'Snake preacher' loses serpents: An East Tennessee preacher, cited for handling venomous snakes as part of his church services in violation of state law, has escaped jail time and fines, but lost his snakes.
A grand jury last week declined to indict Andrew Hamblin for possession of "wildlife inherently dangerous to humans," a misdemeanor punishable by up to a year in jail and a $2,500 fine.
However, the court ruled that 53 snakes -- including venomous copperheads and rattlesnakes -- would not be returned to Hamblin, but will remain in the Knoxville Zoo where they were deposited last November by Tennessee Wildlife Resource Agency officials.
The TWRA became aware of Hamblin's illegal possession of the snakes through a National Geographic Channel show, "Snake Salvation," that documented religious snake-handling.
In Tennessee it is illegal to capture and possess any species of wildlife. If the species is dangerous, as is the case with venomous snakes, the offense rises to the level of a misdemeanor.
The TWRA, which enforces the regulation, notes that it protects both humans and wildlife. Venomous snakes held in captivity around humans are obviously dangerous. Likewise, being held captive can be fatal for the snakes -- 32 of the 52 formerly held by Hamblin have died.
The snake case is reminiscent of the ongoing battle with the TWRA by a Gallatin man who wants to keep a raccoon in violation of the law. Raccoons are prone to carry the rabies virus and other diseases, and keeping them as "pets" can be hazardous to humans and domestic animals.
License reminder: Hunting and fishing license expire Feb. 28. A wide range of licenses and permits are available. Details are listed in the Tennessee Trapping & Hunting Guide and on tnwildlife.org
There is no increase in the cost of 2014 licenses, as the TWRA continues to hold the line on such expenses, despite annual increases in its cost of operation and strain on its user-funded budget.
Hunter suggestions: The TWRA will soon start planning this fall's hunting seasons and regulations, and welcomes suggestions and comments from outdoorsmen.
They can be mailed to TWRA headquarters in Nashville, or emailed to TWRA.Comments@tn.gov
Feb. 28: squirrel season ends
Feb. 28: rabbit, quail seasons end
Feb. 28: hunting/fishing licenses expire
Dec.-March: TWRA winter trout stocking
March 29-May 11: turkey season
PHOTOS WELCOME: Caught some wintertime fish, or bagged some rabbits and ducks? Share your favorite outdoors photos with readers of The Lebanon Democrat by e-mailing them to firstname.lastname@example.org