A disturbing video was posted online this week showing Florida wildlife officers killing dozens of snakes at a Sunrise reptile facility, including one they mistook for a prohibited python that turned out to be a pregnant boa constrictor.
The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission officers last Thursday used a device that launched a charge into the snakes’ heads, killing more than 30 of the reptiles — all but one either invasive Burmese or reticulated pythons — according to the United States Association of Reptile Keepers, the snake advocacy group that posted the video.
At one point in the video, the officers are seen killing the snake that turned out to be the pregnant boa constrictor, which is legal to have as a pet in Florida. The officers’ reaction indicates they knew they made a mistake just moments after they killed the snake.
“You can’t fix it. You just killed something that wasn’t illegal and had about a hundred thousand dollars worth of [expletive] babies,” a man is heard yelling in the background.
According to the Reptile Keepers, the officers were carrying out an unannounced raid on the facility. In total, the officers killed 34 snakes, the snake group said in a statement.
Daniel Parker, a spokesman with the Reptile Keepers, said the boa was pregnant with 32 babies, which were about a month away from being born. Some had “unique color morphs” and could have sold for up to $4,000 each, Parker said.
The Fish and Wildlife agency said in an emailed statement Tuesday that a full account of the incident “may take time,” but added its officers went to the facility to check if a python found in the area the day before escaped from there. While they were there, the owner of the facility “formally relinquished his reptiles” and requested the officers euthanize them “on-site at his facility,” the agency’s statement said.
“The FWC Division of Law Enforcement is determining the full details of this incident and more information will be released when it is verified and appropriate to do so,” the statement continued. “Assembling the information and records required to provide a clear picture to the public on the facts of this incident may take time, but the FWC is committed to providing factual information when it becomes available.”
Lakeland attorney Curt Harbsmeier, legal advisor to the Reptile Keepers, disputes the FWC statement, however, pointing out that the owner of the facility only owned one of the snakes — the boa the officers mistakenly killed.
“He could not have given consent with anything with these snakes. They were not his snakes,” Harbsmeier said.
Burmese pythons were introduced to South Florida decades ago, likely through the exotic pet trade. Wildlife authorities want them gone because, with the warm sub-tropical climate and having no natural predators, their population has exploded, especially in the Everglades.
State and federal wildlife officials are so concerned about pythons that it’s basically open season on the non-native reptiles year-round in Florida.
Reason for the raid
According to Parker, the owner of the snakes, Chris Coffee, had a permit to keep them prior to the state labeling Burmese and reticulated pythons prohibited species in February 2021.
After the rule change, the agency gave him five months to find homes for all 120 of the now-prohibited reptiles in his collection, Parker said. Coffee was able to get rid of most of the snakes, but still had almost 40 left by the time the deadline came.
“In an effort to remain on good terms with FWC, Coffee notified FWC in good faith about a year ago that he was having difficulties rehoming his animals in the short amount of time allowed by FWC,” Parker said in a statement. “He asked FWC for more time, believing that he had no choice.”
State Fish and Wildlife officers instead arrested Coffee on 72 charges for keeping the snakes. But they also stuck him in a no-win situation, according to the Reptile Keepers.
“However, rather than seize the animals, FWC officers told Coffee that he had to continue to keep the snakes in captivity and that he could not rehome or euthanize them or he would be arrested again,” Parker said, adding Coffee’s life “has been turned upside down.”
Prosecutors decided in February not to pursue the charges against Coffee, according to Broward County Clerk of the Courts’ online records for the case.
‘It was a mistake’
Coffee was keeping his snakes at the Sunrise facility, which is owned by Bill McAdam, who also owned the pregnant boa constrictor, Parker said.
Coffee is the man heard in the background yelling at the officers. He said he told them numerous times not to kill that particular reptile.
One of the officers asks Coffee, “Is there a way to maybe save the babies?”
“Oh, no dude,” Coffee responds.
The officer replies, “It was a mistake.”
“How? I reminded you. [Expletive]!” Coffee says as items can be heard being thrown around.
Coffee could not be reached for comment.
Big Shirl the snake
McAdam told the Miami Herald that he has retained an attorney.
“This was a big mistake and they need to pay for it,” he said. “The FWC has power nobody else has and they’re abusing their power. They’re trampling on people’s constitutional rights, and it’s wrong.”
McAdam has owned the 11-year-old boa, which he named Big Shirl, since she was born.
“She was one of the nicest animals,” McAdam said.
He said of snake people like himself, they love their reptiles just like dog and cat owners love their furry pets.
“We are weird,” he said.