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Fatal snakebite dramatizes need for TWRA regulations

Larry Woody, Outdoors Writer • Updated Mar 11, 2014 at 11:02 PM

A Kentucky preacher who handled venomous snakes as part of a religious service recently died after being bitten.

The incident serves as a grim reminder about why regulations are in place prohibiting the capture and confinement of wildlife. In Tennessee it is illegal to possess any wild creature, including snakes.

Last fall the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency confiscated several venomous snakes from a religious snake-handler in East Tennessee. That preacher, like the one in Kentucky, had been featured on the National Geographic Channel's series "Snake Salvation."

Although the possession of a "dangerous" species increases the seriousness of the violation, charges against the Tennessee preacher were eventually dropped. The contraband snakes were donated to a zoo. Biologists said they were in poor condition, and none of them survived.

In another highly-publicized case involving the illegal possession of wildlife, the TWRA was criticized on some fronts for forcing a Gallatin man to relinquish a pet raccoon. He claimed to have collected 60,000 signatures on a petition to let him keep the coon.

While the public doesn't get aroused over a ban on possessing deadly snakes, it seems less supportive of banning a cuddly coon.

A captive raccoon, however, is potentially dangerous. Raccoons are known to carry diseases that can be transmitted to humans, and are particularly prone to the rabies virus. A few years ago the incidence of rabies in raccoons reached epidemic proportions in some areas of the state.

Another emotional case concerning captive wildlife involved a fawn that a couple "rescued" from the wild and raised as a pet, complete with a ribbon and bell around its neck. When wildlife officials learned about the captive Bambi via a TV feature, it's release was ordered. There was a public outcry against the wildlife agency.

Captured fawns seldom survive, and those that do can be dangerous once they grow into adults. Bucks are particularly aggressive; in one case an owner was fatally gored by his "pet."

And if it were legal to possess one deer, why not a herd? Wildlife officials three years ago convinced Tennessee legislators that "deer farming" should be prohibited, for numerous reasons.

There are similar health and safety concerns about captive raccoons. If one bit or scratched someone -- a child attempting to pet it, for example -- the effects could be serious, and the owner of the animal could be liable.

Venomous rattlesnakes and copperheads don't evoke the same emotions as spotted fawns and cuddly raccoons, but they all share something in common: their capture and confinement is illegal in Tennessee. And for good reasons.

The TWRA regulation protects humans from wild creatures, and protects wild creatures from humans.

Violating it can cause problems for both sides.

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