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Planning to Free Your Venomous Reptile? Get Ready for a Felony

A new bill imposes felony charges on releasing non-native venomous reptiles, coming in the wake of a large-scale investigation into black market dealings with foreign snakes.

TALLAHASSEE, FLORIDA — A venomous reptile bill slithered its way through the Florida legislature, aiming to further criminalize the release of non-native, venomous reptiles.

“This bill enhances the penalties for the unlawful purchase, sale and importation of venomous reptiles, and the intentional or gross negligent escape of non-native venomous reptiles,” The bill sponsor, Sen. Ana Maria Rodriguez (R-Doral) summed up.

Written by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, SB 1266 imposes a third-degree felony for releasing a non-native venomous reptile or negligently allowing one to escape. The attempt to sell or trade one of these reptiles – without an FWC permit – would also be a third-degree felony.


Though the official impetus of the legislation has not been explicitly disclosed, the director of media for the United States Association of Reptile Keepers Florida, Daniel Parker, has a few ideas, WUSF reports.

“They wrote the language, they announced it as a legislative initiative, and they lobbied for it right before they announced Operation Viper,” Parker said.

The FWC launched Operation Viper in 2020, a two-year investigation into venomous reptiles being sold on the black market. Undercover investigators purchased or sold nearly 200 snakes to or from wildlife traffickers, according to the FWC. Among these foreign species were the African bush viper, Gaboon viper, multiple species of spitting cobra, and the puff adder.

“Some of these snakes are among the most dangerous in the world,” said Maj. Randy Bowlin, FWC DLE Investigations and Intelligence Section Leader, FWC reports. “Florida’s rules and laws are in place to protect the public and prevent tragedies from occurring.”

Eight individuals were ultimately arrested in January of this year, with judicial proceedings pending.

The legislation passed the Senate unanimously, matching the record in the House. Following its advancement in both chambers, the bill will move to Governor DeSantis to be signed into law.