By David Fleshler, Sun Sentinel
2:44 p.m. EST, March 2, 2012
A bunker-like adoption center for Burmese pythons is under construction in Margate, as reptile dealers and enthusiasts prepare for a possible flood of unwanted snakes.
The federal government is about to institute a ban on the import and interstate movement of Burmese pythons, yellow anacondas and northern and southern African pythons, in light of the Burmese python's infestation of the Everglades.
Many members of the reptile community - known as "herpers" from the word herpetologist – fear the ban could lead to snakes being released or killed if owners move out of state. They hope to provide a way for people to get rid of their pythons without harming the snakes or the environment.
"For me, it's about these animals that have taken care of me my entire life," said Ben Siegel, owner of Ben Siegel Reptiles in Deerfield Beach and president of the Burmese Python Initiative, which is building the center. "I don't agree with this law, but we have to make sure these snakes aren't euthanized. We have so many herpers that are behind us and that are supporting us in this. These are guys who don't want to see these animals killed."
The 2300-square-foot adoption center, under construction in the bay of a warehouse off Banks Road and south of Copans Road, will be able to house up to 150 snakes.
Incoming snakes will go first to a quarantine area. A veterinarian will examine them. The all-volunteer staff will clean the cages, provide water and thaw frozen rats and mice for the snakes every seven to 10 days.
Aware there may be public concern about escapes, organizers have attempted to make the facility as secure as possible. A special inner room, constructed of cement blocks and kept locked, will contain the cages. Windows are hurricane proof and will be barred. A video surveillance system will be installed.
The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission will inspect the facility but anticipates no problems.
Scott Hardin, the commission's exotic species coordinator, said the details he's seen of the layout and plan appear "rock solid."
"This is the good guys in the industry stepping up proactively to deal with the unintended consequences of the ban," he said. "This will be an outlet for people who look around and think 'what am I going to do with my BP.' This will put it in a place where it's not going to be released and will have a chance for a permanent home."
Many of the pythons are likely to be exported overseas. Siegel said the center will give many of them to an exporter with a large customer base, particularly in northern Europe.
Howard Passman, a retired insurance executive who is the organization's executive director, said the facility's second floor will be used by reptile clubs for meetings. The center will be up and running by March 23, when the ban takes effect, he said.
Information on how to adopt or drop off a snake can be found on the organization's website at http://www.savetheburms.org