Do you know where your snake is tonight?

Ball pythonImagine entering your home or apartment and seeing a 3 ½ foot python snake stalking your parakeets. Well, that’s just what happened to a Fairfield resident who lives in an apartment building in that Maine town. The resident called the police shortly after arriving home at 10:20 pm and spotting the snake, and a local police officer got the snake into a pillowcase and took it to the Fairfield Police Department where a Maine game warden picked it up the next morning.

The snake was apparently taken to an animal sanctuary, disappointed, no doubt, in its inability to chow down on those parakeets.

Well, this was a very unusual event, you might say, so what’s the big deal? Unfortunately, it’s not that unusual these days. In October, a woman in Orrington, while cleaning outside her greenhouse, nearly stepped on a ball python that had been missing since July. Yes, that python lived happily in the great Maine outdoors for three months. The lady panicked and dialed 911 for urgent assistance.

Perhaps you saw David Hench’s November 27 story in the Portland Press Herald, titled “Public safety cited in snake control cases.” The story began this way: “Karrie Herring considered her 11-foot Albino Burmese python an attractive, if unusual pet, fond of affectionately coiling itself around her.”

“State wildlife officials deemed it a threat to public safety,” reported Hench, “seized it and destroyed it as one of the many species that are illegal to possess in Maine.” Phillip deMaynadier of the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife told Hench, “The really large pythons we just don’t put on the list (of exotic animals that Mainers can have as pets). If they escape, they can eat small pets. They can even pose a risk to small children. And both things have occurred.”

Yes, he said small children. Yikes! Herring is scheduled to appear in Biddeford District Court on January 19 facing one  count of importing or receiving wildlife without a permit, a Class E misdemeanor. Herring said DIF&W offered to let her pay a $100 fine and plead guilty, but she refused. The amount of the fine is ridiculously low, considering the cost to DIF&W of confiscating and dealing with her illegal python. And the agency doesn’t even get the fine.

What Hench’s story didn’t report is that the woman’s python had eaten her cat! With affection, I’m sure.

Many exotic animals that we once thought could not thrive in the wilds of Maine are becoming threats to our fish and wildlife resources, and apparently to our children too. The Maine legislature was sufficiently concerned that it enacted a major rewrite of the state’s exotic animal laws.

New Law

Here’s what the new law, titled An Act to Restructure the Permitting Process for Wildlife and Exotic Animals in Captivity, does:

  • Requires DIF&W to maintain a list of unregulated fish and wildlife species that is available to the public;
  • Requires DIF&W to amend its rules to maintain updated inspection provisions for applicants attempting to acquire a permit to possess or introduce, import and possess fish or wildlife in captivity;
  • Requires DIF&W to maintain a fee structure to establish fees for inspection provisions for regulated species;
  • Allows DIF&W to charge a responsible party for the costs incurred to remove or euthanize unpermitted regulated fish or wildlife;
  • Increases the penalty for keeping wildlife in captivity illegally to not less than a $500 fine;
  • Added educational purposes as a reason the commissioner may issue permits to hunt, trap, possess, band and transport wild animals and wild birds (this is in addition to granting permits for scientific purposes).

My Recommendations

Having followed this issue for several years and written a number of columns about it, I’ve decided that no one should be able to possess an exotic species without a permit. The department, as part of the new law, will redo its existing list of exotic animals that can be possessed without a permit. I’d say – throw it away!

Permit fees must pay all the substantial costs that DIF&W incurs from its exotic animal responsibilities. Sportsmen should not be paying for the warden service to confiscate pythons! The law actually requires a game warden to inspect every cage for every exotic animal every year.

Now, before exotic animal lovers release a ball python outside my house, let me say that I know some exotic animal lovers are good people, very careful to keep their animals caged. They should be as upset as the rest of us by irresponsible exotic animal lovers – like the guy whose python spent the summer and fall crawling around his neighborhood, eating who knows what. No kids, I guess.

DIF&W has yet to get started on the tasks that took effect on October 15, 2015, but they need to do so, now.

George Smith

About George Smith

George stepped down at the end of 2010 after 18 years as the executive director of the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine to write full time. He writes a weekly editorial page column in the Kennebec Journal and Waterville Morning Sentinel, a weekly travel column in those same newspapers (with his wife Linda), monthly columns in The Maine Sportsman magazine, two outdoor news blogs (one on his website,, and one on the website of the Bangor Daily News), and special columns for many publications and newsletters. Islandport Press published a book of George's favorite columns, "A Life Lived Outdoors" in 2014. In 2014, George also won a Maine Press Association award for writing the state's bet sports blog. In 2016, Down East Books published George's book, Maine Sporting Camps, and Islandport Press published George and his wife Linda's travel book, Take It From ME, about their favorite Maine inns and restaurants.