TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) — Chris Coffee said he can’t stomach watching the video he recorded showing Florida wildlife officers killing dozens of his snakes at a reptile facility last Thursday, WTVJ reported.
“I can’t watch it. Those animals mean a lot to me,” Coffee told the news station. “It’s like watching someone kill my kids.”
According to USARK, a snake advocacy group, which shared video of the incident, officers with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission raided a reptile facility in Sunrise and killed 29 reticulated pythons and five Burmese pythons owned by a Coffee, along with a pregnant boa constrictor, which is legal to have as a pet in Florida.
Coffee, a snake breeder, had a permit to keep Burmese and reticulated pythons before they were added to the list of prohibited species in 2021. After the rules changed, he was given five months to re-home the snakes, and was able to find homes for most, but still had more than 30 of the reptiles in his possession.
Coffee told WTVJ he contacted the FWC about a year ago and asked them to extend the deadline. Then on Thursday, he said the agency showed up unannounced at the facility and told him to let them euthanize his snakes or he would be taken to jail. USARK said the officers spent about four hours euthanizing the snakes, using a device that launched a charge into their heads.
“My back was against a wall, there was nothing I could do,” said Coffee, who recorded video of the incident.
Several minutes into the video, the officers are seen killing the pregnant boa, then putting their hands on their heads, as if they realized they made a mistake. USARK believes they mistook the 10-year-old reptile for a prohibited python.
“You can’t fix it. You just killed something that wasn’t illegal and had about a hundred thousand dollars worth of [expletive] babies,” Coffee is heard yelling in the video.
“Is there a way to maybe save the babies?” one of the officers asks Coffee.
“Oh, no dude,” Coffee said.
“It was a mistake,” the officer replied.
“How? I reminded you. [Expletive]!” Coffee said.
According to WTVJ, the boa was worth $100,000, and belonged to the facility’s owner, Bill McAdam. USARK claims the snake was pregnant with 32 babies, some of which had unique color and pattern mutations, known as morphs, and could have fetched $4,000 each in a sale, the Miami Herald reported.
In a statement emailed to WTVJ, the FWC said its officers went to the facility to “determine if all reticulated pythons held at the facility were accounted for since an escaped or released reticulated python had been found in the general vicinity” the day before.
The “officers did not initiate contact with the facility owner with any intention of engaging in the euthanasia of animals at the time,” the statement continued. “The facility owner during the visit formally relinquished his reptiles to FWC and requested that the FWC officers and investigators euthanize the reptiles.”
According to USARK, Coffee was arrested on 72 criminal charges—two for each python in his possession—but prosecutors ultimately declined to press charges.
“USARK Florida questions how FWC officers who are not competent enough to identify animals properly are empowered by the state to kill them,” USARK spokesman Daniel Parker said. “We believe that in instances where euthanasia is absolutely necessary, the animals should be identified by an expert and only euthanized by a qualified veterinarian using the most humane methods possible.”
The organization is demanding the resignation of the FWC employee who gave the order to kill the snakes, and is calling on Gov. Ron DeSantis to hold them accountable.
“It’s just horrific,” said Parker. “It’s hideous. As an animal lover, even if it’s snakes or any kind of animal, to see animals treated like this is just unconscionable.”
The Burmese python is an invasive species found primarily in and around the Everglades. They pose a threat to Florida’s native wildlife. The FWC encourages people to capture and kill them humanely.