The Allure of Exotic Pets Bring Risks to Owners, Animals

"Any kind of animal can turn," he said. "It's been a year and a half this month, and I really don't know how to go or where to turn sometimes."

A Python's Deadly Grip

Last week, a Virginia Beach, Va., woman was apparently strangled by her reticulated tiger python, Diablo. Police said Amanda Black's husband, employed by the Navy, came home Oct. 21 to find his wife unresponsive.

"She was laying in front of the snake's cage," Virginia Beach Public Information Officer Margie Long told, adding that authorities believe Black was trying to give the python medication.

Preliminary reports from the medical examiner ruled that Black, 25, had died of asphyxia and showed signs of pressure to her neck and chest. Diablo, between 10 and 13 feet long, was later euthanized at the request of Black's husband.

"It took two people to get a hold of it," Long said. "It was very agitated."

Black's mother, Elizabeth Valentine, declined to speak about her daughter's death and Black's husband could not be reached for comment.

Reticulated pythons are indigenous to south Asian countries such as Indonesia, Myanmar and the Philippines and kill by constricting around their prey, according to the Fort Wayne Zoo Web site. They are carnivorous and have been known to eat large animals such as deer and antelope.

James Severts is the manager of Pet Paradise in Virginia Beach, where Black had been working as a reptile caretaker. The store sells young reticulated pythons that are only a couple of feet long, though they can grow to be 15 feet or more.

"She was good with them," Severts said. "She's kept them before."

Severts said pythons as large as Diablo can weigh more than 50 pounds. They are best fed by tongs, because a human hand, not the food, will attract the snakes' infrared sensors they use to locate prey. If a snake mistakes a person's hand for food and attacks, the person can break an arm "at the least," he said.

"You don't want to handle them alone," he said. "Anything more than 6 feet you want two people."

Other incidents in the United States this year have included monkeys attacking young children -- one bit off the finger of a Queens, N.Y., toddler in June -- as well as attacks or escapes by buffalo, bears, zebras and emus.

Animal protection leagues estimate that there are thousands of exotic and wild animals, the majority of them reptiles, being kept as pets in the United States.

Born Free USA isn't just concerned about human safety. Improper ownership has led to animals being killed or injured or dumped in places they don't belong like lakes or the woods or, in many cases, the Florida Everglades.

The group's list of reported incidents includes an emu being Tasered, wolf-dog hybrids and tigers being shot and numerous cases of reptiles being run over by cars or found dead from exposure to the unnatural environmental elements.

Pet Owners Look for Something Unique

Marc Stoutz has worked with exotic animals for 13 years and now owns Exotic Pets and Primates in New Orleans.

He breeds and sells a variety of monkeys and also brokers the sale of an array of animals not indigenous to the United States. Animals he has brokered include cabybaras, 100-pound members of the rodent family native to South America; camels, which are native to Asia, North Africa and the Middle East; and kangaroos, native to Australia.

"I've always had a passion for animals," he said. "Why not have something other than a dog or cat?"

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