• Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission officers euthanized 35 snakes, mistakenly killing a pregnant boa constrictor worth $100,000.
  • The action has brought criticism from a reptile advocacy group, the United States Association of Reptile Keepers, which called the action “heinous.”
  • A graphic video shows some of the snakes, including the boa, writhing after they were shot with a bolt gun.

After Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) officers euthanized 35 snakes last week, a disturbing video of their action has led to criticism of government officials from a reptile advocacy group and the snakes’ owners.

FWC officers are authorized to euthanize wild reticulated and Burmese pythons, a species that was prohibited in Florida in 2021 because of its invasive nature. But when they conducted an April 6 raid on a reptile facility in Sunrise, Florida, they mistakenly killed a pregnant boa constrictor that was worth $100,000, along with 34 captive pythons. The mistake, as well as the method of killing the reptiles, has brought criticism from a reptile advocacy group, the United States Association of Reptile Keepers (USARK).

'Heinous' Killing of Snakes in Florida
A professional python hunter hired by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission catches a Burmese python in the Everglades on August 11, 2022. When Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission officers euthanized 35 captive snakes last week, they mistakenly killed a pregnant boa constrictor.
Chandan Khanna/AFP/Getty

USARK’s Florida branch has been involved in a lawsuit with the FWC for the past year and a half, challenging the commission’s authority to euthanize captive animals. The recent snake deaths have put the FWC back in the spotlight, with USARK Florida Media Director Daniel Parker calling the action “heinous.”

“It’s horrifically sad,” Parker told Newsweek. “The Florida state constitution gives FWC authority over wild animal life, and we don’t believe they should have any power to do this to somebody’s pet animals.”

An FWC spokesperson told Newsweek that Bill McAdam, the Sunrise facility’s owner, relinquished the snakes to that FWC and requested the FWC officers euthanize the pythons. But Parker said that can’t be true because McAdam wasn’t on the scene.

“Information also indicates that the owner specifically requested that the FWC officers and investigators conduct those euthanasia activities on-site at his facility,” the FWC spokesperson said.

“The FWC Division of Law Enforcement is determining the full details of this incident, and more information will be released when it is verified and appropriate to do so. Assembling the information and records required to provide a clear picture to the public on the facts of this incident may take time, but the FWC is committed to providing factual information when it becomes available,” the spokesperson said.

A 2021 Change in Florida Law

Officers euthanized the pythons at the facility in Sunrise after battling legally with snake breeder Chris Coffee, who legally owned more than 120 pythons before a 2021 Florida law made ownership illegal. Before the law’s passage, Coffee had obtained a special permit to keep and sell the snakes.

After the law passed, the FWC gave Coffee five months to find a new home for the pythons. At the end of that time, Coffee still possessed more than 30 of them, and officers gave Coffee an ultimatum: Either allow them to euthanize the snakes or he would go to jail. Coffee gave the officers permission to euthanize the pythons, but he warned them not to kill a pregnant boa constrictor kept in the same area, which is legal in Florida. The boa was owned by McAdam.

Footage From the Video

Officers then began euthanizing the pythons, which was filmed by Coffee on his phone after he left the room. Several minutes into the video, which was posted on YouTube by USARK Florida, officers pulled the pregnant boa out of her cage and killed her as well. The snake writhed in the background as the officers looked at one another, one with his hands on his head in apparent shock, when they realized they had killed the wrong snake.

Warning: This video contains graphic images and language.

Coffee is off-screen during the video, but he can be heard reacting to the devastating news when officers tell him they killed the boa constrictor, which McAdam had owned for 11 years and named Big Shirl.

“No!” Coffee yelled. “What is wrong with you guys? Who did it?”

An officer then asks Coffee if there’s a way to save the snake’s 32 babies, which The Miami Herald reported were only a month away from being born. Coffee said the babies couldn’t be saved.

The officers told Coffee that they made a mistake when they killed the boa, to which Coffee responded incredulously. “How?” he yelled. “I reminded you 10 times! You just killed something that wasn’t illegal, and it had about $100,000 worth of f****** babies!”

Coffee told Miami TV station WTVJ that he still can’t watch the video of the snakes being killed.

The FWC’s website says it uses a device that shoots a bolt into the snake’s brain, thus “humanely” killing the reptile. The website instructs officers to follow a two-step process. The first step renders the reptile unconscious, while the second destroys its brain.

But according to Coffee, the entire process was inhumane. At the start of the video, the officer administering the bolt admits he’s handled only one python in the past. Another officer asks if he needs to “practice” the fatal maneuver, to which a third officer said, “He doesn’t need to practice.”

“I’m not a veterinarian, but I don’t know how anyone looking at that video could call that humane,” Parker told Newsweek. “For people who keep snakes as pets, we love these animals just as people love their dogs and cats. Substitute your puppy or kitty getting killed by a bolt gun by government officers, and you’ll have the feeling we have right now.”

Besides the boa, the video shows some of the other snakes writhing after they were shot. FWC officers held up one of the dead reptiles and posed for a photo before dumping the carcass in a large trash can.

“I can’t watch it. Those animals mean a lot to me,” Coffee told WTVJ. “It’s like watching someone kill my kids.”

Update 04/12/23, 2:33 p.m. ET: This story was updated with a comment from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

Correction, 04/12/23, 3:59 p.m. ET: This story was updated to change the form of euthanasia from electroshock to bolt gun.