Conservation officers train for spike in venomous snakes in Indiana

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PLAINFIELD, Ind. (Feb. 4, 2016)-- Conservation officers in Indiana are on the front lines against venomous snakes. CBS4 got an exclusive look Thursday as law enforcement officers with the Indiana Department of Natural Resources trained with rattlesnakes and cobras at the Indiana Law Enforcement Academy in Plainfield.

In May, an appellate court ruling said the DNR had no authority over privately-owned animals. Indiana had a permit process and required housing in place for wild animals kept as pets, like bears and tigers. Venomous snakes could not be sold in the state. But as a result of the ruling, the regulations are no more.

Thursday, conservation officers faced a few slithering reptiles that they don’t find often. A cobra flared up and hissed, while a rattlesnake let his presence be known, by shaking his tail.

The training is a new initiative, since conservation officers could easily come across the reptiles.

“We need for them to be able to handle the snake appropriately,” said Lt. William Browne, with IDNR Law Enforcement.

After the appellate court ruling in May, DNR said they have evidence that venomous snake buying and selling has increased dramatically.

“I’ve received multiple phone calls from people who have venomous reptiles now. They know someone who has one. They’re very concerned about the safety of people within the home,” said Linnea Petercheff, with the Department of Natural Resources, “We’ve also seen Facebook ads with people breeding and selling venomous snakes.”

DNR will put 20 officers through the training Thursday and Friday as a first line of defense.

“I would say it wasn’t until the past few months we realized the amount of people that had these snakes and the amount coming into the state and the sale of them,” said Petercheff.

“Public safety is certainly why we’re ramping this up,” said Browne.

Officers learned Thursday how to properly bag and transport the reptiles, keeping in mind they aren’t the native species they might usually see.

That’s where the danger comes in.

“Let the snake do what it wants, biggest thing we talked about is the snake being defensive, so we kind of let the snake do its thing. And when it’s ready to comply with what we need to do, we’ll see some results,” said Matt Maher, an officer who went through the training.

Senate Bill 195 passed the Senate and now goes to the Indiana House of Representatives. Through a wording change it would give DNR authority to provide for protection and proper management of all legally and publicly owned wild animals in Indiana.

If it becomes law, all the old permit requirements would go back in place again.

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