12/09/09 PART 1

     I grew up in Washington D.C. and went to Sidwell Friends School. My late father was the Curator of Ceramics and Glass at the Smithsonian and then the Director of the Maryland Historical Society. I graduated with a B.A. in Psychology and a M.S. in Biology. In between my undergrad and graduate work I lived in Panama for two years working with a great project on green iguanas at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute. I worked on a project with Tuataras in New Zealand and did my Masters Thesis on behavior in Moray eels. After graduate school I worked for a year at the National Aquarium in Baltimore breeding the dart poison frogs.

     My husband Dave Barker worked at Dallas Zoo for 10 years and worked extensively on pythons. He got his graduate degree studying snakes in Mexico, and was the Curator of Education at Brownsville Zoo. He came to Baltimore in 1990. When I was 32, we got married and we started Vida Preciosa International (VPI). We settled on species of pythons to devote our efforts to. In 1992 we moved to San Antonio, Texas.  At the time there was a single species of python established in captivity. Twenty years later many of the python species have amazing, genetically diverse, captive populations in the U.S. There have been new species of pythons discovered during that time, including one named after me (Morelia tracyae).

     I got my first python when I was 15 years old. It was from a friend of my brother’s, Trooper Walsh. Trooper worked at the National Zoo for 25 years and developed the first breeding project with Komodo Dragons. We know many people who started with a pet python and that pet python sparked a lifetime interest that led to a lifetime of work with reptiles, and other animals, books being written, and some of the first breeding programs with exotic species ever being done.

     There are many stories like ours. Over the past 20 years amazing people have gotten together and given their lives and every penny they had to maintaining reptiles and amphibians in captivity. They have figured out how to maintain them and figured out how to breed them. Their goal was to produce self sustaining captive populations. They have accomplished this with hundreds of species. Many of these animals have been used in University studies, scientific research projects, and zoo breeding programs. Many of the people involved with this trade have gone on to get graduate degrees, become educators, volunteers, researchers, and work in zoos and conservation organizations.

     Incredible breakthroughs in herpetoculture have been made in the U.S. and Europe. Because of this progress, and our dissemination of information on how to maintain and breed reptiles and amphibians, there are now breeding facilities and businesses in Australia that were unheard of before. Herpetoculture has spread over Africa, and into Southeast Asia. This is an important conservation backstop for species. Turtles and snakes have been a food resource worldwide, but particularly in Southeast Asia. While all of the rest of the world has turned the tide to encourage captive breeding of reptiles and amphibians, we appear to be starting to do the opposite.

     The Burmese pythons in the Everglades have been a story for 30 years. In 1979, the first python was reported crossing the Tamiami Trail. Who officially was in charge of the Everglades and exotic species management during these years? The question is why is it a story now, 30 years later?

     As a total aside, work on the Burmese in the Everglades revealed a problem there that might be more focused on than the snakes themselves: mercury. “In July, the FWC began issuing permits to selected recipients to go into these wildlife management areas to search for and euthanize Reptiles of Concern. The permit holders and licensed hunters may remove the hide and meat of the reptiles from the state-managed lands. However, according to the National Park Service, mercury testing on two dozen captured Burmese pythons in Everglades National Park revealed extraordinarily high levels of mercury in the meat. These levels are well above those considered safe to eat in freshwater fish and alligators. The FWC is working with the National Park Service and the Florida Department of Health to get a broader view of this issue. It will provide updates as further information about mercury levels becomes available.”

     If Florida wants to fix its problem with exotic species, investigation of the role of Miami as a port of entry for wildlife and exotic plants should be considered. If Florida has the single most vulnerable ecosystem in the U.S. to exotics, and if the state wants to continue being a major importer of plants and wildlife, then maybe the state needs to look at procedural changes. Why can’t research and control be done in the Everglades without compromising businesses, science, and education U.S. wide? A “cosmetic remedy,” of lost businesses, shut down of science, and educational programs U.S. wide, will not help the Everglades.

     Passing this bill as written will cause the destruction of a huge population of captive species. It will result in bankruptcies, foreclosures, and job loss. It will end exports, and hurt U.S. business. Consequences of passage of this bill as written would be anti education, anti science and anti conservation.

      A legislative action based on information available at this time would not be based on scientific study and statistically significant data; it would be based on prejudicial opinion.

     I am really concerned about what would happen if you list species in this manner. How would the enforcement logistics and the logistics of animal disposition be handled?

     This potential action appears to contradict some of the stated principles of President Obama’s administration. I would hope that at this time all legislators including the president would use this opportunity to be a visionary, think of the big picture, agree to a meeting with the USARK organization run by president Andrew Wyatt and a group of scientists who specialize in the Biology of the listed animals in question, so that we can incorporate the changes needed to accomplish the intended goals of bill S373. 

Sincerely,

Tracy

Tracy Barker

PO Box 300

Boerne, TX 78006

830-537-5000

David and Tracy Barker have written a large percentage of what has been published on pythons, including two books; one on Australian pythons, and a second book on African Ball pythons that won the Independent Publishers Gold medal for best animal book of the year in 2006. They are currently writing the third volume in this series on the pythons of Indonesia and Southeast Asia, including the Burmese python and Reticulated python.

"In a time of growing unemployment and economic uncertainty look at what our government is spending their time and our taxpayer dollars on. There is a bill in the US Senate and a companion in the US House that together embody the worst in American politics. Senate Bill 373/ House Bill 2811 aka ‘The Python Ban’ are politically driven bills designed to use the sensation surrounding feral Burmese Pythons in the Everglades, parlay it into billions of dollars in Everglades restoration funds, and serve as election payback to extreme special interests groups invested in ending the lucrative trade in high quality captive bred reptiles worldwide. The Burmese Python has been the focus because of its ability to fire the imagination of the general public generating fear and misunderstanding. Quite simply, feral cats, feral hogs and water flow problems (real problems for the Everglades) don’t generate the interest that the sensational prospect of a giant snake in the Everglades does. See the article in the December issue of Playboy Magazine entitled ‘The Great South Florida Python Scare’ by Pat Jordan.

If passed as written these bills will destroy thousands of jobs bankrupting scores of American families. These bills have been couched as stopping the import of pythons in order to address invasive species issues, but the bills propose a listing on the Lacey Act that carries much more far reaching implications. The listing would also stop the export and trade in high quality captive bred reptiles produced in the US for over 30 years. There are already over 4 million boas and pythons currently in captivity in the US representing a 3 billion dollar annual trade. Their value would be reduced to zero over night with the passage of S373. S373 offers no compensation for these animals and makes absolutely no provision for their disposition.

The science has been “cherry picked” to support a predetermined end by using Burmese Pythons in the Everglades as a poster child for a movement to shut down the trade of Reptiles in the United States. A recent report from the USGS on large constricting snakes has been used as justification to stop the trade in 9 species of snakes. The report has been characterized by an independent panel of scientists from University of Florida, Texas A&M, Arizona State University and even the National Geographic Society as “unscientific” and “not a suitable basis for policy or regulation changes”; yet it has been characterized by the new Deputy Secretary of USFWS as justification for adding 40 species to the Injurious Wildlife list of the Lacey Act, a designation formerly reserved for only the most dangerous of invasive species. The Reptile Industry is getting railroaded at taxpayer expense by ambitious politicians, poor science and powerful special interest groups. The proposed bills will do little to address actual problems and will wreck a vital part of the economy.

S373 goes to mark up in the Senate Environment & Public Works Committee on Thursday December 10, 2009."

If you have questions contact:
Andrew Wyatt
President
United States Association of Reptile Keepers (USARK)
president@usark.org
252-207-1041