Illegal pet trade increases Boa constrictor incursion risk

Images: Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning, Victoria

May 2015

Boa2_webCouncil workers were shocked to discover a large red-tailed boa constrictor inside a disused shed on 10 May. The female snake, measuring 2.6m and weighing in at 8kg, was discovered just before midday 40km south of Melbourne.

Glenn Sharp Compliance Support Group Manager for Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning, Victoria speculates that the boa was almost certainly an illegal pet, either dumped or escaped. “Based on the size and condition of the snake, it is unlikely to have been in the wild for very long.”

“The snake was either illegally brought to Australia or captive-bred as part of the illegal pet trade”.

The illegal keeping and trading of boa constrictors threatens Australia’s biodiversity and agriculture. The large predatory snake poses a threat to native animals, domestic pets, poultry and small livestock.

According to Dr. Michelle Christy, National Incursion Response Facilitator for Invasive Animals CRC, the snake is of reproductive age. “Boa constrictors give birth to large litters of live young; one female can have to up to 50 young a year” she said.  “It isn’t out of the question that a single pregnant female could establish a large population quickly.” In fact, the rapidly spreading population in Puerto Rico was almost certainly started by a few young from a single litter.

This is the second boa constrictor found in Australia recently. A two metre snake was caught and subsequently released in bushland near Surfers Paradise in late March. The snake is still at large.

The penalty for illegal possession under national environment law is up to five years gaol and/or a fine of up to $110,000.