Maine needs stronger rules to control exotic animals and protect native wildlife

Ball pythonIf you read the comments that followed my two outdoor news columns last week about exotic animals, you may have noticed that some of these people have a great disdain for those of us who champion Maine’s native wildlife.

Some wrote that I should not be against possession of python snakes, because they are friendly and can’t survive a Maine winter if they get loose. Really? That’s just what they said about Red-Eared Sliders, a species of turtles that is now established in Maine after being released by owners into the wild.

And even if their pythons can’t last through a winter, what are they doing out there for months on end until winter arrives?

And how can they think its ok for their friendly python to escape their house and turn up in their neighbor’s home? That’s what happened last month when a couple in Veazie discovered a 3-foot-long ball python in their shower. Turns out it had escaped from a neighbor’s house a month earlier. Ball pythons don’t even require a permit. And their owners don’t have to tell anyone, including their neighbors, when their pythons get loose and roam the neighborhood.

I remember one story of a python that escaped its Orrington home and roamed the neighborhood for three months, before being captured and returned to its owner. What do you suppose that python ate during those months it was loose?

In Australia, more than 11 percent of the land mammal species endemic to that country have been wiped out – and another 21 percent are considered threatened – since European settlement there. The main culprits? Feral cats and foxes brought to Australia by the settlers.

I’m going to propose that Maine’s Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife enact a rule that requires the owners of all nonnative species – both those that require permits and those that don’t – to notify the Maine Warden Service if their exotic animal gets loose. My proposal will include a requirement that the owners notify all of their neighbors within the range of the animal that has escaped. Seems only fair. After all, you can be prosecuted if your dog is running at large. But not your python!

I’m also going to propose that we forbid the release of feral cats that are now being captured in Maine, cleaned up and neutered, and then released back into the woods.

Finally, I am going to propose that we require that all exotic animals require a permit. We need to know what is here, where it is, and when it escapes.

As DIF&W noted in a report to the legislature: “The easiest way to prevent an exotic animal from becoming an exotic pest or invasive is never allowing it into the State of Maine to begin with.” Good idea!

I remember one meeting at DIF&W where I learned about a problem of salmonella in hedgehogs, something new. Any animal is capable of carrying disease. Snakes are especially bad, I’ve been told.

Perhaps we should treat all exotics like we treat hybrid wolves. They must be registered, micro-chipped, and neutered or spayed.

This isn’t as far fetched as it might sound to you. Ringnecked pheasants that are raised here and released in the fall for hunters to pursue, must be identified with a permanent leg band before being removed from the premises by the permittee. This permanent leg band must remain attached to the bird until that bird is finally prepared for consumption.  In fact, any wild animal possessed by those who have a permit to possess, propagate, and sell wild birds and animals, must be identified with a securely attached tag or seal before being removed from the premises of the permittee, and that tag or seal must remain on the bird or animal until it is consumed or manufactured into a finished product.

Sounds very sensible to me.


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.