Exotic Animals Banned in Santa Monica


Jesse Tapia wears faux snake print vans to support his love of animals and nonviolent approach toward fashion, holding his 40lb white and yellow Albino Burmese snake. He collectively owns 150 reptiles, which are kept in a contained facility, and all are acceptable for public display. But he won't be able to show his animals off for much longer.

The Santa Monica Pier Corporation and the Santa Monica Recreation and Parks Commission had both proposed to the City Council that certain exotic and wild animals be prohibited from public areas; On Tuesday night, 6 of the City Council unanimously voted on the first measure to ban these wild animals in public places.

Karen Ginsberg, Director of Community and Cultural Services and Rod Merl, Pier Manager, proposed to prohibit wild and exotic animals, such as snakes, reptiles, birds, and non-human primates from city parks, sidewalks, the beach, Ocean Front Walk, The Pier, The Pier ramp, Third Street Promenade and the Downtown transit mall.

Due to an increasing number of complaints ranging from public health and safety concerns to inhumane treatment of animals, The Pier Corporation decided to take action to prohibit these animals.

Jesse Tapia is just one of the many exotic animal exhibitors on the Ocean Front Walk, proudly displaying his reptiles for tourists and familiar faces alike to view.

He exhibits animals for a living and showcasing them in Santa Monica is just a part of that. He performs at schools, libraries, and private events. He does not have a paying rate and often accepts tips and donations.

Tapia is hurt by the proposal because he feels targeted by it. “I’m not here for money. I’m here because I exhibit reptiles for a living and I help people overcome their phobias.” He holds his snake on his shoulders as he says regarding the proposal, "It sucks. It really really sucks.”

“Numerous individuals have offered photos with animals, including snakes and birds in Palisades Park in exchange for a monetary donation," the City Council report states. "Staff, residents, and visitors regularly witness these individuals approaching park patrons to entice them to touch, handle, and hold these exotic animals. At times, these individuals do so in an aggressive manner."

The report goes on to say that the Santa Monica Police Department "has responded to several incidents involving exotic animals, including documented injuries to children."

Although the concern for the public and the treatment of animals is necessary and lawful, Tapia understands. He’s aware that some of the exhibitors, such as a man keeping his birds in caged conditions and forcing them upon passing visitors, are dangerous. Despite the proposal to prohibit exotic and wild animals from Santa Monica public places, Jesse hopes they at least regulate or require permits instead of banning them altogether. Tapia doesn’t see the exhibitors as a liability; they are an attraction.

Starline tourist attraction bus driver, Vincent says “Jesse loves his snakes. He really does. I see him out here almost every day. He plays with them and lets others [play with them]. There’s another man who is hostile with his animals, but Jesse isn’t doing any harm here.”

Tapia keeps a mat on the floor as a designated area for the snakes to play on and they are trained to not go beyond it. His snakes also have a heating pad because they’re cold-blooded, and includes bags and toys for them.

The exhibitor dubbed, "The birdman of Santa Monica Pier" has been reported multiple times for animal abuse. It’s been a public concern and it should be reported, however not all exhibitors maltreat their exotic animals. “Humans are more dangerous than snakes,” Tapia says.

As alternatives to the proposal, The City Council Report could have chosen to not adopt the proposed ordinance and continue to allow exotic animals in City parks, the Beach, Ocean Front Walk, the Third Street Promenade, the Transit Mall, and on the Pier and Pier ramp or they could have modified the list of prohibited animals as proposed in the ordinance. Alternatively, The Council could have also modified the locations where such animals are prohibited.

Karen Ginsberg, Director of the Pier Corporation, specifies that not all the animals will be banned from visitors' eyes. "I want this ordinance to not inhibit any aquarium activities," she says. On Tuesday night, the Santa Monica city council has 6 unanimous votes to allow the first pass of this ordinance until it becomes a bill to prohibit exotic animals in public places.