THE case of two small boys killed by a python in New Brunswick has put the spotlight on exotic-pet ownership in Winnipeg.
Two boys, Noah Barthe, 5, and Connor Barthe, 7, of Campbellton, N.B., were found dead in an apartment above a reptile store Monday morning. It's suspected an African rock python got out of its glass enclosure in the apartment and strangled the two sleeping children.
The python, reportedly 4.5 metres long, is not permitted in New Brunswick. Provincial law only allows the sale of non-venomous snakes up to three metres in length.
Manitobans expressed concern and sympathy Tuesday about the Campbellton horror.
"It's just an incredibly sad thing that's happened, but there are safeguards and measures in Winnipeg that hopefully would prevent anything like this from happening," said Rob Vendramelli, a spokesman for the Manitoba Herpetocultural Society. "I'm not just referring to the latest responsible-pet-ownership bylaw passed by the city. The previous bylaw outlawed these large types of snakes, too.
"Technically, nobody in Winnipeg should have them."
Last month, the city passed a stricter responsible-pet-ownership bylaw, with the exotic-animal section of the bylaw approved unanimously by council. The bylaw puts new restrictions on lizard ownership, but bans all front-fanged venomous reptiles, even if de-venomed, including vipers, cobras, African burrowing asps and sea snakes.
As well, any member or offspring of the family Boidae (common or green anaconda) and any member of the family Pythonidae (African rock python, Burmese python) greater than two metres long is also prohibited. People can still own pythons and boa constrictors up to that length.
"We feel that most of the reptile owners in Winnipeg follow the bylaws that we have in place, and hopefully nothing like this will ever happen here," Leland Gordon, Winnipeg's animal services agency chief operating officer, said Tuesday.
The laws on exotic-pet ownership across Canada vary. Some places have no restrictions, Gordon said, adding Winnipeg is "middle of the road" on such regulations.
"The two-metre limit still allows people to own a wide variety of snakes," he said.
The African rock python, the snake in the New Brunswick tragedy, is an ambush predator. Vendramelli, who supports the limits on larger snakes in Winnipeg, said a rock python normally wouldn't go searching for its prey. They are typically a ground species, not a climber, and typically only attack when something crosses their path.
"There are different species that might actively forage for food, but not this species," he said.
As in many jurisdictions, Winnipeg's reliance on enforcement of exotic-pet regulations is complaint-based. Violations often occur privately until someone steps forward or the matter is brought into the open. If someone has a complaint or concern about snakes, Gordon advises them to call the city's 311 information line.
"Animals and reptiles, they do get out sometimes," he said. "Right now, we have a chicken, a turtle and a small lizard at animal services. Those were found in public spaces. That's why we always stress proper housing of these animals. It's very important. It all boils down to responsible pet ownership and education."