and reporting a different story. Unfortunately that story isn't as interesting to the mass media as the "python invasion". Mr. Barker, along with a large group of biologists and reptile professionals also testified to a Texas legislative committee about this very same thing back in 2007. There is simply no scientific evidence to support the possibility of these animals being able to establish breeding populations in this area. Boas and pythons are tropical species of reptiles that succumb to freezing temperatures very, very quickly (usually overnight) and have a ton of health issues that generally leads to a slower death in just cool temperatures. People have been keeping boas and pythons on a huge level since just after the turn of the 20th century in Texas, but no feral population exists here. That's almost a HUNDRED YEARS!!! There have been extensive studies done after the USGS paper by Florida Fish and Wildlife, University of Florida biologists, independent biologists and reptile professionals that have all painted a very different picture of what's going on in the everglades.
When we do sell snakes to people, we definitely offer assistance after the sale. To do otherwise would be completely irresponsible. 95% of what we sell consists of the ball python, so the initial weeding out period for a proper home for the snake isn't difficult. The ball python truly makes for a good first snake as a pet and that's what we recommend. IF we did indeed sell burmese pythons the weeding out process would be pretty extensive. We've upset a few customers in the past when we did breed them when we would not sell them the snake based on what we heard of their experience. What we are actually hoping will happen in Texas, and even the US is an apprenticeship program for the more "advanced" snake species. Ball pythons, corn snakes....these are great beginner snakes...but a copperhead, burmese python or monacled cobra is not. We'd like to see something formed along the lines of what you must do to scuba dive....you learn from a master diver, spend hours diving and earning a certification...then you can open water dive! The same should and hopefully WILL happen within the reptile world.
Responsible keeping of these species contributes so much good to our understanding of the world around us and keeps populations of these animals available for future generations to explore and experience. Taking that away completely destroys that chance for them. The burmese python is currently a threatened species in it's native lands, but thanks to captive breeding of the animal here in the states we guarantee that this species will continue on. Research facilities and zoos will always have a source to obtain animals from when captive breeders continue to produce high quality animals.
Laura, I would LOVE to chat in person with you about this and invite you to come by our facility so we can show you what we work with and how we do what we do. I honestly think that you'll be surprised! I'd be willing to bet you're only 5 or 10 minutes away. You can contact us through our website, royerreptiles.com. I hope you consider it!
For me the only good snake is one that doesn't come in contact with me or my family. Snakes in Texas are there for a reason and I respect that when going out in the wild areas of my place or other areas, I may come in contact ... More ›
For me the only good snake is one that doesn't come in contact with me or my family. Snakes in Texas are there for a reason and I respect that when going out in the wild areas of my place or other areas, I may come in contact with one such as the Copperhead that wrapped its body around my foot when I stepped on it and bit me in 1997. It wasn't fun but it happened. I have large barns and there are numerous snakes that hang out there too, such as chicken snakes and bull snakes and mouse snakes. As long as they leave my chickens alone and my eggs, they are welcome to stay as they help keep rodents and venomous snakes from coming near my home. The problem I have is with NON-TEXAS snakes such as the ones you breed and keep. To each his own, but your rights to own them stop when these snakes contact other helpless animals in the wild.
You alluded to the snake population in Florida which is susceptible to cold weather and this causes wholesale death, but they just posted about a Python snake hunt that only removed several hundred of the thousands that have proliferated the wilderness areas and are descimating the wild bird populations and other small animals.
Don't you think that the Commissioners court is within their stated positions to address the same possibility happening in Texas? We have lots of water ways, rivers and lakes that could host these snakes.
As a breeder, do you follow up with people who purchase your baby snakes as they grow to prodigious lengths? Do you buy them back or offer that option if they become unmanageable? What happens is that people get bored with the care such an animal needs and will just drive out to the country and dump them, much as cats and dogs have been handled for years around here.
So you and your spouse may follow all the rules, there are many who don't and cause the problems I had or the family in Florida had with the Albino Burmese Python that killed the infant. Good aquariums are costly too and it sounds like this couple was very negligent in the care of their snake that killed the baby and they were duly prosecuted.
But what you may do to protect and care for your snakes is not what many others will do, whether there is a law or not. Ideally, everyone would have your compuction and care for these snakes, but that is sadly not the case.
Jason Royer La Vernia, TX February 17, 2013 10:45am
I would love to comment a bit on this as well. Laura, you must understand that Kassandra or myself are not attacking you in any way. We too are extremely upset that someone's burmese python was allowed to roam free and caused ... More ›
I would love to comment a bit on this as well. Laura, you must understand that Kassandra or myself are not attacking you in any way. We too are extremely upset that someone's burmese python was allowed to roam free and caused you to lose animals. It's a terrible situation. You lost animals....the burmese python had to die. No one likes to see that! Kassandra wanted to illustrate the facts and show that an all-out ban on possession is just not necessary. We too believe that animals such as the burmese python or even a venomous snake should be kept by responsible, experienced individuals. Allowing a burmese python to roam free is punishable by Texas law...and I'm sure after a new ordinance is put in place in Wilson County there will be more penalties. We're not just talking about the large constrictors here, however. A ban was agreed upon that would have prohibited possession of snakes that have NEVER killed a human being and are completely harmless to them, animals that are the same size as a Texas Rat Snake or a Corn Snake. I'm sure it's difficult to see things from a snake owner's perspective....especially a responsible snake owner, but imagine that you lost the ability to own horses because of an irresponsible owner, or cattle....or dogs. Those animals were brought up because of the fact that they indeed DO kill dozens of people YEARLY. This is a fact. Reptiles of ALL KINDS kill less than one person a year! This includes all crocodilians, venomous lizards, snakes of all kinds, to include private keepers, research facilities, zoos. Does this require an all out ban that would punish responsible keepers? Restrictions SHOULD be put in place....but a ban? Less than one person a year NATIONWIDE???? Please don't lump Dave Barker or ourselves in that same group that does practice the keeping of these animals irresponsibly. We have YEARS of experience keeping these animals responsibly and would like to see an end to irresponsible actions. I don't know if you're a gun owner or not....but imagine every responsible gun owner in the US losing their right to own guns because of the irresponsible actions of a few people. Restrictions? Sure. But an all out ban? That's a little much. Feel free to ever contact us with any questions that you may have regarding these animals. We love to discuss our passion with people. On some occasions we will even invite individuals to come and have a look at our facility and see how these animals are kept. You can find us at www.royerreptiles.com.
Kassandra Royer La Vernia, TX February 17, 2013 12:27am
I apologize if you felt I was Attacking you in any way, I was merely discussing the issue. We have put considerable effort into providing the commissioners with factual information so that they have what they need to make a ... More ›
I apologize if you felt I was Attacking you in any way, I was merely discussing the issue. We have put considerable effort into providing the commissioners with factual information so that they have what they need to make a good decision based on reality and not simply media driven hype and fear. We are working with the Comissioners Court to put legislation in place that will mandate proper handling of these animals- locked, shatter proof caging, for example. Since this is a public newspaper, I merely wanted to present the facts for any unbiased raders so they could get the full story and be able to form their own option. I am still rather upset that no one can tell me if the person responsible for the Burmese python in your chicken coop was punished for their negligence. No number of laws will work if they are not enforced, be it ban or other restrictive measure.
I don't know why Dr Hill decided to bring this before the commissioners court which then voted to support his proposal on his advice. I just posted why I was for enactment of the ordinance. He is a well known veterinarian ... More ›
I don't know why Dr Hill decided to bring this before the commissioners court which then voted to support his proposal on his advice. I just posted why I was for enactment of the ordinance. He is a well known veterinarian in the county and he must have had valid information that swayed their vote. You are obfuscating the argument I made and singling me out for my opinion, twisting what I say. I have no vote but I will call my commissioner in support of some law that brings some avenue for control of pet snakes, especially those that grow so large as the one in my chicken yard. Whatever your opinion may be because of your particular bias would be better spent convincing them of why you see things your way and giving them another option that may work at allowing ownership and or breeding snakes in Wilson County. As it stands now, they agreed to look further into the matter. I would save my energy for that instead of posting letters to me.
Kassandra Royer La Vernia, TX February 16, 2013 7:21am
Your choice not to own a dog that could kill some else's animals does not equate to banning all other people from owning dogs that might kill livestock. It will never be right to punish an entire group of people for the irresponsible ... More ›
Your choice not to own a dog that could kill some else's animals does not equate to banning all other people from owning dogs that might kill livestock. It will never be right to punish an entire group of people for the irresponsible actions of a very very few. Facts reflect the truth. Dogs have killed and continue to kill people in Texas. So do cows, horses and donkeys nobody cries for a ban on any of these animals.. However, nobody has ever been killed by someone else's escaped pet reptile. Ever, not anywhere in the United States. Yet a ban is demanded because the fear that it maybe perhaps it could happen someday? The last constrictor death in TX happened in 1980. That is tragic in itself but also please note that date. That means Texans-your neighbors- have been keeping these animals with no issue for several DECADES. They are not a new thing, they are just popular in the news currently. Of the very few deaths (about one every other year over the last 20 years) most can be attributed to really bad choices on the owners part. The small girl that died in FL- her parents thought a blanket over the top of an aquarium was adequate caging. Also, the issue of whether or not the responsible person was ever punished still has not been addressed?
Oh yes, I did have dogs that killed chickens,accent on did have! But I would never own an animal that could kill a human. I do own cattle which can kill but you are aware of that potential especially with a mother and her newborn ... More ›
Oh yes, I did have dogs that killed chickens,accent on did have! But I would never own an animal that could kill a human. I do own cattle which can kill but you are aware of that potential especially with a mother and her newborn baby. But you can always find an outlaw that has the potential and they become hamburger very soon. You know the potential of "animals" and you are careful with them. I was sorry to have to kill that animal but I did try by contacting the Sheriff's office and the lady answering the phone said to kill it. Yes it was someones "pet" but like any renegade that doesn't belong it died because you snake lovers and breeders who could do anything or raise any animal out in the unincorporated areas of the county boondocks and not be regulated. Prior to the snake using my chickens for food, some of my clients told of dead cats and dead dogs in the Rosewood and Centerpointe area. This loose snake could have covered a much larger area looking for food. No fence would have kept this hungry thing from searching. Thankfully we are rather scattered out or else the potential to kill a child may have changed. All animals are regulated in the incorporated areas so still think the County Commissioners were wise to be strict about Snakes. I had two curious little grandchildren coming the next day to visit me. This snake didn't know a child from a chicken and wasn't about to knock on my door. for food. Responsibility for owning ang especially breeding these deadly animals must be assured. Thank you Dr Hill for raising the issue in Wilson County!
Kassandra Royer La Vernia, TX February 16, 2013 12:55am
I forgot to add that the Burmese python at the rodeo is so labeled to discourage inexperienced people from running out to buy one because they think big snakes are "cool", having no idea of proper caging or care.
Kassandra Royer La Vernia, TX February 16, 2013 12:44am
Mrs. Dylla, I am sincerely sorry for the loss you incurred in 2011. It is inexcusable for anyone to allow any animal they own to roam/escape and should be held accountable for damages. It is shocking to find a large snake ... More ›
Mrs. Dylla, I am sincerely sorry for the loss you incurred in 2011. It is inexcusable for anyone to allow any animal they own to roam/escape and should be held accountable for damages. It is shocking to find a large snake in your hicken coop, but ask yourself, how ,any stories of dogs killing livestovk have you heard? Do we ban all dogs? Did you know allowing a Burmese python to escape in TX is a class A misdemeanor punishable with a minimum $500 dollar fine and up to a year in jail? Was the person responsible punished? Had I not been in Iraq, I gladly would have responded. Problem is, most people who know and like snakes are quiet about because most people are afraid of them. As for survivability in TX, as sure as my heart beats I guarantee these pythons cannot become feral in Texas. Summers would be no issue. They love heat, but couldn't survive the mildest of our winters. Several years ago, a study was conducted not far from wilson county using indoor/outdoor enclosures. The pythons even had access to a heat source, but they still all died. As with most issues, people who are negligent or flat irresponsible need to be held accountable for their actions, and snake lovers need to make themselves known, so the sheriff's department knows who to call in the event there is an issue.
Sarah Kafel San Antonio, TX February 15, 2013 10:38pm
If we banned everything that COULD hurt us or someone else, we would have nothing left to enjoy in this world. Might as well cover ourselves in bandaids, and never leave the house again... All there are are WHAT IF... WHAT IF ... More ›
If we banned everything that COULD hurt us or someone else, we would have nothing left to enjoy in this world. Might as well cover ourselves in bandaids, and never leave the house again... All there are are WHAT IF... WHAT IF a tornado blew the house over, and WHAT IF that cobra got out, and WHAT IF then it was mad and found somone and bit them...WHAT IF. A python got out somewhere in the US...and killed a child, or some animals. How many dogs kills kids and animals EVERY DAY? How many cars kill people and animals EVERY DAY? But people are generally scared of snakes, and to hear about or have the RARE occurance where one got out and killed, or hurt a child, or animals, just scared the heck out of them and makes them scream BAN THEM BAN THEM!!! It's just not logical. It's silly. And it is ignorant. And people really need to be better educated and open their minds a bit more before screaming BAN on everything that scares them in this world.
I would beg to differ with the "expert" herptologist about survival in Texas of these snakes. When I walked into my chicken pen two years ago, where were you to come and rescue this snake, an albino Burmese Python, ... More ›
I would beg to differ with the "expert" herptologist about survival in Texas of these snakes. When I walked into my chicken pen two years ago, where were you to come and rescue this snake, an albino Burmese Python, which escaped from a location near the wilson/bexar county line and traveled over three miles in HOT texas weather to kill a goat, a clutch of geese on a pond, our 50 lb dog and 5 chickens and 1 rooster? This type of snake had killed a small child in Florida a year before. I called the Sheriff's office to see who could rescue it and they didn't know you existed or I would have called you. It was over 10 ft long and not what you would expect in your chicken pen. The person from whom the snake escaped warned his nearest neighbors but we are over on 3432 near kicaster! There is an exact replica of this snake in the Snake show at the Rodeo with a sign warning about the unpredictability and danger of this so called "pet". Also over in Guadalupe County, a Boa had grabbed a womans arm and almost killed her. It wouldn't loosen its coils until they almost cut its head off. As to surviving cold weather, there are enough barns and dead wood for them to get in out of the cold. It seems as if my visitor had done pretty well even if it was indiscriminate about what to kill. It would continue to kill anything in its path until it found a bird or rat or some other small headed animal. There has to be some control over production of these snakes for the reason of their unpredictability! In wet yearsn this snake would have done very well. Get it near a river and just like Florida, we would have a problem. Luckily this was a male but just what if!!! People were the reason snakes got out of control in Florida, when a pet snake gets too big to handle, it can get away or harm its owner. I firmly believe the Commisioners Court made a wise and timely decision to ban their reproduction in Wilson County.