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Snakes alive! Owners turn in pythons, tortoises and albino skunk

TAMPA — When Mark Cossey's pet tortoises hatched, he could fit them in his palm. He named them Spot and Dot.

But thanks to hibiscus flowers and large bags of tortoise feed, Spot takes up more space. The African sulcata tortoise now pushes 150 pounds.

On Saturday, Cossey of St. Petersburg gently rubbed Spot's neck and whispered, "They can feed you" before he left the two tortoises with wildlife officials at the non-native pet amnesty day event in Tampa.

He said he couldn't afford to feed his tortoises anymore, so he dropped them off at the event, held in a grassy lot near Busch Gardens.

On Saturday, wildlife officials accepted about 100 exotic animals — from a 13-foot Burmese python to an albino skunk. The event was hosted by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, Busch Gardens and Plant City.

The workers accepted any kind of exotic animal without question, even if its owner was unlicensed.

"It's truly an amnesty," said Rob Yordi, the Busch Entertainment Corp.'s curator.

He said the event was held to encourage pet owners not to release invasive species into the wild. Florida already has problems with pythons, iguanas and parrots, which thrive in tropical regions and often overtake native wildlife.

Shortly after the event kicked off, Tampa resident Kelley Campbell had two strong workers carry three sagging pillowcases to the check-in table. She warned them that two contained docile, albino Burmese pythons. The other? "She's nasty," Campbell warned.

A crowd gathered, ooh-ing and ahh-ing over the giant snakes as officials removed them one by one. When they took out the aggressive 13-foot Burmese python, she barred her fangs.

"She's wild" Campbell said. "She wants to bite."

The snakes aren't hers, she said. They briefly belonged to a friend who keeps smaller breeds of snakes. He took in the three pythons when someone else could no longer take care of them.

Campbell was glad to see them go.

"I'm a big advocate for people not owning snakes like this," she said.

In addition to the reptiles, exotic birds were also dropped off, including large Amazon parrots and cockatoos. The Florida Parrot Rescue group set up a booth at the event to inform people about proper bird care.

"It's a commitment," said the group's vice president, Amanda Terry. Some birds live to be 80 years old, she said.

The group's founder, Jennifer Underwood of Temple Terrace, said that people often see the beautiful, colorful birds in pet stores and decide they want one. But owning a cockatoo "is like having a 2-year-old for 50 years," she said. They often scream a lot.

"Do your research first," Terry advised.

Jessica Vander Velde can be reached at jvandervelde@sptimes.com or (813) 661-2443.

Snakes alive! Owners turn in pythons, tortoises and albino skunk 11/07/09 [Last modified: Saturday, November 7, 2009 10:29pm]
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