TAMPA — Several dozen reptile owners and dealers are offering an $18,400 reward for information leading to the arrest of whoever released a 12-foot-long Burmese python captured at the Port of Tampa last week.
Florida Fish and Wildlife officials said Burmese pythons "reptiles of concern" capable of growing to 26 feet long and more than 200 pounds heavy. They prey on wildlife and could be dangerous to people.
Many responsible owners are now worried about getting a bad name after people improperly release the snakes, according to Fish and Wildlife.
Owning a reptile of concern, like the Burmese python, green anaconda or Nile monitor lizard, requires a $100 Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission permit. The animal must have a microchip implanted, be kept in a cage and have a written disaster plan in the case of an emergency evacuation.
Officials from the commission said they also make unannounced inspections.
The snake found last week did not have a microchip, said Carol Pratt, a spokeswoman for the Florida Fish and Wildlife's law enforcement division.
If owners want to get rid of their snakes, they will soon be able to turn them over to an authorized reptile-of-concern permit holder with no questions asked — the result of a Dec. 10 executive order from the wildlife commission that will go into effect in two to three weeks.
Before that order, owners had to keep their snakes or find someone who would willingly accept them, Pratt said. Many simply just set them free.
Officials ask that anyone with information who wants to be eligible for the reward call 888-404-3922.
Follow This Just In on Twitter.