November 5, 2009 / 5:14 PM / 10 years ago

Giant snake capture was a hoax?

A Burmese pythons is seen shortly before capture by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission in an undated image. REUTERS/FWC/Handout

MIAMI (Reuters) - A man who caught a 14-foot (4.2-meter) python in a Florida drain pipe was charged with perpetrating a hoax after wildlife officers discovered he owned the snake and put it in the pipe in order to stage the capture.

Justin Matthews, a professional animal trapper, later admitted that he had “staged the event to call attention to a growing problem of irresponsible pet ownership,” the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission said on Thursday.

Matthews was charged with misusing the 911 emergency system and maintaining captive wildlife in an unsafe manner.

He summoned news media to witness the snake’s capture from the drain in the city of Bradenton in July, telling them that he was performing a public service because it threatened nearby school children. He said neighbors had reported seeing the large snake in the area over several months.

Matthews, 47, had actually bought the Burmese python from a licensed reptile dealer a month earlier and illegally let it go in the drain, then called 911 to request emergency help, wildlife investigators said.

Footage of the capture was widely televised in Florida, where Burmese pythons and other non-native snakes have bred rapidly in the Everglades after being released into the wild by pet owners. The snakes are considered a threat to native species, and the state has allowed hunters to trap them.

Reporting by Jane Sutton, Editing by Sandra Maler

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