Reptile breeders fear FWC permits, regulations could keep them out of business

Austin Harris briefed the FWC commissioners on Thursday morning on his business.

“We ship 50,000 wild-caught iguanas out of state every year, and we pay taxes on them and feed our families,” Harris explained.

But reptile keepers say denied permits have halted “subterranean reptile” activities, due to regulations on green iguanas and tegu lizards.

“You want them out of state, we want them out of state, so our agenda says we’re on the same page,” he said.

READ Growing population of invasive tegu lizards threatens native species in Florida

The regulations date back a year when the FWC voted to add 16 reptiles – including iguanas and tegus – to a list of prohibited species. It allowed current owners to keep their pets, but they must obtain permits. The FWC says breeding for commercial sale is permitted until June 2024.

Some business owners say it saves them time, but others, like Rian Gittman, say there’s no other way to run a business.

“There’s no way for me to house more than 200 tegus indoors,” Gittman said. “I would have to spend half a million dollars to build a decent building, and even then I would still have to get rid of it within three years.”

READ Residents on the hunt for exotic lizards roaming the Lakeland neighborhood

Gittman then discussed what will happen to his family business.

“It represents what’s left of my business now,” he said, showing a photo of his staff to the commissioners, some of them covered in black marker. “Thirty-five percent of them are gone, and it’s only going to get worse. Please help me guys. I plan to spend the rest of my life looking after animals in my garden. I’m going to put the key under the door.”

Stephen Brezil of Xtreme Exotics says the back and forth on permits has put a lot of work on hold.

“That’s a lot of animals that I couldn’t save or bring to light,” he said. “I have a lot of companies that build big lagoons for these animals. We’ve really gone to great lengths to achieve that, but over time we’ve spent fighting for permits and my legal team, and getting things back. , it’s a pain.”

FWC says it has established a Technical Assistance Group (TAG) to coordinate with the pet industry and other stakeholders. On Wednesday, the commission approved staff to move forward with additional rules to address some of the concerns discussed at TAG meetings.

FOX 13 asked the FWC what would happen to the reptiles if they were confiscated, but we haven’t heard back yet.

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