Monday, September 13, 2004

Death shows snake's danger

Having exotic pets said all too common

By William A. Weathers
Enquirer staff writer

NORTH COLLEGE HILL - The death Saturday of a North College Hill woman, who had been bitten by a venomous snake, was the second such death in the Cincinnati-Dayton area in 13 months.

Alexandria N. Hall, 44, who lived at 1830 Emerson Ave, died late Saturday at University Hospital. She had been bitten in her home by an urutu viper Sept. 6, police said.

Her two-story house was home to 10 venomous snakes and 13 non-venomous reptiles, police said. Herpetologists from the Cincinnati Zoo removed the reptiles from the home Saturday.

In August 2003, Michael Peterman, a 48-year-old Dayton firefighter and experienced handler of exotic snakes, died after being bitten while feeding his pet rhinoceros viper, Harrison said.

Director Tim Harrison of Outreach for Animals, which is based near Dayton, said television programs about exotic animals help fuel the public's desire to keep them as pets.

"Whatever you see on TV - the more exotic, the more dangerous, they want it,'' he said. "It's just not exotic snakes. It's all kinds of animals."

Most people don't realize, Harrison said, that many of the exotic animals seen being handled on TV shows are sedated to some degree.

Ohio law prohibits anyone from keeping animals that aren't indigenous to the state, and a North College Hill ordinance prohibits anyone from keeping dangerous animals.

Regardless, it's easy to find exotic animals - like venomous snakes - for sale, Harrison said. They can be found in newspaper classified ads and on the Internet, he said.

"There are a lot of exotic animal dealers in Ohio," he said. "We've got people that breed them in their homes."

Harrison founded his non-profit wildlife rescue organization more than two years ago.

A urutu viper, which is native to South America, can be bought for anywhere from $100 to $200, Harrison said.

The underground nature of the market for exotic animals makes it difficult to impossible for authorities to know who keeps them as pets, Harrison said.

The danger from the exotic animals isn't just to the owner, who voluntarily take the risks.

"It's fine if you only put yourself at risk," Winston Card, conservation program manager for reptiles and amphibians at the Cincinnati Zoo, said Sunday.

"(Hall) put many different people at risk,'' including her neighbors and authorities who entered the home to secure the animals, Card said.

"There are tons and tons of these people.'' Card said.

The problem of people keeping exotic animals is certainly a persistent one, Card said.

But some good can come out of such tragedies, Harrison said.

"The backlash to these incidents is you see more regulations,'' he said.



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