ORLANDO, Fla. — Lizards, turtles and snakes aren’t robots. They experience pain, fear and anxiety, and they can make humans sick.
What You Need To Know
- World Animal Protection calls on Central Florida Fair to cut ties to Repticon
- Organization cites salmonella outbreaks from contact with infected animals
- Repticon: World Animal Protection “harassing” as part of “political agenda”
- RELATED: Safety Changes Made to Repticon in Kissimmee During Coronavirus Pandemic
That’s the position of World Animal Protection, a global group that says it aims to “end the needless suffering of animals.”
Yet people have a right to keep reptiles and other exotic animals — and World Animal Protection harasses venues that showcase them, says Repticon, a years-long presenter of national exotic-species shows.
So the scaly lines are drawn as Repticon returns to Orlando on Saturday for a two-day event at the Central Florida Fairgrounds.
World Animal Protection says it is calling on Central Florida Fair, which runs the park, to cut ties with the event, writing in an open letter to operations manager William Price that reptiles and other animals can spread diseases such as COVID-19 and bacteria such as salmonella.
The letter cited announcements on two salmonella outbreaks this year from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which says the bacterial infection can result from “touching infected animals, their feces, or their environment” and “can cause severe disease.”
Most susceptible to severe infection are infants, adults age 65 and over, and people with a weakened immune system, the CDC says.
Strains of salmonella have been reported from all 50 states, the CDC says on its website, and about 1,700 people had been infected as of last month, with 326 hospitalized. The organization pointed to backyard poultry as “the likely source of these outbreaks.”
Shawn Krauel, president and CEO of Central Florida Fair and Exposition Park, shared with Spectrum News 13 on Friday an email reply to World Animal Protection official Ben Williamson, the author of the organization’s letter. Krauel noted that the Central Florida Fairgrounds rents its facilities to outside promoters and that it can’t discriminate against legal shows.
“We take your concerns seriously and will pass along to the promoter for response,” Krauel wrote in the email.
Earlier Friday, Repticon Venue Coordinator Lisa Parker wrote in an email to Spectrum News 13 that this weekend’s event “is purely a retail sale. All elements of a ‘social gathering’ have been eliminated. There are no educational areas, no food concessions, no seating areas, and no area in which to congregate. The only activity within the event will be small business owners selling pets and pet products in a temporary retail sales location.”
She added: “These business owners have been among the hardest hit by the COVID-19 lockdowns, as many of them have no other outlet to sell through other than temporary sales locations such as this.”
Parker also outlined a series of steps that the show has taken to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
Williamson, of World Animal Protection, emphasized in his letter more of a concern about salmonella disease and a lack of signage and hand sanitizer — and proper use of hand sanitizer — that his group has observed at such shows.
In its national efforts on the salmonella issue, Williamson told Spectrum News 13 that the group typically has more success in appealing to local and state officials than to venues, particularly on posting of signage and ensuring salmonella safeguards that target babies and small children.
Repticon’s Parker expressed skepticism about World Animal Protection’s concerns.
“If you own a fish, a bird, or a reptile, they oppose your right to continue keeping these pets,” Parker wrote to Spectrum News 13. “They have a history of harassing venues that host events that don't conform to their viewpoints, which began well prior to the COVID-19 pandemic. It is deplorable that they are seeking to exploit this crisis to promote their political agenda.”
Williamson acknowledged that “our primary concern is always about the welfare of the animals.” Yet he said the group’s investigations in recent years inspired a campaign that warns about the risks of salmonella and emphasizes safety measures to prevent the spread of it.
“If more people knew about the dangers of handling reptiles, of reptile-borne salmonella,” he said, “perhaps they’d stay away.”