After a couple cobras flew the coop late last year, Florida wildlife officials decided to take another look at how to prevent deadly reptiles from slithering loose with potentially fatal consequences.
On Thursday, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission will discuss changes in state rules governing how venomous reptiles are handled and stored.
The FWC decided to take up the issue in response to the two recent high-profile escapes.
In September, 1983 UCF graduate Mike Kennedy, an exotic animal dealer and star of the Discovery Channel reality show Airplane Repo, reported his 8-foot-long king cobra — named Elvis — missing from his Orlando home.
Elvis had left the building, and was later found about a half-mile away, hissing underneath the dryer in an Ocoee woman's garage, where animal-control officers captured the snake.
In November, a 5-foot cobra was captured in a backyard in Buckingham, Florida, after it had escaped from the home of Lewis Mark Pellicer.
Both men faced repercussions for their escaped cobras.
"Mr. Kennedy is currently appealing his license revocation," said Rob Klepper, public information coordinator for FWC's law enforcement division. "Mr. Pellicer no longer possesses venomous reptiles."
Kennedy previously pleaded not guilty to a misdemeanor charge for "failure to immediately report the escape of a non-indigenous venomous reptile," court records show.
The two escapes prompted the FWC's Captive Wildlife Section to conduct Operation Slither, in which all of the venomous reptile licensees statewide were inspected and had their caging evaluated for structural integrity and compliance with state rules. The snake sting netted two citations and 71 warnings for license, caging or administrative deficiencies.
There are about 280 venomous reptile licensees in Florida, according to the FWC.
To prevent snake escapes, FWC staff recommends modifying training, caging and handling rules to increase "biosecurity" and to lower the risk of escapes or bites from venomous reptiles, according to FWC documents.
The agency also recommends separating venomous reptiles into two groups — native and non-native — and establishing a technical assistance group to help develop tiers within the non-native classification, "ranging from continued possession to potential prohibitions of possession for some species."
Another idea is to require all venomous reptile cages be locked and kept in an escape-proof room when not being transported, according to FWC documents. Regulations also could be created to ban venomous reptiles being free-handled outside of an escape-proof room, or at all.
The FWC also could require use of Passive Integrated Transponder tags for all non-native species, to allow for identification if a reptile is captured in the wild and for closer monitoring of inventory.
The venomous reptile industry is working with the FWC to develop training courses as an alternative to getting 1,000 hours of experience, as currently required. Potential licensees could complete the course or get the experience hours.
The FWC plans more workshops with stakeholders, permit holders and the public to refine the proposal.
The state agency would establish the new classification system and return in June with a draft rule for the commission's consideration.
About an hour from campus, although not venomous, green anacondas have made headlines in Brevard County.
Early this year, two green anacondas — each about 9 feet long — were found slithering free in Brevard County within a few weeks of each other.
Brevard County Animal Services secured one snake, ultimately handing the situation over to the FWC. FWC officers took the snake to a veterinary facility, which euthanized the snake, for research purposes.
Then, in November, state wildlife officers shot and killed a 9-foot-long green anaconda near the St. Johns River at the Brevard/Orange County line.
A concerned citizen and an airboater had called the FWC, which found the large snake on the embankment of the Midway Airboat Rides off State 50 in north Brevard.
Neither of the anacondas found in Brevard had the legally required microchip, FWC officials said.
Green anacondas are native to South America, and can grow to more than 500 pounds and 20 feet long. In Florida, the snake poses a risk to native wildlife.
Last year, an 18-year-old Hillsborough County man was bit when he was reportedly trying to kiss a 4-foot-long cottonmouth snake. He recovered from the bite, which sent him to the hospital in critical condition.
In 2009, a cable worker in Hollywood, Florida, was rushed to the hospital and given antivenin after being bitten on the arm as he rested near a coconut tree. The highly venomous snake was presumed at the time to be an African green mamba in the tree.
Contact Waymer at 321-242-3663 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @JWayEnviro and at facebook.com/jim.waymer.