Border S-S-Security: Illegal corn snake trade in NSW threatens QLD environment

Suellen Hinde - Queensland Editor |

Thousands of illegal American corn snakes being kept as ‘freak pets’ south of the border are threatening Queensland’s biosecurity, experts warn.

Wildlife specialists say a “corn snake zone” exists in Western Sydney between Blacktown and Penrith, with thousands being kept as exotic pets despite being prohibited.

Increasingly, the exotic pet is being found in Queensland, particularly in the south east.

“There are thousands in captivity in Australia,” wildlife expert Anthony Stimson told The Queenslander.

“A lot of people I know who get caught with them, get them confiscated but not too many are fined.

“But it’s a different story if you are caught dealing (selling snakes) or importing.”

Corn snake confiscated by Biosecurity Queensland late last year.

Queensland Biosecurity issued a statement last month that seven corn snakes had been seized by officers in 2021 around South East Queensland in places such as Ipswich.

No fines had been issued but the snakes were confiscated.

“Biosecurity Queensland believes all these detections are associated with unlawful keeping and are part of the illegal international wildlife trade,” Queensland Department of Agriculture Minister Mark Furner said in a statement.

The prohibited exotic snakes are selling for around $500 on the black market.

“People are attracted because most corn snakes are morphs – allowing genetic mutations – which means they can be bred bright pink and fluorescent orange in colour,” Mr Stimson said.

Brightly coloured corn snake
An American corn snake which is prohibited to keep in Queensland.

Queensland Field Ecologist Kieran Aland said there had been a big shift by snake hobbyists in the past decade because of social media influences.

“Reptile hobbyists are behaving very differently, it’s getting weirder, almost like a freak show,” Mr Aland said.

“Introduced vertebrates have the potential to cause extinction from predation and competition. It’s really hard to predict the outcomes but with wildlife we should be adopting a precautionary approach.

“There are native snakes that would be impacted by corn snakes and I would say there is potential for the corn snake to establish.”

Mr Aland said he had not come across a corn snake in South East Queensland.

“But if we wait and see (what happens) the end result may not be a good one,” he said.

Queensland has restrictions on the import, possession and sale of American corn snakes were in place to stop them establishing as a pest in Queensland.

Anyone who suspects an exotic animal is being kept should call Biosecurity Queensland on 13 25 23.