Pythons a no-no as pets in Alberta
The kind of giant python believed to have asphyxiated two young New Brunswick boys is not allowed as a pet in Alberta for good reason, said a retired teacher who ran a school zoo in Rocky Mountain House for 25 years.
“That is a serious tragedy. It’s too bad that the snake got loose and that people have that kind of snake in their possession,” said Alfred von Hollen, who oversaw Pioneer Middle School’s zoo, which had up to seven pythons at one time, and gave hundreds of presentations to other schools.
Big snakes like the rock python are “unreliable” and have no place outside licensed facilities, he said.
Years of experience handling big snakes taught him to recognize the signs a snake was feeling out of sorts and should be left alone, he said.
“I knew if they started to show any kind of tension or a different kind of behaviour that I knew that they should not be showing they were not handled.”
Von Hollen knows of many other reptile owners, but none have anything like the five-metre African rock python that apparently escaped from its enclosure, fell through a ceiling and suffocated the four- and six-year-old brothers as they slept.
Under Alberta’s Wildlife Act, the African rock python is among a lengthy list of snakes and other exotic animals that are prohibited except in special circumstances.
Von Hollen had a zoo permit and was required to report exactly what animals he had in his collection to Fish and Wildlife each year.
Fish and wildlife officers often brought seized reptiles to his zoo to be cared for properly.
African rock pythons are also not allowed in New Brunswick, unless for a zoo or research purposes. New Brunswick provincial officials seized about 15 other animals on Thursday.
Exactly what happened there remains a mystery. After falling through the roof, the snake was no doubt shocked and reacted.
Many questions remain about how the boys died without anyone hearing their struggle, but von Hollen said he doesn’t want to speculate on what could have happened.
“As I was looking at some of the blogs last night, hundreds of other questions are being asked by snake people across North America as to why and how this could have happened.”
Reports that the boys had been at a petting farm in the day before their deaths may have contributed to the tragedy, some in the snake community believe.
Pioneer school children were constantly warned to wash their hands if they had touched other animals before handling snakes because the snakes could pick up the scent and mistake the youngsters for prey.
“When we had the zoo at the school I was adamant with the kids they were never, ever to handle a snake after they had played with a furry animal.”
Von Hollen said he never had problems with his pythons, but they were used to people, well fed, and properly handled and housed. When he retired and the zoo was closed in 2003, the big snakes went to licensed facilities in B.C. and Manitoba.
Snakes do escape occasionally. In the worst case, a snake at Pioneer school got out of its enclosure and ate von Hollen’s son’s guinea pig.
Alberta Environment and Sustainable Resource Development spokesman Trevor Gemmell said animals make the controlled list if they pose ecological, health or public safety concerns.
“The permits that are available here in Alberta to possess these animals are either a zoo permit or research permit. These are issued only after very specific criteria are met,” said Gemmell.
“In short, there is no permit that will be issued for the possession of a controlled animal as a pet.” Besides snakes, numerous other types of animals are listed from hippopotamuses and elephants to monkeys, tapirs and crocodiles.
Even certain breeds of common pets, such as hamsters are forbidden, such as black-belly and ratlike hamsters.