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Florida python trapper faces charges for staging snake capture

November 6, 2009 | 12:10 pm

A Burmese python captured in the Everglades.

A Florida man is facing criminal charges for staging the capture of a 14-foot Burmese python.

Justin Matthews, of Bradenton, Fla., was arrested this week following a Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission investigation into a July incident.

Matthews, a professional nuisance animal trapper, called media to his neighborhood to witness the capture of a large Burmese python from a drainage pipe. Turns out, Matthews put the snake there in the first place and staged the whole event.

Matthews apparently purchased the reptile a month before from a licensed reptile dealer and released it to set up its capture to "bring attention to a growing problem of irresponsible pet ownership," according to an FWC news release.

His releasing of the reptile is a big no-no in Florida, which is having a huge problem with the invasive species and even held a state-sanctioned hunting program in an effort to eradicate the non-native pythons.

The snakes, believed to have been released by owners when they became too large to manage, are reproducing in the wild and have become a threat to native wildlife (and probably to cats and small dogs) in South Florida.

Matthews is being charged with one third-degree felony count of misusing a 911 emergency system and one second-degree misdemeanor charge of maintaining captive wildlife in an unsafe manner, resulting in threats to public safety. The penalties that Matthews is facing if guilty are not yet known.

With wildlife officials estimating the number of loose snakes in the tens of thousands in the South Florida region (mostly in the Everglades), it seems that with a little legwork Matthews could have found a rogue reptile, rather than planting one.  Of course, he may not have generated the media attention he seemed to be seeking, though his actions have led to plenty of that now.

--Kelly Burgess

Photo: A Burmese python captured in the Everglades. Credit: Associated Press

Related:

Florida python hunt ends with 37 of the invasive reptiles being killed

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