Added 10 July 2001

RSPCA Snake Hysteria

More vilification and disinformation from the "quality press"



The following article was sent to us by the editor of the herpetological magazine International Reptilian. It shows once again how easy it is to misrepresent, or even completely lie about, reptile keeping and public events, and how a different point of view (from someone who is actually there) can throw a completely different light on what is being claimed.

The original newspaper report is in italics. Chris Newman's comments are in parentheses ().

The article

This is a report that was published in the Sunday Telegraph. As has become standard much of the information supplied by alleged 'experts' is inaccurate. I am therefore responding by making this information available. Should you have any comments then please contact me on To see the original version go to: Forums, then Reptilian. ======================================================================

RSPCA rattled over illegal snake imports

By Andrew Mourant, Sunday Telegraph (Filed: 08/07/2001)

Response in ( ) by Chris Newman Editor Reptilian Magazine (10/07/2001)

HUNDREDS of poisonous snakes, including potentially lethal vipers and cobras, are being imported illegally each year into Britain from mainland Europe.

(This is an entirely inaccurate statement; it is not illegal to bring venomous snakes into Britain from mainland Europe. In fact, it would be illegal to try and ban importation, as this would run counter to paramount E.U. regulations of free trade.)

Many come from reptile fairs held in Germany and the Netherlands, where there is no legislation preventing the open sale of dangerous animals. One of the biggest fairs is at Hamm, near Dortmund, where RSPCA officers have in recent years gone undercover to track suspects.

(Suspects for what? Clearly the RSPCA are acting above their position as a animal welfare charity. What possible concern can they have for foreign reptile events? It is true that the UK is out of step with the rest of the EU, in that we impose restrictions on the keeping of venomous snakes.)

Terry Spamer, the chief investigator of the RSPCA's operations unit, was shocked by what he witnessed at the Hamm fair. "You can see kids going round with baby rattlesnakes in margarine tubs," he said. "Venomous snakes are in a small corner in a separate room, but there's no sort of control about who buys anything."

(At both Hamm and the Dutch Snake Day there are very strict controls on the sale of venomous snakes. There are 'hot rooms' [for venomous animals - webmaster's note] at both events. Children are not allowed into these rooms unaccompanied, and are certainly not allowed to buy venomous snakes.)

He suspects that most dangerous snakes enter Britain illegally through Dover, where the volume of traffic makes detection almost impossible. "It's a major concern and on the increase," he said.

(Again this is not accurate, as stated before it is not illegal to bring snakes into the UK from mainland Europe.)

The German connection came to light after a recent police raid on two houses in Plymouth. "The tanks had price tags in German marks," said Peter Heathcote, the chief executive of the Reptile Trust, which handles about 30 illegally held poisonous snakes every year. Currently it has 25 snakes in its care.

(This is a very worrying statement from Mr Heathcote, as the Reptile Trust only had their DWA licences amended to cover venomous snakes within the last few weeks. Does this mean that the venomous snakes handled over during the previous years were done so illegally?)

Mr Heathcote fears that the problem of illegal imports is growing. "I hear virtually every couple of weeks of somewhere where there are venomous snakes," he said. "The problem is getting warrants in time."

(An interesting comment, as it is not possible to get a warrant to search properties for venomous snakes. Other than his own activities what evidence is there to support this spurious claim?)

Inspector Nevin Hunter, a wildlife liaison officer with Devon and Cornwall police, said: "Poisonous snakes are being bred in this country and sold for a lot of money. It's known that some are used by drug dealers to protect their premises. There is quite clearly a problem."

(Playing the drugs card is always the last resort when reasonable argument cannot be produced, but what evidence is their to support this claim? It is true that venomous snakes are bred in this county, in small numbers, but it is inaccurate that they are sold for high prices. In reality most venomous snakes are not expensive as there is little demand for them. Mr Hunter is clearly confusing desirable species, like some pythons with venomous snakes. It is unclear if this is deliberate or due to inexperience in the matter.)

Footnote: There is currently a review of the Dangerous Wild Animals Act in progress and this reckless and inaccurate reporting seems an attempt by a certain misguided individual to incite public hatred of snakes in general. Many people regard all snakes as dangerous and stirring up ill-feeling against an already misjudged group of animals must surely be viewed as totally irresponsible and contrary to the well-being of the animals involved. Many people within the herpetological community feel that they have been gravely let down by the activities of Peter Heathcote who, it seems, will use any means possible to generate publicity, even if it means harming the very animals his group purports to care about. Most reptile keepers are responsible and dedicated people who care greatly for their animals but as they do not have the benefit of access to the press and are not interested in self-publicity, their voices and views are never heard.

What would be the point of trying to make the DWA harder to obtain what useful purpose could this possibly serve? The current situation is that the DWA is a mess and the main reason for this non compliance with regulations are that they are inconsistent and perceived as unfairly administered. Would not the sensible and responsible course of action be to make the law easier and fairer? If it made more difficult to comply, it will only drive this problem further underground. The current situation clearly demonstrates that people want to keep venomous snakes, legally or otherwise, and to make it more difficult to get a license will have no effect. It could, ultimately, needlessly put people at risk. For instance, persons such as firemen need to be aware when entering a property that there are venomous snakes in it.

As far as I have been able to determine their has not been a single fatality from a captive venomous snake in the last century in the UK. I am also unable to find a single incident in which an innocent member of the public has been bitten by a captive venomous snake in the UK. The same applies to other European countries, as far as I am aware. How many people within the same century have been killed by horses, dogs, bees etc.? Thousands.

Finally, it is Britain that is at odds with the rest of Europe over this matter. Should a punitive DWA be imposed upon us it would not be beyond the realms of possibility that the European courts may, in fact, force us to repeal the DWA entirely, should any one be so aggrieved as to take matters that far. Would it not be more sensible that we keep a sensible and responsible DWA rather than noting at all?

Chris Newman, Editor, Reptilian Magazine

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