Snakes on the loose: a new trend in the making?
By Michèle Hamers, our Wildlife. Not Pets campaign manager.
According to the Canadian Encyclopedia, there are 26 different species of snakes in this country, and most of them live in Southern Canada. Since this is also the area most populated by us humans, it shouldn’t be surprising to hear that snake encounters are not uncommon. However, there is a growing number of reports from people who are finding exotic snakes not native to Canada. A quick internet search reveals that this summer, eight non-native snakes (mostly Ball pythons) have been found in playgrounds, sheds, and on the streets in towns and cities across Canada. During the same time period in 2019, four snakes were reported in the news, and in 2018 there were only three.
The actual number of snake escapes is likely higher. I know this because I hear about it and see it everywhere. It’s not unusual to hear employees at pet stores tell me about snakes that have escaped from their store. As I scroll through my Facebook feed, I see pictures of snakes, people have come across and are trying to identify.
As part of my work I also speak with animal shelters and municipal animal service agencies across Canada and they confirm that there is much more going on than what makes it into the news.
Snake escape stories are not cute
When I see news stories about snakes that have escaped or been released, they often miss the most important points. They create a misconception that this is not something to worry about, describing the snake as “docile” and “harmless”. In many cases it is true that most people aren’t at risk from being attacked by these escaped snakes, but they ignore the bigger picture. Here are a few things to consider that often do not make it into news stories:
- There is a risk that non-native snakes that escape or are released can become invasive and damage Canadian ecosystems, outcompeting local wildlife for resources or introducing novel diseases that could be detrimental to the health of native wildlife populations. Snakes that are not able to establish themselves risk suffering and death when not retrieved before the harsh winter weather arrives.
- Exotic pets like the snakes in these stories are often purchased on a whim (43% according to our research). It is not unusual that after an exotic animal is purchased and brought home, owners realize that they are not equipped to take care of the animal. This can result in people releasing their exotic pet into the wild or bringing the animal to a local shelter, shifting the burden to them.
- Snakes that are reported as escaped or released come from the exotic pet trade. Keeping snakes as pets is not appropriate because they are still genetically wild animals. They have complex behavioural and psychological needs that cannot be met in captivity. Keeping them in captivity as pets harms their health and wellbeing.
- The number of snake escapes/releases seem to be on the rise. This is in line with the increased popularity of snakes as pets. It is estimated that 164,000 snakes are currently kept as pets in Canada.
- There are no regulations around breeding of exotic animals, despite the risks to animal welfare, the environment and public health. Our research has shown that there are no federal, provincial or municipal regulations that address the issue of snake breeding. So far, our top-level desktop research has identified over 200 snake breeders East of Manitoba.
- The exotic pet trade is cruel and causes suffering at every stage. While mortality rates are subject to debate, some studies suggest that mortality rates can be as high as 75% within the trade.
2020 Snake stories in the media
- September 1st, 2020, Ball python on the loose in Beamsville described as ‘harmless’ (St. Catharines Standard)
- August 12th, 2020, Carpet python found in shed in Toronto, ON (Narcity)
- August 12th, 2020, Snake, missing since July 2, found under vehicle in neighbourhood in Victoria, BC (CBC British Columbia)
- August 12, 2020, Ball python found in shed in Chatham, ON (BlackBurnNews)
- August 6th, 2020, Blood python missing in Chilliwack, BC (Maple Ridge News)
- July 28th, 2020, Ball python on the loose in Winnipeg, MB (CTV Winnipeg)
- July 14th, 2020, Ball python escaped in Gatineau, QB (National Post)
- June 27th, 2020 Snake found near playground in park in Coquitlam, BC (CBC British Columbia)
- May 21st, 2020, Ball python found in regional park Surrey, BC (CBC British Columbia)
- February 4th, 2020, Dead boa constrictor found near running trail in Nanaimo, BC (Victoria News )
What to do if you already own an exotic pet
If you already own an exotic animal, and haven’t already, you should seek expert advice from a veterinarian that specializes in their care to ensure you’re meeting as many of its welfare needs as possible. We encourage you to continue to give your pet the best life possible, for as long as you can. What you should never do, is release an exotic animal into the wild. Most animals are not equipped to survive alone in a new environment, and the ones that are able to survive pose a threat to our local environment and native wildlife through competing for resources and/or introducing novel diseases. To help keep wild animals in the wild where they belong, we ask you to commit to not purchasing another exotic pet in the future or breeding the one you own.
What you can do to help
- If you become aware of snake escapes or releases in Canada, please contact your local SPCA or bylaw enforcement officer. Additionally, you can help us with our research and data collection by sending us an email with details to: email@example.com.
- Pledge not to buy an exotic pet. Click to learn more and take the pledge.
- Sign our petition to end the wildlife trade.
The wildlife trade, including the one in Canada, makes it possible for animals to be poached, farmed and shipped around the world – for pets, food, traditional medicine, luxury goods and entertainment. Curbing the wildlife trade is one of the most effective strategies to protect animals and people. Be part of our growing movement: sign the petition and join World Animal Protection's global campaign calling on Canada and other G20 countries to ban the global wildlife trade.