LADSON — A wildlife organization is calling on the Exchange Park to end its relationship with a national reptile expo company for health reasons.
World Animal Protection, a global animal welfare nonprofit, is asking Exchange Park officials to cancel the Feb. 13-14 Repticon Expo to help in mitigating the spread of diseases such as salmonella.
"Reptiles are known vectors of zoonotic diseases and the (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) holds them responsible for salmonellosis outbreaks every year which hospitalize people,” said Ben Williamson, programs director for World Animal Protection.
“Households with children under 5 are specifically warned against keeping reptiles, yet there are no age restrictions at these events," he added. "At a time when we’re observing the CDC’s advice over COVID-19, it seems crazy not to follow its guidance on avoiding contact with reptiles.”
The Repticon Expo organizers said they are taking all the necessary precautions to help prevent the spread of any disease.
“This is a retail sale,” said Lisa Parker, Repticon’s venue coordinator in a prepared statement. “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 company website bills Repticon as an opportunity to buy reptiles and other exotic pets from quality breeders and get advice from breeders and experts.
Parker said the company is taking several social distancing precautions, which include mask wearing and face covering, spacing sales booth at least 6 feet apart, limiting capacity, and clearing the building every two hours to allow sellers to sanitize their sales booths.
“We are taking more precautions to promote the safety of the shoppers and sellers at our temporary retail location than most big-box stores in the area,” Parker said.
Williamson said the spread of disease is only part of what troubles his organization about an event like Repticon. The group also has concerns about how the animals for sale are housed.
“They are kept in small boxes and Tupperware containers with very little food and water," he said. "Events like this are ignoring the best advice of health experts and as a result there is a very real health risk for the public like salmonella.”
The S.C. Department of Natural Resources said they will be monitoring the two-day event.
“We are keenly aware of events like Repticon,” said DNR spokesman David Lucas. “Our staff is intent on making sure everyone participating in those events are doing so within the guidelines and regulations that are out there.”
The buying and selling of reptiles, especially turtles, is big business in South Carolina. Last year state lawmakers passed legislation implementing strict rules on the sale, purchase or transfer of native reptiles and amphibians out of the Palmetto State. It also prohibits the release of nonnative species.
The law imposes penalties for releasing non-native species into the wild. Violating the law is a misdemeanor, punishable by up to one year in jail and a $2,500 fine.
No person or organization is exempt from the new law. Even zoos and conservation organizations must abide by the rules.