My new book!
Frogs: Inside Their Remarkable World
by Ellin Beltz

1993 HerPET-POURRI Columns by Ellin Beltz

1987 . 1988 . 1989 . 1990 . 1991 . 1992 .

1993 . 1994 . 1995 . 1996 . 1997 . 1998 .

1999 . 2000 . 2001 . 2002 . 2003 . 2004 .

2005 . 2006

This was my seventh year of writing for the Chicago Herpetological Society Bulletin.

January 1993

Lost turtle update

The turtle found by Norwegian fishermen near the Arctic Circle was tagged with a radio transmitter and released. Thor-Ivar Guldberg, of the World Wildlife Fund in Norway, said, "The last time we saw her, she was headed south." Plans to fly the animal back to the Gulf of Mexico were abandoned when biologists pointed out that the turtle's internal orientation could become disoriented as a result of the intended kindness. [Orlando Sentinel, September 12, 1992 contributed by Bill Burnett] Our editor, Mike Dloogatch, copied a few items which shows, as he wrote, "The bottom line is that the sea turtle was where it belonged. It was the zoologist who was confused." Herpetology 1989 for April had a mention of work by Goff and Lien which reported 20 encounters with leatherback sea turtles off Newfoundland and Labrador between July and September from 1976 and 1985. In Herpetology 1990 from December, an article by Paladino and cohorts was cited that reported that leatherbacks range from the tropics to the Arctic Circle and that these turtles can maintain their body temperatures 18 degrees Celsius higher than the water in which they are swimming. The authors coined new word for this extra heat in a "cold-blooded" reptile, gigantothermy. It means the ability to maintain constantly high body temperatures because the animal is big and has tissues that are being used as insulation but has a low metabolic rate. It has been suggested that dinosaurs may have been gigatothermic. Also P.C.H. Pritchard wrote in 1971 that individual leatherback "are caught at sea in cold, northern waters more frequently than any other species of sea turtle... [they] were active, apparently in full control of their movements, and had stomachs full of jellyfish."

Major reptile dealer to be jailed

According to an article faxed by Michael L. Rubinstein, the Deputy Chief Major Crimes Section of the United States Attorney's Office in Tampa, FL reptile dealer Thomas Crutchfield and his wife Penny Crutchfield, of Bushnell, FL were sentenced on November 13, 1992 for their roles in the illegal importation of endangered Fiji iguanas into the U.S. Crutchfield was sentenced to 17 months in federal prison and fined $10,000, Mrs. Crutchfield was sentenced to six months of house arrest, and six months of probation and fined $2,000. Federal wildlife officials have said that the Crutchfield arrests and convictions were a major case in the multimillion-dollar trade in reptiles. Rubinstein said, "We hope it's a real deterrent. It's been followed by dealers and zoos all over the world." The World Wildlife Foundation urged tough sentences for the Crutchfields and said that a light sentence would have served as license for others to disregard international laws and agreements intended to protect animals. Crutchfield was charged with importing some Fiji banded iguanas from a Malaysian reptile exporter, who hid them in a shipment of other animals in 1989. The only legal Fiji iguanas live at San Diego Zoo and places where that zoo loans them. Crutchfield has blamed the criminal charges against him as being caused by disgruntled former business partners, whom, he claims turned records over to federal wildlife investigators. [Article by Bruce Vielmetti, Tampa Times, November 14, 1992]

Turtles teach patience

Second-grade students at Union Center Elementary School (near Valparaiso, IN) waited and waited for snapping turtle eggs to hatch since one of the class brought in eggs found by workmen on her parents' property. Charles Keating, CHS member and herpetologist, went to the class to teach the fundamental of caring for the tiny turtles until they are released to survive on their own. The teacher said, "The students really wanted to take care of the tiny turtles because they were informed that if they were freed in the wild at this age, they would probably wind up as food for another animal. Keating had the kids put all the turtles in separate jars so they wouldn't compete with or even eat each other. The turtles will be fed trout chow until they are released in the spring. [Vidette Messenger, October 8, 1992, front page, contributed by Jack Schoenfelder]

Dinosaur embryo found

Once upon a time, vertebrate paleontologists competed with each other to collect the biggest dinosaurs. Now, it seems, they are all going for the record of who found the smallest of the "giant reptiles." The most recent report of tiny dinos is from the Dinosaur National Monument, where Dan Chure has spent nearly a year scraping away at a 150 million year old fossil which appears to be the embryonic remains of a Camptosaurus. The group of 30 tiny bones were found because workers were searching for fossilized plants. [Grand Junction, CO, Daily Sentinel, August 23, 1992, sent by Larry Valentine]

Elvis escaped!

A 5-foot, 30-pound alligator named Elvis escaped from his home in the Southern Nevada Zoological Park in Las Vegas. The zoo's director said, "I'm puzzled. There is a little opening through a thick clump of bamboo, but I'm not convinced he could get out there. There's a water turtle in the same exhibit and if there were any easy way out, the turtle would have found it." He speculated that thieves could have tried to steal the alligator, but released it when it proved to be "more than they could handle." Also, zoo workers are in the zoo round the clock, and some were as little as 30 feet from and in view of the alligator enclosure. [Las Vegas Review-Journal, September 18, 1992, contributed by Bob Pierson]

Photo proves giant snake not dangerous

Bob Pierson of Las Vegas sent in a clipping from the Las Vegas Review Journal (September 11, 1992) which shows an event that occurred at the Los Angeles Zoo. It seem that every year, zoo officials weigh their Indian python. This year she weighs 212 pounds, a gain of 9 pounds in the last year. Students from the animal studies program at North Hollywood High School help the keepers weigh and measure the 9-year-old snake. It took 28 students to uncoil the animal for the official measurement, 15.5 feet. No one was injured, everyone is laughing in the picture, and it sure puts to rest all the "dangerous snake" stories.

1993 Earthwatch expeditions announced

Five herp adventures are among the hundreds of Earthwatch expeditions scheduled in 1993. You can tag turtles in either Costa Rica or St. Croix, count lizards and spiders in Baja California, tag broad-nosed caimans in Brazil, or count herps in Madagascar merely by signing up for one of their projects. The payment you make to Earthwatch is tax deductible and includes your food, lodging and scientific equipment. Prices range from $800 to $2,200. You'll also need to pay the airfare from where you are to where you want to be - that isn't deductible. For further information, please write or call Earthwatch: Box 403N, 680 Mount Auburn Street, Watertown, MA 02272, phone 617-926-8200. Please mention CHS when you contact them.

A way to get involved

People who like to write letters about environmental issues are urged to contact Jeff Lippert, Editor of the Armchair Activist, at 1415 Braeburn, Flossmoor, IL 60422. Please include a stamped, business sized envelope. The Armchair Activist is usually a page or two of fast-breaking environmental issues and the names and addresses of the proper officials to write about them. Annually, they publish a list of legislators and their voting records on various environmental issues. If you're outside the Chicago region, ask Jeff to send your letter to the Editor nearest your home.

Shocking treatment of hunting dogs

In an article from the Corsicana Daily Sun (October 11, 1992) sent by Thomas Vance, the methods used by sportsmen to "snake-proof" their dogs are discussed. One of the most popular ways, according to the article, uses a defanged rattlesnake to get the dogs' interest - then by means of electric shock collars, conditions the dogs to leave the snake alone. A veterinarian in Corpus Christi was quoted as saying, "I don't like shock collars for a lot of things. But it's better than a snake bite." He warned that snake-proofing a dog by using a shock collar is for experts only. It also doesn't guarantee a dog won't be bitten by a rattlesnake. The dog might step on one before he saw it, or jump over something and land on a snake by mistake. The article continues with dog remedies for snake bite which are similar to those for humans: transport the victim to medical help quickly, don't panic, don't cut, don't suck, and don't use electric shocks from stun guns, car batteries or extension cords.

Deformed turtles will be studied

Scientists have known for 17 years that a population of turtles in Lake Blackshear, GA suffers from horrid deformities including a "shell-rot" that eats away at both the carapace and plastron, sometimes exposing internal organs. Also, softball sized growths can form on the shells. The disease has shown up in two species of plant-eating turtles, but has not affected meat-eating turtles in the same waterways. Whit Gibbons, a herpetologist at the Savannah River Ecology Lab near Aiken, SC said, "I have never seen a population that is that sick and unhealthy. There is some kind of impact on that aquatic system ... that is causing a severe effect..." The state of Georgia has awarded a grant to Bob Herrington, a biology professor at Georgia Southwestern College, and another grant has been given to William Tietjen of the same school to conduct a comprehensive water quality study. The U.S. Soil Conservation Service is checking agricultural runoff in the area where the sick turtles have been found. Another population of sick turtles was reported two years ago in a small lake near Interlachen, FL. Ken Dodd, a herpetologist with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in Gainesville, FL said, "There were gross deformities. Some areas [of shell] were paper thin and next to them were big knobs and bumps." He added, "If something is affecting the turtles, I think it has the potential to affect people." He speculates that something is disrupting the turtles' metabolism, permitting heavy calcium deposits on their shells. Gibbons noted that he "would not personally be eating things out of that lake. When you see something like that, it's an environmental indicator that there is a problem." [Atlanta Journal and Constitution, November 4, 1992, contributed by Wally Wahlquist]

Humans more dangerous than snakes?

According to an article in Florida Wildlife Magazine (August 2, 1992), Wayne Hill, editor of the Bulletin of the League of Florida Herp Societies said, "I get jittery around people. Man is a much more dangerous predator than a cobra. You can go to a football stadium with 50,000 people and you know strictly from statistics that out of that 50,000, you gotta have 10 that are completely wacko. I mean these guys are just giggling and looking for somebody to shoot." Even so, snakes have scared Hill. He told the reporter about an expedition he went on in Thailand where a king cobra sprang up out of the grass and looked Hill right in the eye. "He just stood there a minute and dropped down. I think it was the smell of urine that put him off." The article details Hill's involvement with reptiles, particularly venomous reptiles, and points out that his two houses are unlikely to be featured in a Parade of Homes since one is full of snakes, and the other full of rats and mice. Hill can also be really pithy when people put down his pets. One time at a show a lady said to him that she had just killed a snake like his by chopping it up with a hoe. She was apparently a cat lover, for Hill replied, "Cat's do have nine lives! I ran over this cat last week. It looked just like [hers]... Then I'll say, `Lady I just told you the same thing you told me about my animals. Now does it come home?'"

Diamond in the rough in Discover

When my husband first brought home the December, 1992 Discover Magazine, I was thrilled to see the cover "Dragon Island, Where 10-foot Reptiles Rule," complete with an adorable Komodo dragon delicately tongue-flicking the bar code box. However, after reading Jared Diamond's article, I was much less pleased. Regular readers of Natural History Magazine will recognize Diamond's name. He's a regular columnist known for fascinating stories about animals that usually teach an evolutionary or ecological point painlessly and with grace. However, in the Discover piece, Diamond seems more interested in terrifying the audience about Komodo Dragons in particular, and reptiles in general than in educating the readers about their uniqueness in the natural world. O.K., so it was interesting that there are fossil elephants which were probably dragon chow long before there were German tourists, but where did he come up with the data to state (twice) that reticulated pythons on the island of Celebes are proven to have eaten humans? Here's a particularly incendiary passage, "Should your toes curl when you see a photo of a Komodo dragon, try running through your mind this even worse nightmare. You're dozing peacefully in a forest clearing when you suddenly become aware that you're not alone. You look up to see, to your horror, a giant one-ton lizard advancing on you, rapidly flicking its forked tongue in and out of its mouth. It lunges toward you. You jump up and turn to flee. You trip over a vine. You feel the monster's breath behind you, then an awful hot flash of pain --AAAARGHHH!" Aaaarghhh, yourself Dr. Diamond! When I want cheap, flashy entertainment, I'll go to a movie, not read an article by a respected member of the eastern scientific community. Discover was recently purchased by the Walt Disney Company. Perhaps the corporate philosophy is that if an animal is known to eat cute, fuzzy stuff like Thumper and Bambi - it's bad and must be shown to be bad to all those nice folks who read their mag. Certainly the syllable count has been decreasing since they took over. Apparently, the scientific nature of the content is going down, too. As an interesting aside, reading this article makes me aware of just how good the editors at Natural History must be. Diamond's prose in the Discover article is overloaded with verb tense shifts and weak words such as "it," "it's," "its," "they," "them," plenty of mid-sentence parentheses, and "!" - all marks of careless editing.

Thanks to everybody who contributed this month.

Make a New Year's resolution to become a contributor, too. Send newspaper or magazine clippings with the name and date of publication as well as your name firmly attached to the clipping to me. Letters are also welcome. Please note that due to the long lead time between when I write this column and when it is published, if you send me something today, it will probably be in the March or April issue.

February 1993

Let's break with tradition

Usually, I thank the contributors and tell you where to mail contributions at the bottom of the column. However, many people are still sending mail for me to the CHS address. Please send your clippings with the date and name of publication, and your name firmly attached, to me directly. My new schedule with work, school, family, home, and writing many times does not permit me to attend CHS meetings and so your contributions may not be received for months! Added to an approximate 45-60 day lead time, this can make items very, very old by the time they appear in print. In any case, I'm heartened to receive some items from people I haven't heard from in a while, plus we have a couple of first time contributors' stuff in this column. So, read and enjoy. Please do write letters, send photos, cards, clippings, articles. It is the highlight of my day when the mail contains more than bills and circulars. Cynthia Werner, Bruce Hannem, and Pattie Marrandino contributed duplicates of articles previously used. Special thanks to the Editor of the San Joaquin Herpetological Society Journal for the nice comments about this publication.

Letter from founding member

Long-term CHS members will remember Esther Lewis, who regularly appeared at CHS shows and events with the most marvelously tame alligators I've ever seen. She sent me a Christmas card and a lovely note: "Sang the `Messiah' with the Sarasota Choral Society... Standing and sitting on cue from the director was the most difficult part. Now that I have two new knee replacements, I should go faster in `93. Even when I had to move slowly, I was able to catch black racers, red rats, and scarlet kingsnakes. When snakes get into people's garages they [the people] panic and I get called for help, which I enjoy since I no longer have snakes as pets. I give the snakes I catch to a friend that has 8 acres. Besides he likes snakes. If I left them near here, they'd just be killed as people refuse to learn that s. kings aren't corals, and pine snakes aren't rattlers. I love all reptiles and they let me catch them, when others can't. I still have Zacky, the redfooted tortoise which I've had for 34 years, and Snoopy, my yellow foot tortoise, which I've had for 39 years. They used to be in shows at the CHS many years ago. I think they'll outlast me. They have a great variety of fruit and vegetables, plus trout chow... They don't go swimming, but do prance around the pool getting exercise and sunshine and stay in the laundry room when I'm not home... Though I'm 75 plus, I want to be 25 again, but wishing can't make it so. I started with reptiles when I was in 5th grade... Best wishes in `93. Esther Lewis"

More on the Arctic Turtle

Jens Petter Brastad, a veterinarian from Norway wrote a note about "What happened to `Oddrun,' the leatherback turtle found in the Arctic... The turtle made the headline news for more than a week. She (I do not know how they decided it was a she) was brought into `custody' until the Norwegian bureaucrats could make up their minds (which normally takes a while) on how to handle this unfamiliar situation. Finally it was decided to tag her with a radio transmitter glued to the dorsal side of the plastron, and then to release her. You may already have guessed the result. Nobody ever `got in touch' with her again. By now she is probably dead. A sad ending. Any comments.?" He added a fascinating postscript: "P.S. The attitudes towards reptiles in Norway is absolutely `stone-age like.' Yes we do hunt whales, seals, sea otters, and keep fur bearing animals, etc. But, the law makes it illegal to keep any reptile without a special permission. Do not talk about breeding; all offspring are to be euthanized. Needless to say there is a secret movement, which is another long and sad story I do not want to comment on - it just makes you cry."

Is there any difference?

Alan W. Zulich sent a note and an article from Reptile and Amphibian Magazine, September/October 1992. The note reads: "As a follow-up to your note on `pit' tags in your October [column]. Enclosed is an article describing another system in use in a number of collections. You may wish to mention this as well. It is certainly the way to go for animal i.d." The article by Zulich, Donald Hamper, Bob Clark and Ted Peitz, refers to the Trovan TM system developed by Infopet Identification Systems, Inc., Westlake Village, CA. After a careful reading of this article, I am unable to find much substantive difference between this system and pit tags, except that the reader for this system is about twice as expensive as the low-end pit tag reader. The high-end pit tag reader will actually record numbers and is comparable in price to this system's display-only reader. However, in the interest of fairness and consumer choice, I'd suggest that if you'd like to mark your collection with transponder chips, you might wish to contact Zulich at Harford Reptile Breeding Center, P.O. Box 914, Bel Air, MD 21014-0914 as well as the folks who make and sell pit tags.

Ground Iguanas?

John Phillips, a physiologist with the San Diego Zoo's Center for the Reproduction of Endangered Species, will be going to the Guantanamo Naval Base to study reproductive habits of Cyclura nubila, the Cuban ground iguana. The land around the base is home to sizable populations of this species which can grow to 2.5 feet from nose to tail and weigh up to 20 pounds. The two-year project is being supported by a $120,000 grant from the National Science Foundation. Other species of ground iguanas have become extinct on the Greater Antilles and the Bahamas. On some islands where they still occur, populations may number less than 50. Part of the problem is that ground iguanas are used for food by local people in much the same way that we in the States use ground beef. [The San Diego Union-Tribune, November 8, 1992 - first contribution from Dewey Ira Wallace, III]

CTC Renewals Due

People interested in receiving (or continuing to receive) the Chicago Turtle Club Newsletter are urged to send a check for $5.00, payable to Jan Spitzer, to: The Chicago Turtle Club, The Chicago Herpetological Society, 2001 North Clark Street, Chicago, Illinois 60614. The CTC meets the Sunday before the monthly CHS meeting at the Emmerson Park Field House, 1820 West Granville Avenue. For first-timers, the Field House is that little building at the top of the hill behind the playground with no numbers on the outside. Just park anywhere legal after you find the intersection of Granville and the viaduct. CTC meetings are fun and informative. Their newsletter is a delight.

Box turtles redux

Six box turtles that had been collected in Florida, transported to New York State, and offered for sale (illegally) in a pet shop, were returned to Florida through the intercession of the Department of Environmental Conservation and the largesse of the Upstate Herpetological Association. [Schenectady Gazette, December 9, 1992; Albany NY Times Union, December 9, 1992 - contributed by Sue Black]

The Show-me State will show us all

An unusual experiment undertaken by the Missouri Department of Conservation and the University of Missouri will study how two different logging practices affect life in an Ozark Forest. Two years ago, scientist set aside nine similar 1,000-acre patches of forest in the Ozark hills, in Carter, Shannon, and Reynolds counties in southern Missouri. In fall, 1994, parts of three patches will be clear cut. Three other patches will be cut leaving uneven age stands of trees. The last three patches will not be cut at all and will serve as a control group. The researchers are gathering baseline data up until the chain saws arrive. The reptile and amphibian part of the project has captured 5,500 critters at all nine sites. One-third were salamanders, 26 percent were frogs or toads, 26 percent were lizards, 15 percent were snakes, and the rest were turtles. By species, eight salamanders, 16 snakes, six lizards, and six frogs/toads, were reported. [St. Louis Post-Dispatch, November 17, 1992 - contributed by K.S. Mierzwa]

Brilliant installation celebrates the serpent

A famous collage artist, Alexis Smith, has completed a monumental 560-foot long "Snake Path" on the campus of the University of California - San Diego. Leah Ollman, of the Los Angeles Times [October 23, 1992], wrote: "Like few other artworks in public places, Smith's `Snake Path' deftly manages at once to be conceptually accessible, functional and inspirational. It is flawlessly integrated with its site... and it works as a visual spectacle as well as a prod to intellectual inquiry. The path consists of hexagonal scale-like slate tiles in earthen tones of gray, sand and rust, mounded slightly to suggest the snake's rounded back... and extends its pink granite tongue toward a large terrace..." For information on how to view the path, and for access to the campus, call the Stuart Collection (619) 534-2117. For anyone who does have the opportunity to visit, I'd love a photo of this thing. If it were a black-and-white photo, I could even ask the editor to print it. [Contributed by Donal Boyer]

Caymans inhospitable to snakes

L.W. Reed, D.V.M. from the Westchester Animal Clinic in Porter, IN sent a clipping from the Caymanian Compass [November 3, 1992] which reads: "In other police news, a seven-foot long `Cayman racer' snake was found in the garden of a West Bay residence... The report said the snake was believed to be one of the longest ever found in the Cayman Islands. The snake was destroyed and taken to the Agriculture Department for observation." Dr. Reed wrote: "This is what happens to any snake caught there. These were once plentiful but may soon be as extinct/rare as the epicrates now, maybe, only found on Cayman Brac." I find it surprising that anyone would bother observing a dead snake, they're much more interesting alive.

And then there were four...

Alvin George Keel, 49, of West Palm Beach, FL was sentenced to 30-months in prison on six counts of turtle egg poaching. He has been arrested six times since 1980, according to court records and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Officer Terry English. The last time, he was arrested with 342 loggerhead turtle eggs in a sack tied to his bicycle while he was leaving Palm Beach. He is alleged to be one of South Florida's top five sea turtle egg poachers. [The Orlando Sentinel, November 18, 1992] The state of Florida is also proposing a ban on night parking and driving on beaches, including those in Daytona and Daytona Beach Shores, as well as extending lighting bans in other sea side communities. Turtle experts say lights may discourage nesting and send hatchlings in the wrong direction. [Same paper, November 14, 1992 - both contributed by Bill Burnett]

Those amazing salamanders!

Researchers into the genetic sequencing of mitachondrial DNA have learned that some of North America's all-female salamander lineages have existed for a record four million years. Single-sex lineages studied before include fish, lizards, snakes and other salamanders have existed from 10,000 to 100,000 years. S. Blair Hedges of Pennsylvania State University said, "Sexual reproduction is supposed to be good in nature because it encourages genetic variation, and that helps a species adapt to a changing environment." [National Geographic, November 1992 - contributed by Claus Sutor]

Don't float in the Ganges

A few years ago, this column reported on the release of lots and lots of head-started young turtles into the Ganges River in India. The species had been common in the river and had acted as a sort of littoral garbage disposal for many centuries, but had been over-fished for the food trade in Varanasi and other Indian cities, towns, and villages. The babies are now big guys and an estimated 25,000 of them are on the job, eating human corpses dumped into India's holiest river. Indra Prakash Yadav, a range officer at the Indian government's turtle breeding farm outside Varanasi said, "They eat everything... except the bones... They bite off what they can chew and then chase after the body. For 10 adult turtles it takes about two or three days to consume an entire body." At least 100 corpses are dumped into the river at day at Varanasi resulting in what environmentalists call "necrotic pollutants." [Toronto Globe and Mail, date unknown, from the League of FL Herp. Societies newsletter, December 1992 - contributed by Mark Witwer]

Desert tortoise debate continues

Bob Pierson sent in a clipping from the Las Vegas Review-Journal [December 18, 1992] which discusses the need for long-range planning to protect desert tortoise habitat when the current conservation plant expires in October 1994. The Sierra Club and some Indian tribes have given the Department of the Interior a 60-day notice of their intent to file a law suit against the department for failing to designate critical habitat areas. If the suit succeeds, development might be banned in large areas of Clark County.

Close encounter of the Komodo kind

The employee newsletter of Sargent and Lundy [Blueprint, Volume 26, Number 11, 1992] reports that one of their employees who lives with his family in Jakarta, Indonesia recently visited various islands in the Java sea. He wrote, "My fondest trip was to Pulan Pelangi... home of a relative of the Komodo dragon. These big lizards, 3 feet to 5 feet in length, wander the island freely but are quite harmless and skittish of people. Unfortunately our three-year old daughter was the first to meet one. They both scared each other and ran away." [Contributed by P.L. Beltz]

Bad site selection

The City Manager of Groveland, FL, Sayward Sherburn, jokingly described the bad luck of his town in choosing a site for a new sewage treatment plant. He said the site has "a sacred burial ground surrounded by gopher tortoise holes." Well, the latter has been proven; at least 10 burrows were discovered on the site. The archaeological studies are not final, but three probable sites of Indian burials have been found. The city plans to move the tortoises to a buffer zone on the site and build the plant. If the tortoises want to move back closer to the plant after construction, nothing would be done to stop them. [Orlando Sentinel, October 21, 1992 - Bill Burnett]

Desperately seeking customers

Alligator trappers and ranchers are teaming up with state agriculture officers to try and figure out how to increase demand for their products and rescue their industry from the jaws of the recession. Hide prices have gone down 60 percent in the past two years. Twelve farms in Florida went out of business, and several more are in trouble, according to the president of the Florida Alligator Farmers Association. Some have resorted to feeding their stock with roadkills and livestock leftovers they get free for the hauling. Alligators are the success story of the Endangered Species Act. Once on the verge of extinction, careful management and protection increased their numbers to the point where they were removed from the list in 1987. Now they are considered nuisance animals in many parts of Florida by the millions of human residents, many of whom have only inhabited the state for a few years. [Orlando Sentinel, October 24, 1992 - contributed by Bill Burnett]

Plus ca change

Regular newspaper readers may remember a "Dear Abby" column of a couple years ago wherein Abigail Van Buren derided the concept of snakes as pets. On December 22, 1992 the Chicago Tribune printed one of her columns headlined "Man sheds tears for pet snake." The letter writer told of how his poor pet snake died because he didn't know how to keep it warm enough in a 75-degree apartment in Oakland, CA. Unlike before, Ms. Van Buren was positively supportive of the letter writer's grief and made no negative comments about reptiles as pets! Way to go, Abby.

March 1993

Quote of the month

"I voted for the Endangered Species Act, but I thought it was about grizzly bears and bald eagles, not little fish and frogs." Member of Congress quoted in the January, 1993 WaterShedd. [Contributed by Karen Furnweger]

Ecotour benefits Mexican herpetology

If rustic beach camping and sea turtles appeals to you, contact Javier Alvarado a researcher at the University of Michoacan, Apartado Postal 2-35, 5800 Morelia 2, Michoacan, Mexico, or fax 011-52-451-45291. He can provide information on the Sea Turtle Recovery program volunteer program which takes place from late October to mid-December every year. Only about 50-60 volunteers can be accommodated every year, so contact him soon if you are interested. [San Diego Union-Tribune, November 15, 1992, contributed by Dewey Ira Wallace, III]

Sea turtle update

Help Endangered Animals - Ridley Turtles (HEART) reports "Good news from National marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), again! After being delayed by Dan Quayle's special committee, Dr. William Fox and NMFS were able to push through the long-awaited Turtle Excluder Device (TED) regulations requiring TEDs on all offshore shrimping vessels all year long!" [January 1993 HEART newsletter, contributed by Carole Allen] The Marine Turtle Newsletter [1993, number 60] adds, "As of 1 December 1992, U.S. commercial shrimp trawls over 25-feet in length are required to use TEDs in all offshore waters. The NMFS also announced that as of January 1993, all inshore shrimpers will be required to use TEDs unless outfitted with a single net with footrope length less than 44 feet and a headrope length less than 35 feet. All other inshore shrimp boats will be required to use TEDs year round no later than December 1994. Full implementation of these regulations should virtually eliminate the largest source of human-caused mortality to sea turtles in U.S. waters... The use of TEDs in the U.S. shrimp fishery can reduce turtle mortality by as much as 97 percent." All five species of sea turtles using U.S. waters are listed as endangered or threatened under the Endangered Species Act. [Contributed by Karen Furnweger]

Don't use "real hops"

Early American Life Magazine, more noted for uncomfortable looking furniture in bare blue rooms, recently published a recipe for molasses cookies named "Joe Froggers." The legend is that they were first made by an elderly Black man who lived near a frog pond in Marblehead, MA. The shape and plumpness of the cookies resemble frogs. The recipe: 2 3/4 c. flour; 3 t. baking powder; 1/4 t. baking soda; 1 t. each powdered cloves and ginger; 1 T. cinnamon; 1/2 c. butter, softened; 1 c. brown sugar; and 2/3 c. molasses. Sift all dry ingredients; cream butter and sugar `til smooth, stir in molasses. Add dry mixture to creamed ingredients; use your hands to make a smooth dough. Roll out 1/2 dough at a time to 1/3 inch thick. Cut out in large circles and back at 375 degrees F until light brown. Rack cool and store covered. Chilling dough may make it easier to work.

Las Vegas Tortoise News Roundup

Regular contributor Bob Pierson keeps this column updated on just about everything happening in Nevada about the desert tortoise. This month, he's contributed several articles and one highly disturbing piece of propaganda against the tortoise projects. This last appears to me to border on libel and slander and so will not be repeated here. Let it suffice to say that some people will twist anything around to their own advantage. It would probably not be out of line to say that the distributors of this scurrilous document are as anti-tortoise and anti-conservation as supporters of the Klu Klux Klan are anti-Black. It should be a warning, however, to supporters of the Endangered Species Act that there are some people out there who DO NOT WANT species saved and are willing to say just about anything in an effort to influence others to their point of view.
  • The Las Vegas Review-Journal [January 5, 1993] reports that Clark County may be violating a permit issued to that county to remove desert tortoises from lots for development. The Environmental Defense Fund sent a letter to Manuel Lujan, Bush's Secretary of the Department of the Interior which claimed that lots were bulldozed and graded before experts could determine if the lots had been surveyed and cleared of tortoises. County officials counterclaimed that some of the lots were graded before the Habitat Conservation Plan took effect in 1991. Clark County's operations services coordinator, Terry Murphy said that the county lacks an effective means of enforcing its law for grading without a permit and added, "Fines are relatively inconsequential."
  • The Clark County Commission refused to award a contract to the non-profit Tortoise Group which has promoted responsible care of captive tortoises in the community for 20 years. According to a January 20, 1993 article in the Las Vegas Review-Journal, the commission voted 4-3 to award the contract to Southern Nevada Environmental Consultants to operate a holding facility near Arden. The facility now holds about 100 tortoises, most found in urban areas. The contract was worth $50,000 in fiscal 1992. The Tortoise Group lost out because of the appearance of conflict of interest since the group helped define the scope of the project and is represented on the advisory committee and had seen the competing proposal.
  • Seven conservation groups filed suit in the U.S. District Court in San Francisco accusing the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service of violating the Endangered Species Act by not designating "critical habitat" for the desert tortoise. Deborah Reames, an attorney for the Sierra Club said, "While we don't want to be a thorn in the side of the new administration, we must get their attention. The tortoise cannot wait any longer." [Las Vegas Review-Journal, January 29, 1993]

Giant controversy surrounds garter snake

In 1971, the giant garter snake (Thamnophis gigas) was listed by the state of California as a threatened species. In 1991, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) nominated it for federal endangered status and was supposed to make a final decision on or around December 27, 1992. However, the deadline appears to have been extended to allow the public and federal officials to review a report by G.R. Leidy of Pacific Environmental Consultants. Leidy used to be a biologist with USFWS. The study was was paid for by developers in the North Natomas basin of Northern California who felt that the feds had done a poor job or research, according to Gregory Thatch, an attorney for the developers. He added that they have spent about a half-million dollars on consulting and legal work regarding the snake so far and think that the state protection is adequate. According to Leidy's report, the state listed 11 known active populations in 1971 in Northern California. He says there are actually 127 distinct localities of occurrence. Peter Sorenson, a federal wildlife biologist, said the report drew inaccurate conclusions and had repeat sightings listed as separate sites. [The Sacramento Bee, December 15, 1992, contributed by Bruce Hannem]

Peas release me!

A family in Hamilton, Ontario Canada had started to prepare dinner when they found a frozen frog in a kilo bag (2.24 pounds) of Libby's Canada Grade A peas. Agriculture Canada will be investigating the incident, which is apparently the first report of this type of "contaminant" in their nation. [The Hamilton Spectator, January 19, 1993, contributed by Brian Bankowski]

Iguana be free

According to an article contributed by L.W. Reed from the Caymanian Compass [January 6, 1993], the Cayman Islands National Trust plans to release sterilized hybrid blue iguanas into the wild. The captive breeding program began in 1990, unfortunately, one of the founding iguanas was not a pure-bred blue iguana. Her hybrid offspring will be sterilized by a veterinarian, have radio devices implanted and be released in what is presumed to be ideal habitat. If all goes well with the release of these "guinea pigs," pure bred blue iguanas will be released.

Watch out for the jaws...

Visitors to Berryton, Kansas might want to look out for the dinosaur-shaped mailbox noted in a recent AP-wirephoto, contributed by Mark Witwer [Daily Local News, West Chester, PA, December 17, 1992]. Mark notes that the possibilities for herp shaped mail boxes are "endless." I suppose so, if you're really into snakes... However, I'd like to see mailboxes in the shape of the logo of the Mail "Service," a snail.

Primate group decrys snake care

The International Primate Protection League recently published an appeal from one of their members to write letters protesting conditions at the Thonburi Snake Farm in Thailand [News, Volume 19, Number 3, December, 1992]. The description of the captive snakes read: "Even the basic necessities were not provided, the animals had no fresh water, their water bowls contained a thick layer of algae, the water itself was filthy." The member said that the snakes were handled cruelly, the "venomous snakes being milked so roughly that their mouths were bleeding." People wishing to write letters are urged to contact "The Director, Tourist Authority of Thailand, Rachdamnoen Nok Avenue, Bangkok, Thailand," or "H.E. Chuan Leekpai, Prime Minister, Government House, Nakorn Pathom Road, Bangkok, Thailand," and "The Director, American Society of Travel Agents, 1101 King Street, Alexandria, VA 22314." [Contributed by Clover Krajicek]

Indian snakes and lizards in decline

According to a report presented to the 80th Indian Science Congress in Goa by Dr. T.S.N. Murthy of the Zoological Survey of India, nearly one-fourth of the 238 species of snakes once found on the subcontinent have not been seen in the last decade. Also, a survey last year failed to find a type of gliding lizard that was a common sight in south Indian forests, and Murthy reported that even common varieties of pythons and boas are decreasing in number. Snake skin hunting has not ceased; but instead of legal exports, the skins are smuggled out of India by tourists and gangs. [The Houma, LA Courier, January 7, 1993, contributed by Ernie Liner]

"Extinct" lizard found

An amateur herpetologist 100 miles north of Adelaide, Australia picked up a road-killed brown snake and found a pygmy blue tongue lizard in the dead snake's gut. The lizard was last seen (by science) in 1959. A pink tongued colony of the apparently misnamed blue tongue lizards were found under grass tussocks nearby. [All dated December 28, 1992: Moline, IL Dispatch - Mark Seaholm; Sacramento Bee - Bruce Hannem; and Daily Herald - Lawrence Akins]

Why not to release non-native animals

Two 10-pound snapping turtles were captured on a boat ramp in California's Castaic Lake by animal control officers. The turtles were scheduled to be destroyed because they pose a threat to native species. However, at the last minute, a part-time officer with the Florida Game and Freshwater Fish Commission stepped in and offered to transport the turtles to a Florida science museum. [The Sacramento Bee, December 30, 1992 and January 1, 1993, contributed by Bruce Hannem] The question of released animals is one of the most poignant to me personally. I have a problem with keeping animals in captivity, since in no case is it possible to duplicate the animal's native food, home, or life. However, captivity does protect an animal from predation. On the other hand, animals in captivity often suffer from conditions and diseases not usually found in nature. Some people think that it is a good idea to release captive animals without giving any attention to the appropriateness of their actions. It is not correct to release animals, under any circumstances, without the advise and consent of a state conservation agency and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. A quick thought about what happened to populations of local peoples in the Americas after contact with European diseases should convince even the most die-hard release-freak to behave in a cautious manner. Few herpetological releases have "taken." Unfortunately, the translocated species which do well are usually "supertramps" to begin with: e.g. brown tree snakes on Guam, bullfrogs all over the U.S., snapping turtles anywhere, red-eared sliders in England and Korea, and so forth. If you are tired of your pet animals, give them to another herpetoculturist - DO NOT RELEASE THEM INTO THE WILD. You are not doing the local animals a favor, you are not doing your pet a favor, you are only massaging your conscience.

Would it be Vipera berus+?

Two scientists from the former U.S.S.R. have asked foreign colleagues to examine Russian snake venom to see if it is radioactive. Andrey Nedospasov of the Russian Academy of Sciences and Alexandr Cherkasov of the Kurchatov Institute, both in Moscow, wrote a letter to Nature containing their request. Bill Haast, director of the Miami Serpentarium Labs in Punta Gorda, FL said he did not know of any domestic or foreign drug company using Russian snake venom in medicine. The Russians wrote that because of the incredible environmental contamination caused by careless release of radioactivity during the Communist regime that, "it is highly likely that the snake venom is contaminated with radioactivity." They cite at least one case where a consignment of Russian snake venom was impounded by customs officials because of radioactivity. [Daily Herald, February 5, 1993, contributed by Lawrence Akins]

Why do newts cross roads?

"Love" said Ned MacKay, a spokesman for Tilden Park in northern Berkeley, CA. For the last four years, park officials have closed a short cut through the park on rainy days to permit newts to cross from their hibernacula to Wildcat Creek where they breed. An absence of rainy days forced the newts to cross on sunny days this year, and after scraping up 200 plus corpses a day, the park has decided to close the road for the whole winter breeding season. [Sacramento Bee, December 17, 1992 - Bruce Hannem; Daily Herald, December 18, 1992 - Lawrence Akins]

How not to behave with reptiles

According to an article in the New Scientist [January 2, 1993], half of all victims of crocodile attacks in Australia had been drinking. Also only 18 deaths were recorded between 1981 and 1991 in that nation. Four people were bitten after picking up snakes. In 1992, a man who had been drinking tried to grab a brown snake from behind in the Murray River in South Australia, and another man was bitten by the same species while he played with it in a bar in Queensland. Contributed by Rick Reifnyder, who wrote, "Reading this article immediately reminded me of your comments in the CHS Bulletin regarding the unfortunate death by constriction of the gentleman from Ontario. As you stated, alcohol and reptiles do not mix! ... It is obvious from the [New Scientist] piece that alcohol induced carelessness or bravado (stupidity) contributed to a majority of the reptile related fatalities that have occurred in Australia over the past ten years. It seems common sense that one should not play with brown snakes while enjoying a few a t the local pub. Likewise, it is probably no a good idea to take a coupe of six packs out with you when baiting the local croc, but alcohol's reputation for interfering with normal though processes is well known. Aquatic pursuits of venomous snakes should be avoided at all costs! Venomous snakes, crocodiles and large constrictors all should be treated with a great deal of respect whether they are wild animals or "pets." We all know at least one reptile "enthusiast" that likes to pull out the hot stuff after having a few, but thankfully [this type of person] only represents a small portion of the herpetocultural community. Respect and responsibility should go hand-in-hand with maintaining any animal in captivity, especially potentially dangerous ones."

Thanks to everyone who contributed to this column.

In addition to those noted above, I'd like to thank Mark Miller of the Herpetology Network and Donal Boyer for clippings I was not able to use this month. If you find a reptile or amphibian related clipping in your local paper, please attach the publication and date bar from the top of the page, and your name and address (firmly) to the clipping and mail to me. The lead time for this column varies between 30 and 60 days, so please - be patient. You will eventually see your contribution!

April 1993

Don't suggest this to Hillary, ok?

Due to aging hospitals, a ratio of one Western trained doctor for every 3,100 people, a lack of antibiotics and other medicines, impoverished Vietnamese are turning to traditional cures for illness and injuries. It is a good business for the self-styled "richest snake man of the north," Tran Nhu Ban. He sells the snakes from which are produced various tonics and "cures," including python fat for asthma and python bile for burns. The picture with the article shows Mr. Ban as he "clutches a squirming tangle of deadly banded Kraits at his snake farm near Hanoi as a customer watches from a distance." [The Houma, LA Times-Picayune, September 20, 1992, contributed by Ernie Liner]

A new way to lick cane toads

According to an article in the travel section of the Chicago Tribune (March 14, 1993), residents on Magnetic Island in Queensland, Australia created a popular event, which may even be broadcast on sports TV soon. They race cane toads. Native to Hawaii, cane toads were taken to other spots around the world in the mistaken believe that they liked to eat cane beetles. Unfortunately, the beetles live on the top of the stalks, and the toads live on the ground. However, the cane toad adapted to Australia and multiplied massively. Most Australians regard the toads as an ugly plague, like rabbits. The toad races began as a fundraiser to buy the Island an ambulance. Since Australians reported will bet on anything that moves and charitable contributions are regarded as atonement for sins, the toad race hopped off to a good start. The folks on the Island now play host to up to 500 bettors for weekly toad races. Half the proceeds go to charity, the other half is paid out to winning bettors.

Reptile people in the news:

  • CHS member Chuck Keating leads a 4-H herpetology class as the Indiana National Guard Armory. He said, "One of the reasons I got into [this] is because, when I was growing up, there was no one to answer my questions." Selly Strauch, 11, of Hebron has had her eastern box turtles for nearly a year and plans to show them at the Porter County Fair this summer. She said, that fair Judges "look at the turtles' color and see if they're clean. We try to keep ours people-friendly. People say turtles go slow, but they can go really fast." [Vidette Messenger, Valparaiso, February 15, 1993, contributed by Jack Schoenfelder]
  • According to an article in the South Bend (IN) Tribune, January 11, 1993, Rose Mather has had the same "dime store turtle" for 34 years. She said, "I started out with the traditional plastic turtle bowl, complete with palm tree, bridge and pool of water. I tried all the different types of food, flies, commercial turtle food, worms." The turtle now eats Quaker oat flakes and lettuce. [contributed by Garrett Kazmierski]
  • Paul E. Steffen of Milford, does school presentations on local Indiana animals. Some students are surprised to find that there are 30 different species of snakes and 300 varieties of birds found in the Hoosier state. [South Bend Tribune, February 9, 1993, contributed by Garrett Kazmierski]
  • Jack Cover, the curator of rain forest exhibits at the National Aquarium in Baltimore described the exhibit that opened in March featuring venomous snakes from the rain forests of Costa Rica. He said, "We think that it's important we show people that venomous snakes can be beautiful. They deserve respect. They are part of the ecosystem and have their place in it." [The Baltimore Sun, February 18, 1993, contributed by Mark T. Witwer]
  • Stephen Busack, the Chief of the Morphology Section at the National Fish and Wildlife Forensics Lab gave two lectures in connection with a new exhibit at the Shedd Aquarium in March. The exhibit, "Silent Witness," introduces visitors to the work of the forensics lab that is used to provide evidence against poachers, smugglers, importers, and other animal exploiters. Busack is known to readers of this column from his efforts to include the amateur community in his work. He seeks donations of deceased herps to add to his reference collection at the lab. An example of how sample material helps nab baddies is that from donated material, Busack has been able to determine the differences in monitor (Varanus) skins by the shape and composition of a single scale. If you would like "Fido" or "Slimy" to serve law enforcement after his/her demise, you can contact Busack by writing: N.F.W.F.L., 1490 E. Main Street, Ashland, OR 97520. He will pay shipping and can provide a "tax letter" for your donation. Prepaid anonymous donations are also accepted. [Thanks to Karen Furnweger for the WaterShedd issues.] [2003 Note: Steve has moved on to other duties in FWS.]


Wyeth-Ayerst labs and Ophidian Pharmaceuticals have teamed up to make a new antivenom by producing toxin antibodies in egg yolks instead of horse serum. They expect that fewer protein impurities will be passed to the patient, reducing side effects and danger. They say that the final product is about 20 times more pure than horse serum, and it's cheaper, too. [Daily Local News, Chester County, PA, February 20, 1993, contributed by Mark Witwer]

Komodo redux

Keepers at the Cincinnati Zoo's reptile house searched out Komodo dragon eggs laid in a burrow in their exhibit. They measured and weighed the eggs, then sent them to the National Zoo in Washington, D.C. for incubation. This is the second time that Indonesian dragon have reproduced in the Western Hemisphere. [The Plain Dealer, January 20, 1993, contributed by Jim Zimmerman]

Olfactory cues for pond selection

Researchers from Harvard and the Queen's University of Belfast have found that frogs learn the unique odor of algae and rotting vegetation in their natal pond as embryos. In an experiment, researchers dipped eggs into lemon or orange extract and found that tadpoles preferred to swim in water flavored with the same odor to which they were exposed as embryos. Adult frogs persisted in the behavior. According to one researcher, the frogs may feel "if it's good enough for me to survive, then it's probably good enough for my offspring." [DVM, February, 1993, contributed by Sue Black.]

Sea turtle in Kansas?

Researchers who use satellites to track ocean going sea turtles were confused when their signals definitely pinpointed one of the giant reptiles in Salina, Kansas! An on-the-ground search for the turtle turned up just the transmitter in a farmer's back yard. He had found the device while on vacation in Texas and taken it home. [Destination Discovery, February 1993, contributed by P.L. Beltz]

Animals rights activists protested at Epcot Center

Known for cute rodents, Walt Disney World recently penned up dozens of gopher tortoises and bulldozed their dens for development. Some tortoises may be resettled elsewhere on Disney's 30,000 acres, some may be given to the University of Florida, and some may be euthanized. The trade off of all this is that Disney is giving $20 million to buy and protect the 8,500-acre Walker Ranch, 17 miles to the south in Osceola County. In exchange, wildlife officials gave Disney the right to wipe out up to 2,300 tortoises during the next 20 years. Disney executives say they will donate the tortoises to the University of Florida along with $700,000 to study upper respiratory disease. Central Florida's largest environmental groups gave the deal support in a new approach to making amends for ecological damage by protecting large areas of land instead of setting aside small parcels that can't sustain a species. Holly Jensen, a Gainesville environmentalist and animal-rights activist said, "Disney has made billions off the commercialization of wildlife and nature. They have a moral obligation to go beyond the letter of the law." [Orlando, FL Sentinel, February 1, 1993, contributed by Bill Burnett]

Desert tortoise news

In a 5-1 vote, the Clark County commissioners approved acquisition of grazing rights for the last 93,000 acres of federal land to be included in a desert tortoise sanctuary near Searchlight, NV. The grazing rights were obtained for $400,000 from a willing seller. Cattle grazing and off road driving will be prevented on the land. In a legal decision the same day, a judge ruled that ranchers may continue to graze federal land while their case is considered by higher authorities in the U.S. Department of the Interior. [Las Vegas Review-Journal, March 3, 1993, contributed by Bob Pierson]


The Ontario Herpetological Society wrote, "We at the OHS enjoy your column very much and it was interesting seeing the article `Results of Python's Fatal Squeeze' in Vol. 27(12): 259-260, 1992. We would like a correction in that Mr. Nevilles was not a member of the OHS. The incident was unfortunate and the backlash from the event affects all responsible owners of the OHS to some extent, no to mention the Public Relations job the club is facing. Best Regards, OHS Secretary."

Thanks to everyone who contributed this month

and to people who sent duplicates of items previously used including: Sue Black, Jack Schoenfelder, Bill Burnett, Brian Bankowski, Rick Reifsnyder, Michael Burger, Anonymous, and P.L. Beltz. A special thanks to Bob Pierson for the desert tortoise adoption booklet from the Tortoise Group. You, too, can be a highly appreciated contributor. Merely send clippings about herps with the publication name, date of publication, and your name (firmly attached) to me.

May 1993

Salamander pond may be developed

A pond on a wooded hilltop along U.S. 44 in southwest St. Louis County is about to be destroyed to build a skeet shooting range. "[The pond] has been studied for many years because of the peculiar combination of spotted, tiger and marbled salamanders. There's only one other spot in the world where the three species occur together, and that's in Nova Scotia," said Richard W. Coles, a Washington University professor and director of the Tyson Research Center across the highway from the pond. The Missouri Department of Conservation [MDOC] owns the pond and surrounding woodland, calling the site "Forest 44 Wildlife area," which might lead some to believe that the salamanders can be left to breed as they have for several thousands of years. However, the MDOC plans to build one of three skeet shooting areas directly on top of the pond. Jerry Presley, director of the MDOC Conservation Department was approached by the Director of the St. Louis Zoo, Charlie Hoessle, in an attempt to save the pond. According to Hoessle, Presley responded that it was too late to save the pond. Chris Phillips, a CHS member and Washington University postdoc, led a team of volunteers to the pond in late March to try to collect thousands of salamanders before the bulldozers moved in. Nearly every MDOC official in the St. Louis area turned out to help. Don Henson, a department engineer showed up and promised to hold off work around the pond to allow a second collection of salamanders. The department also dug a second pond about 100 yards away from the first, where the collected eggs and salamanders were deposited. Phillips suggested that the translocation effort may not take because of pond fidelity. He said, "The adults imprint on their home pond and will return, even if it's asphalt, and mill around. We might as well take them out on Interstate 44 and put them in front of a truck." [St. Louis Post Dispatch, March 28, 1993] It occurs to this writer that if the MDOC can dig a new pond 300 feet (100 meters) away from the old pond that the skeet range could just as easily be placed 300 feet from the pond instead of smack dab on top of it. Contributor Ann Hirschfeld wrote: "[I'd like] a call to action for a letter writing campaign against the so-called `handling' of this wetland. It's up in the air how much time the salamanders have left. Send letters to: Jerry J. Presley, Director of the Conservation Department, Missouri Department of Conservation, P.O. Box 180, Jefferson City, MO 65102."

Get out your airmail stationary

Harry Andrews of the Madras Crocodile Bank sent in some clippings from Indian newspapers and a request for our readers' help. Years ago, the Bhitarkanika Sanctuary for wildlife was established on the eastern coast of that subcontinent. It provides a haven for many creatures, and has the second largest nesting population of Olive Ridley Turtles (Lepidochelys olivacea) in the world. In 1991, 610,000 adult females came ashore to nest in only one week. In the same year about 3.5 million hatchlings walked into the surf. Harry wrote: "The area is crossed by a network of rivers and has extensive tracts of mangrove. It has survived severe cyclones, and a huge increase in fishing activity. [Before the plans for a fish landing jetty] the greatest conservation problem is trawlers using plastic gill nets that can be 2 kilometers long. Turtles drown after being caught in the nets, others are fatally injured by propellers and some are clubbed to death by fishermen. Hawksbill and Leatherback turtles also occur here and the 672 square kilometer sanctuary is home to a large population of saltwater crocs, king cobras, pythons, 3 species of water monitors, a huge heronry, nesting whitebreasted sea-eagles, 6 species of kingfishers, and numerous other animals." The fish landing jetty which may be built in 1.5 years will anchor over 500 mechanized boats and provide landing for 50 metric tonnes of fish every day. The Calcutta, India Telegraph [December 29, 1992] wrote, "Sources point out that this large scale fishing operation is bound to disturb the ecological balance of the region. The Bhitarkanika sanctuary has already suffered a lot due to the ever-increasing human settlements in nearby villages." Harry asks that we write ("preferably on formal headed paper") to "The Honourable Minister, Ministry of the Environment, Paryavaram Bhavan, B Block D.G.O. Complex, Lodi Road, New Delhi 110003, India" and to "The Chief Minister of Orissa, Bhubaneshwar, Orissa, India" asking them to continue to protect the Sanctuary and reconsider plans for the jetty. My own suggestion would be to point out that ecotourism is a never-ending resource and that fishing out 50 metric tonnes of fish every day cannot last long.

Can't please everybody department

Perhaps this paragraph should be titled, "At least someone reads this column..." I've received a letter complaining about my complaining about Dr. Jared Diamond's piece on Komodo dragons some time ago. As my editor, Mike Dloogatch told me, "You don't have to like everything." I guess that holds true for my readers, too. However, since complaints about this column are so rare (is anyone out there?), I thought you might like to read one: "I suspect that because there is so much sensationalism and hatred in popular writing about reptiles, and you are sick of it (as am I) and are used to seeing it written by and for reptilophobiacs, you have overreacted to the sensationalism in this popular writing, where it was just meant to make a story about, well, dry bones less dry to the general reader....I hope you find that my writing to you about it is a friendlier act than writing direct to `The Tympanum.' Ann Drummond, Editor, Gainesville Herp. Society."

Turtle Conference Announced

We received a flyer the other day, addressed to my husband, but since it said "turtles," I opened it to discover the announcement of "Conservation, Restoration, and Management of Tortoises and Turtles - An International Conference." It will be held July 11-16, 1992 at the State University of New York, Purchase, NY and is being sponsored by the Turtle Recovery Program, Conference Coordinator, American Museum of Natural History, 79th Street and Central Park West, New York, NY 10024-5192, FAX (212) 769-5031. People having events are reminded that papers on my husband's desk routinely turn to shale before being read and that if you'd like timely publicity, please address your fliers to me. I made an exception in this case since I am the "turtle-person" in the house.

Quote of the month

George B. Schaller, author of "The Last Panda," 291 pages, University of Chicago Press, "I was trained as a biologist. Research is fun and it's easy. But no scientist can afford just to study. There's a moral obligation to do more for conservation. If you only study, you might get to write a beautiful obituary but you're not helping to perpetuate the species." [New York Times Book Review, March 28, 1993, contributed by P.L. Beltz]

New Year's Iguana

L.W. Reed, D.V.M. sent a clipping from the Caymanian Compass [December 31, 1992] which tells about an iguana captured by firefighters in West Bay. It turned out that the iguana was an "illegal alien," a green iguana native to Central America, not a blue iguana native to the Caymans.

Tortoises may get more home on their range

Biologists with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service want Paradise Canyon and other areas near St. George, Utah included in a proposed desert tortoise preserve. Robert Benton, a biologist with the agency, said there was no need for development in areas favored by the tortoise and that the county's growth can be accommodated by expansion into farm lands along the Virgin River. The decision was a set back for a citizens committee working on a plan to protect the tortoise but which would have allowed development north of St. George. Their proposal was unacceptable to FWS which noted that all high-quality habitat remaining should be preserved. A St. George developer, estimated the value of private land in Paradise Canyon at $100 million. [Las Vegas Review-Journal/Sun, March 27, 1993, contributed by Bob Pierson]

New rattlesnake laws in Kansas

A clipping from the Lawrence Journal-World [February 17, 1993] sent by Hobart Smith describes proposed changes to the list of game that can be harvested in Kansas. If passed, the bill would add the prairie rattlesnake and permit the sale of meat, rattles and other parts bagged in rattlesnake roundups, one of which was held for the first time last year in Sharon Spring in Wallace County. A second roundup is scheduled for May and promoters hope to make it an annual event. Kansas Senate Majority Leader Sheila Frahm said, "It's economic development for that county and that area. There are 1,841 people in Wallace County...there are more rattlesnakes than people in Wallace County and prairie rattlesnakes are not an endangered species."

Of special note to newsletter editors

Mark Witwer of West Chester, PA sent me some copies from a League of Florida Herp Societies newsletter about gopher tortoises and indigo snakes. I would have loved to use them and I did add them to my four drawer file cabinet of herp clippings - however, the clippings were not sourced, nor were dates given. I'm not sure what the copyright laws say about photocopies and reprints of articles, but I'm positive that the newspapers would be happier if their names were included. Clipping collectors like myself both want and need publication names and dates for future reference. One of these days, I'd like to get my files transferred to CD-ROM and then lots of herpetologists will have access to the stories I've used in my various columns as well as those that I couldn't do anything with, but that were still interesting.

Thanks to everyone who contributed this month!

If you would like to contribute to this column, please send clippings with the source, the date, and your name firmly attached to me.

June 1993

Squirming panda gets worldwide coverage

An alert airport baggage handler at Miami International Air- port noticed a five-foot stuffed toy panda kinda writhing on the conveyor. It was yanked and cut open and found to contain 13 live reptiles wrapped in cloth sacks including two Indian star tortoises, three monitor lizards, a yellow-foot tortoise, a red- foot tortoise, three Nile monitor lizards, two hingeback turtles, and an elongated tortoise. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service agent Charles Bepler said, "He got suspicious when this big, stuffed panda bear started moving on its own. Smugglers will try anything. They think this is the last place we'd look. They figure we won't cut up a kid's stuffed bear." [All March 2 1, 1993: Sandusky, OH Register, Matt Meade; Chicago Tribune, Ilene Sievert; Leesburg, VA Daily Commercial and Orlando, FL Sentinel, Bill Burnett; and Boston Sunday Globe, Renee Lea Hoyle]

Another state gets snake roundups

Steve Jensen of Swartz, Louisiana, sent a clipping from the Monroe, LA, News-Star. He asks that people write or call the writer and voice their opinion on Mr. David Barham's piece titled "Rodeo Helps to Control Snake Growth," at P.O. Box 1502, Monroe, LA 71201, (318) 728-0416. Letters are -of course - much more effective than phone calls. Barham wrote, "It didn't take the story of Adam and Eve to make me hate snakes," and continues to describe being "chased across our lawn" by a snake. "It was a nasty black thing. The only other thing I remember was my mother freaking out." He proceeds to describe the Lake Providence Snake Rodeo which kills all snakes equally. Priss Bryant, the organizer said, "Most people think a good snake is a dead snake." Barham adds that "there may be a few biology teachers with different opinions, but I think most people would agree." Financial prizes are offered for the most dead snakes, the most dead 11 poisonous" snakes, and the longest snake. Participants are required to use shotguns to kill the snakes. You know, some- body should point out to this guy that if he had been chased across the lawn by an ethnic human and his mother freaked out, he would be highly unlikely to recommend murder of the innocent 25 years later as a valid response. On the other hand, perhaps biology teachers should organize red-neck roundups instead?

Vogueing with serpents

If you have an April Vogue magazine available, check out the Norma Kamali story and photo session. One photo shows 12 boas and five humans (top models) kinda intertwined. [USA Today, April 7, 1993. Bill Burnett also sent a page from the April 1993 Gentlemen's Quarterly magazine which has a yellow and white boa wrapped around a guy in leopard boxer shorts. It's in ad for "Joe Boxer" which says "Available at better department and specialty stores nationwide." Do they mean the snake, the guy, or the shorts?

Missouri Department responds to letter

Ann Hirschfeld received the following reply from Jerry J. Presley, Director of the Missouri Department of Conservation, to her letter protesting the destruction of a salamander pond to build a skeet-shooting range in the Forest 44 area (see HerPET-POURRI, Bull. Chicago Herp. Soc. 28(5):l 10 and also see the Tympanum, this issue):
"The concerns you expressed, as a result of the article in the Post- Dispatch, are understandable. However as is true with most news" articles, the entire story is difficult to convey when one is working with printing deadlines and limited column space. Let me try to bring you the rest of the story.

In our efforts to provide a balanced conservation program, difficult choices must be made if we are to serve a wide variety of public interests. In addition, the term "conservation" means different things to different people. To us it means wise use. One of the uses we try to accommodate is target-shooting, because we receive special tax monies that are directed toward building range facilities. Shooting enthusiasts are a large segment of the outdoor loving people in our state, and they have historically supported general conservation activities in addition to their own sport.

The shooting facility at Forest 44 received strong public support, and our view is that it will receive heavy use when it becomes operational, and be very popular.

As for the salamanders at Forest 44, 1 would like to offer a few facts for your information:
  1. None of the species are endangered or threatened. They are common in Missouri.
  2. Finding all three species breeding in one pond is unusual, but not unique. We already have evidence that another pond in Forest 44 (which will be retained) has all three species.
  3. We have worked closely with local herpetologists, mostly from Washington University, to establish populations in 14 other shallow ponds in the area, 12 of which were constructed for that purpose, and 2 of which were already established and already have populations of at least 2 of the species.
  4. Through the years, local herpetologists have successfully moved populations of salamanders and other amphibians to other locations in the area, and they all agree that the overall salamander populations will not be banned, whether we transfer the eggs or not. In other words, the new ponds will be colonized naturally, over time, as the habitat becomes suitable. Our current efforts are simply intended to help speed up that colonizing process as much as we can. We will do whatever habitat enhancement is necessary to achieve that objective.
  5. In the long run, our efforts to mitigate the loss of one pond will improve overall amphibian habitat at Forest 44 by ten-fold. We feel it is much more significant to have broadly-dispersed healthy populations of all three salamander species than it is to have all three simply represented in the same pond. That may be convenient for sampling and collecting by people, but probably matters very little to salamanders.

In our overall plan at Forest 44, we tried to locate a shooting facility where it would be the least disruptive to other uses. A first, we thought this pond would not have to be disturbed. Unfortunately, our final engineering design showed that to be incorrect. We had already begun to improve habitat on the area by building the 12 shallow ponds. Fortunately, this allowed us another option to help in handling an involved management situation in a more timely and effective manner. I am pleased that our managers had the foresight to anticipate the needs of animal species that not many people even know about.

I trust that this rather detailed response is informative. We feel we are doing our best for salamanders, not only to meet immediate needs, but also (more importantly) for the long-term. Nature is pretty resilient, and our native species of animals and plants usually respond very well to habitat changes when we provide the basic means for them to do so. I think we have done that at Forest 44.

New approach to saving species

The Clinton administration proposes to adopt a new approach to protecting threatened and endangered species that officials hope will prevent bitter, protracted conflicts like the one that erupted over the spotted owl and the logging of old growth forests. Interior Secretary Bruce Babbit proposes to promote regional conservation plans that would permit significant development as long as developers set aside enough habitat to guarantee the survival of all species that depend on that habitat. The first species to benefit from this program may be the California gnatcatcher, a tiny songbird that lives in arid sage and scrub along the Southern California coastline. The program is backed by environmental and real-estate groups and is expected to protect an additional 40 to 50 species that are candidates for extinction. The new program is known as ecosystemwide planning and may pre-empt the battles and eventual litigation that have occurred in the past. [Wall Street Journal, March 26, 1993, contributed by P. L. Beltz] After all these years of having an endangered species act, it is interesting to note just how far the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has gotten with the process.

January 31, 1993 - Endangered Species Technical Bulletin
Species EndangeredThreatenednumber with plans percent with plans
Birds 73 1367 77
Reptiles161826 76
Amphibians 65 872
Fishes553654 59
Snails 127 842
Clams42238 86
Crustaceans 92 5 45
Insects159 13 54
Arachnids 30 00
Plants29872 14940

Before I read these figures, if anyone had asked, I would have said that reptiles and amphibians (since they receive less funding than any other vertebrate groups) would probably not be as well done as mammals or birds. Surprisingly, with all the support given to mammal researchers, this class has the lowest percentage of species with recovery plans of any vertebrate group. [WaterShedd, April 1993, contributed by Karen Furnweger]

Snake man accused of cruelty

A witch doctor was arrested in London after draping two pythons around his neck on a day when a wool scarf would have been more appropriate. The witch doctor, known as "Snakey Joe," denied causing suffering and cruelly mistreating a royal python and an Indian python by unreasonably exposing them in inclement weather. The prosecution was brought to the English courts by the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. Snakey Joe had an exotic snake dancing act which was a hit in London clubs 20 years ago and is known as a respected witch doctor in his native Ghana. The case was adjourned for further deliberation and the doctor remanded on unconditional bail. [A lovely piece from some English news- paper, from around November, 1992, contributed by Kathy Bricker. Does anybody know the end of this story?]

Thanks to everyone who contributed this month!

Thanks also to those readers who contributed articles previously used, cartoons, postcards, etc., including Cynthia Johnson, Robert Sprackland, Steve Spitzer, Harry Andrews, Bob Pierson, P. L. Beltz, Eric Thiss, and Ernie Liner. To become a contributor, send clippings with the date, name of publication, and your name firmly attached (tape preferred to staples) to me. Interesting letters are always appreciated.

July 1993

True story of "killer python"

This is one of those stories that was heard `round the world. And why not? It has all the marks of a thriller, a dead body, an injured snake, a locked room... The first clipping I received was from first time contributor Gary R. Durkovitz [Amarillo Globe Daily News, May 18, 1993]: "(AP) A snake collector apparently was suffocated in his home by his 200-pound pet python. William Bassett, 47, appeared to have struggled with the 16-foot snake stabbing it several times with a knife [Harahan, LA] Police Chief John Doyle said." Bassett's body was found on Monday when he failed to show up for work, but it appeared he had died on Saturday. He owned at least 11 other snakes, although Ebenezer, the "200-pound python" was his favorite, according to Brian Mayeux, a member of the Gulf Coast Herpetological Society. The snake was taken to the Jefferson Parish Animal Shelter. Other May 18 papers carried the same or similar stories "Python kills snake collector" The Houma, LA Courier, and The Times-Picayune, contributed by Ernie Liner. By May 19, USA Today had a "Killer Python" blurb, as did the Orlando Sentinel, contributed by Bill Burnett.

The true story began to leak out on May 20 [Baton Rouge, LA Advocate, contributed by Ernie Liner] when the Jefferson Parish Coroner's Office said that Bassett died of cardiac arrest. There were snake bites on Bassett's arm and knife wounds on the python, including one that went through its open mouth and broke the outer skin. Bassett apparently knew that it was illegal to keep the retic in the parish, but refused to give him up, according to his secretary. Police believe that Bassett was attacked by Ebenezer because the man had the scent of rabbit on his skin. Ebenezer's wounds required 100 stitches and two hours of veterinary attention.

The next day, The Times-Picayune had a story titled "Python becomes a cause celebre." Apparently over 100 calls were received offering to take the animal. Most of the callers urged the shelter not to destroy Enabler who "apparently bit and wrapped himself around [his owner] prompting the 47-year-old tree cutter to suffer a fatal heart attack."

Ernie Liner sent two other clippings with a note: "Dear Ellin, wish I could lose weight as fast as this python... [He's dropped] from 200 pounds to 36 pounds [from May 21 to June 10]." Both articles are dated June 10 [The Baton Rouge Advocate and the Houma, LA Courier] and report that Ebenezer, and three of Bassett's other snakes, will be sent to a licensed snake dealer in Mississippi as soon as the retic has recovered from its wounds. The eight other snakes will be turned over to Bassett's family since ownership thereof is not illegal in Jefferson Parish.

Shedd foils turtlenapper

A shocking tale of six turtles was in the most recent edition of WaterShedd [ June, 1993, contributed by Karen Furnweger]. Last September, Mike Mulligan, the manager of the Fishes Department at Chicago's Shedd Aquarium, received a phone call from a woman who claimed she had a baby sea turtle from Florida and wanted to know how to take care of it. Of course he told her that what she was doing was illegal and in violation of the Endangered Species Act. The woman said she'd keep the turtle, didn't leave her name, and hung up. The next day, a man who identified himself as "Bob" called up about the same turtle which he said he'd had for a few weeks. It had stopped eating and he wanted to know what to feed it. Mulligan said, "I was firm in telling him of the legal morass he was getting into by taking an endangered species out of the wild and trying to raise it in his home, but the individual was determined that he was going to take care of the turtle."

Dave Kirkby of the Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) Division of Law Enforcement in Rosemont, IL was contacted by the Shedd to inform him of the situation. The agent told Mulligan to try to get the turtle from "Bob" any way that he could. When "Bob" called again, Mulligan convinced him to bring in the turtle which was left with a security guard before the Aquarium opened several days later. The loggerhead was only a few weeks old, weak and dehydrated, and weighed less than an ounce. Given proper care, it rallied and was soon thriving. In January, the mystery man dropped off another turtle with the security desk. This animal was in much worse shape. Staff veterinarian Marty Greenwell said, "That little thing was just pitiful. In addition to being weak and dehydrated, it had a shell deformity characteristic of metabolic bone disease. That means the bone is soft, due to a chronic [dietary] calcium deficiency." It took nearly 10 days of intensive care before the turtle began eating on its own. By now, FWS was really interested in meeting the mystery man with the turtles. In early April, "Bob" called again. According to Mulligan, "Bob" said that "he hadn't been quite honest with me in our previous conversation and that he had four additional turtles." He claimed that he was going to drive them back to Florida to let them go, and wanted to pick up the first two as well. Arrangements were made, and Kirkby was notified.

"Bob" showed up and picked up the transport boxes which had been prepared by Shedd staff, but was then blocked in by Kirkby. "Bob" agreed to talk, and took Kirkby to his home where the four remaining loggerheads were confiscated. They are at the Aquarium being held for evidence and will eventually be set free on their native beach of Venice, Florida.

"Bob" told authorities that he knew the turtles were endangered and added "That's why I took them." He claimed that he would improve their odds of survival by taking the animals into captivity. His husbandry techniques, however, cost the Shedd about $500 per turtle according to Curator of Fishes Roger Klocek, not counting the return trip to Florida which will cost about $2,000. Regardless of cost, Klocek plans to give the turtles the best of everything. He had harsh words for people who "rescue" wildlife including baby see turtles and then expect zoological institutions to fix their mistakes when the animals become sick, or too much to care for.

If convicted of the Federal misdemeanor of possession of endangered animals, "Bob" faces up to one year in prison and fines of $20,000 or more. He may face additional penalties under the Federal Lacey Act for transporting illegally obtained protected wildlife across state lines. [An abbreviated version of this story was published in the Orlando Sentinel, May 17, 1993, contributed by Bill Burnett] The Rosemont office of FWS can be reached at 708-298-3250. Kirkby pointed out that had "Bob" brought in all six turtles when he was first told to do so by the Shedd that the case against him would have been much weaker, and possibly no charges would have been brought against him.

Attitudes are changing

When I started with herpetology which wasn't really that long ago, few of my friends and neighbors had much appreciation for herps. The news media also had a thing against reptiles and usually ran what I call "Ugh" stories about them. Here follows a few examples of a change in attitudes:
  1. Bob Morris, Column World, Orlando Sentinel [May 14, 1993, contributed by Bill Burnett]: "Confidential to the nice lady in the white van on Howell Branch Road. I was the guy in the black Ford Explorer who slammed on his brakes and skidded toward the curb trying to miss that humongous soft-shell turtle the other day. It crawled out of the right-of-way and I managed to dodge it, then turned on the flashers hoping to alert the cars barreling up from behind. It was one of the biggest soft-shells I've ever seen, the size of a manhole cover, with its long neck and pointy snout poked out and aiming for a pond across the road. The traffic was heavy and I thought for sure that turtle was a goner. You were the next car along and I looked in the rear view mirror, thinking, `Stop, stop please stop... I can't watch this... don't run over the turtle!' But you stopped. I could tell that the people in the cars behind us weren't happy with the holdup. A couple of them honked. Others tried to weave their way around. I don't mind admitting I would have been a little skittish picking up that turtle, figuring it might flip around and grab me. But you didn't hesitate. You reached down, grabbed it and carried it to the other side of the road. And I just wanted to say `Way to go.' That was some turtle..."
  2. Dennis Ferraro, Douglas County Extension Service, Assistant for Urban Pest Management [Omaha World-Herald, April 18, 1993, contributed by Jeff Elting]: "This week's common pest problem - Garter snakes. These cold-blooded animals are very common in urban gardens and residential areas this time of year. They are attracted to warm objects, which give them the heat they need for digestion and growth... Garter snakes may frighten you, but they are actually harmless. They feed on many insects and worms. Elimination of snakes in your yard is almost impossible because they move in from surrounding areas. There are no chemical sprays, poisons or fumigants registered for snake control. While there are repellents on the market, most are ineffective in deterring snakes... Remember that garter snakes are beneficial, harmless to you and your pets and should not be killed. Snakes fear humans and pets, and if left alone, they will make every attempt to escape.
  3. Mark Di Vincenzo, Newport News Daily Press [Chicago Tribune, June 17, 1993, contributed by Claus Sutor]: "Saving snakes - someone's got to do it. Alan and Barbara Savitzky kneel on some high ground in a swampy woods about two miles from the North Carolina line [in Virginia]... The Savitzkys, both snake scientists, are studying canebrake rattlesnakes, which live throughout the Southeast U.S. but are endangered in Virginia... [They] concede that publicizing the plight of the canebrake, a goal of the newly formed group of scientists and game wardens called the Virginia Canebrake Rattlesnake Recovery Team, probably won't generate too much sympathy for rattlers. After all Virginia rattlesnakes - not canebrakes but their close cousins, timber rattlesnakes - have killed five people since 1968, state Health Department records show... Savitzky says people should care about canebrakes because, like other snakes, they help control rodent populations, and because, perhaps more important, the health of the canebrake reflects the health of the forest."

On the other hand...

The Milwaukee Journal [June 16, 1993, contributed by Mike Zelenski] wrote: "Did you know? Komodo dragons are among the largest cold-blooded killers on land today. They kill by infectious slobber and have been known to consume humans." Mike wrote a note on the clipping: "A good example of how wording can create attitudes, even when it's not strictly speaking, incorrect!"

TEDs now required on all shrimp boats

A letter received from Deborah Crouse, Director of the Species Recovery Program, for the Center for Marine Conservation (CMC) reads: "Thanks to help from thousands of sea turtle friends like yourself WE DID IT!! After receiving some 15,000 cards and letters in support of expanded sea turtle excluder device (TED) requirements, the National Marine Fisheries Service filed final TED regulations December 1, 1992. These regulations phase in the new TED requirements over a period of two years, but as of January 1 of this year the majority of the shrimp trawl vessels in southeastern U.S. waters, including inshore waters, are required to use TEDs, year round! There is still much work to be done. Without adequate enforcement these regulations will be ignored and the victory will be only on paper. CMC plans to be there, watching the agency's implementation of these regulations until we are convinced that all shrimp vessels are using TEDs permanently. However, I did want to say thank you all for your help, it was critical. We know that it couldn't have happened without your letters. Without such a show of public support for sea turtle conservation, it would have been very tempting for the Administration to cave in to the industry's objections."

But are they being used?

A report just in from H.E.A.R.T. in Texas includes a clipping from a Louisiana paper by Bob Anderson which reads: "Numerous dead Kemp's Ridley sea turtles, an endangered species, have washed ashore along a 20-mile stretch of the Louisiana coast. Fishery officials are puzzled about the cause of the deaths of more than 70 sea turtles and why so many had congregated in one area while alive... The first dead turtle was found at Grand Isle... Necropsies are being performed to try to determine the cause of death... the dead turtles all appear to have been 1 to 2 years old. The shells were all 9- to 11-inches long. An adult's shell reaches 28 to 30 inches long." The folks at H.E.A.R.T. are worried that Louisiana shrimpers are not complying with the TED laws and ask how vigorously was the Coast Guard inspecting shrimp boats. Contact H.E.A.R.T. for more information about these issues, their educational video tape, hand made turtle fundraising items, and so on: P.O. Box 681231, Houston, TX 77268-1231.

More information about the turtle deaths was provided by the New Orleans Times-Picayune [June 4, 1993]. Not only did dead turtles wash up on Grand Isle, but so did over 300 tons of fish spilled in a commercial fishing accident. None of the dead turtles were tagged, nor were they considered to be part of this years headstart release according to Charles Caillouet of the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration. The autopsies revealed the turtles' last meals included crab, sea urchins, and various fish, but no shrimp. No cause of death has been determined, but the head of the state Wildlife and Fisheries sea turtle unit said that nothing could be ruled out at present. [Also, Times-Picayune June 2 and 3, 1993; the Houma, LA Courier, June 2 and 3, 1993: and the Baton Rouge, LA Advocate, June 3, 1993 - all contributed by Ernie Liner]

"Lost" sea turtle stories

A threatened loggerhead sea turtle, named Michelangelo by fans is one of six sea turtles to be taken to Florida for release. They used to live at the New England Aquarium. The move is being sponsored by Mirage Studios, maker of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle movies. Way to go, dudes! [Commercial Appeal, Memphis, TN, April 1, 1993, contributed by Bill Burnett] A Kemp's ridley sea turtle arrived in Dublin, Ireland after a 5,000 mile swim from the Gulf of Mexico. He was found exhausted on a beach in the southwestern part of the island in October and was tagged by Texas researchers. Named Leonardo by his hosts at the Irish national aquarium, he will be flown to Corpus Christi, TX by way of New York. [February 1,, 1993: The Grand Junction, CO Daily Sentinel, contributed by Larry Valentine; and The Houma, LA Courier, contributed by Ernie Liner] A clipping received from Bill Burnett [Orlando FL Sentinel, May 20, 1993] finishes the story: "Leonardo... has returned to his native waters in excellent health, scientists said. The turtle `swam bravely out to sea,' Tony Amos, an oceanographer with the University of Texas Marine Science Institute, said shortly after releasing the turtle from the [Port Aransas] island's south jetty."

Sea turtle program may be axed

If Florida legislators don't fund that state's Marine Turtle program, the jobs of five turtle workers may be lost, as well as the ability to monitor recovery plans, direct volunteers, and review coastal construction and lighting. Unlike Florida's manatee program, the turtle program was created without a recurring funding source. The manatee program is funded by one-half millions dollars a year generated by special license plates. The program costs $300,000 per year, and has been left out of this years Department of Natural Resource budget due to a snafu. [The Orlando Sentinel, March 8, 1993, contributed by Bill Burnett]

Connecticut debates pet turtles

The General Assembly of Connecticut will vote on a bill to lift the 20-year ban on the sale of pet turtles in that state according to an article in the Hartford Courant [May 2, 1993, contributed by Cynthia Johnson]. Opposed by public health officials, animals rights activists and environmentalists and supported by turtle fans and frustrated pets sellers who argue that the risk of salmonella from domestic reptiles is overstated. Environmentalists support continuing the ban since most of the turtles sold in pet stores are wild caught.

No debate with these folks

Bryan Bird, editor of the Philadelphia Herp Society Newsletter wrote a letter to People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) "inquiring their views of herpetology, captive husbandry, breeding animals threatened by extinction, and the breeding of rodents for food." He received a reply from Cristine Jackson, senior writer, and some literature. According to Jackson's letter as quoted by Bird: "PETA feels `there is no justification for captivity or captive breeding of species threatened by extinction.' Their justification [is that] `animal rights philosophy asks that you consider the rights of the individual animal, not just the status of the species.' They point out that they `do not object to respectful, noninvasive, on-site studies of animals in their natural environments.' Lastly, they feel the use of rodents as food is unethical. `By dropping a live mouse into a small snake enclosure, one would condemn the mouse to imminent death; in the wild, on the other hand, at least a mouse (or other animal) has a chance for escape.'" Bryan concludes that based on the materials he was sent, "they actively oppose zoos on similar reasoning." He wants to start a dialog with herpetologists on the subject of animal rights. Write: Bryan Bird, PHS Editor, 300 Carriage House Lane, Haddonfield, NJ 08033 to express your opinion. PETA's address is P.O. Box 42516, Washington, DC 20015, fax (301) 770-8969.

To move or not to move

According to Joan Berish of the Florida Game and Fresh Water Fish Commission several populations of gopher tortoise who died from exposure to a bacterium named mycoplasma. The number that have died from the bacteria is unknown, although veterinarians suspect it may be similar to the organism which decimated the desert tortoise in the Southwest. Moving the animals from place to place is believed to help spread the bacteria. Berish said that tortoises are being moved by pet owners as well as developers required to relocated tortoises prior to construction. [Nature Conservancy, May/June 1993, contributed by Mark Witwer]

Is we our brother's eater?

Tom Taylor sent an article from the Tempe edition of the Phoenix Gazette [May 24, 1993] which details James Collins' studies on the cannibalistic morph of the tiger salamander. Regular readers of Newtline (elsewhere in this Bulletin) will recall that we had a program about this recently. In brief, some larval tiger salamanders become cannabalistic on other larval tiger salamanders, while some do not. A cause, or causes, for this behavior is being studied. I just hope no one tells PETA about this. Can you imagine the ethical dilemma caused by some larvae eating their relatives? Perhaps we should try to teach these salamanders to eat vegetarians...

Controversial road plan presented

There'll be no need to brake for snakes and other wildlife if a plan to extend a road through the New Jersey Pinelands designed with the help of CHS member Bob Zappalorti is approved by the Pinelands Commission. As presented the plan includes 27 tunnels which would permit pine and corn snakes to travel beneath it, and 84-inch culverts would permit deer and other large animals passage. Some sections of the roadway would be elevated 4 to 8 feet over the forest floor to accommodate the tunnels. In the article from the Asbury Park Press [March 9, 1993, contributed by Bruce Henderson, D.V.M.] Zappalorti is paraphrased implying that he is opposed to the road project, but feels this design will prevent adverse impact (good pun) on snakes. Opponents of the plan feel that the road is unnecessary and will open areas of the Pinelands to further development.

Thanks to all contributors and folks who sent interesting things

including Jack Schoenfelder, Sue Black, Robert Sliwinski, Eloise Beltz-Decker, P.L. Beltz, Wayne Hill, and Rick Reifsnyder.

So many times I get clippings with notes that say something like, "Just in case nobody else sent you this." 99 times out of 100, I've never gotten that clipping from anybody else before. Also, I acknowledge everybody (see the "killer python" story above. In general, I receive few repeats. Just count up how many times I source more than one person and you will realize that I rarely get the story from more than one person, and even less often do I get the same clipping from the same paper from more than one person. (All local, New York, and California members should please consider this point.) Only one CHS member, Claus Sutor, sends me stuff on a regular basis from the Chicago papers; and no one regularly sends clippings from the Southtown Economist or the Daily Herald even though an inner city dweller like myself is unlikely to see either of those papers. What was most surprising of all was that I was personally featured in an Associated Press story which they told me was picked up in over 100 papers nationwide in April. I have yet to receive one clipping of that story, even though they said it was front page in several publications. I ended up driving downstate and visiting several newspaper offices to purchase back issues with the story!

I've said it before and I'm saying it again folks, this is a reader-supported column, without contributors it will cease to exist. The file folder is almost empty, so don't delay... Send clippings with date and name of publication as well as your name (all firmly attached) to me.

August 1993

Snake puts bite on long arm of law

A 10-inch long cottonmouth bit an Orange County, FL deputy sheriff on the hand when he looked inside a bag on the front seat of a car. Another deputy then killed the snake with a nightstick and transported the bit-ee and the snake's corpse to Orlando Regional Medical Center where it was determined that no venom had been injected by the snake. The driver was to be charged with possession of a venomous snake without a license which is a second-degree misdemeanor punishable by 60 days in jail and a $500 fine in addition to a citation for driving under the influence. The driver claimed to have found the snake in the St. John's River. [Orlando, FL Sentinel, April 1, 1993, contributed by Bill Burnett]

An interesting fish tale

Jack Schoenfelder sent an article from the April, 1993 issue of Outdoor Life which talks about using soft-plastic salamanders as bass bait: "...what's so special about salamanders - real or plastic? While prowling the shallows seeking spawning sites, do bass recognize and eat salamanders, newts and young hellbenders or mudpuppies?... After all, live salamanders and mud puppies have been favorite baits for both largemouth and smallmouth bass in many parts of the country for years, and certainly long before the soft-plastic versions appeared... Amphibians eat fish eggs. Even if a bass isn't looking for a meal, it may pick up a salamander...and carry it away from the spawning bed simply to remove the threat. Then again, maybe the appeal of these lures is simply superior action - the enticing combination of wiggling legs and a fluttering tail." Does anybody out there have an opinion on this?

Home alone, python style

At least 50 people called the humane society in Meadville, PA recently offering to adopt a 3.5-foot python that was found under the refrigerator in a home long after its owner had moved. Instead of choosing between the callers, the society donated the python to a local high school science teacher for educational purposes after being turned down by three zoos. [Latrobe Bulletin, January 8, 1993, contributed by Kathy Bricker]

Reelfoot turtle captures spark debate

Turtle catchers are reportedly taking so many turtles from Reelfoot Lake, TN that state wildlife conservation officials have grown concerned. The Memphis, TN Commercial Appeal [May 3, 1993] reported, "[The collector] doesn't miss often, but the silver dollar size turtle that had been sunning itself on sawgrass deftly scooted into the water a split second before her dip net descended... Like scores of other Reelfoot-area residents, [local people] supplement their incomes by catching turtles for sale to the pet industry, for use in research laboratories or for use as food." The paper reports that the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency may subject Reelfoot Lake to the same restrictions on turtle-harvesting as those imposed elsewhere in the state. Three species, common snappers, midland smooth softshells, and the eastern spiny softshell, can be taken statewide for resale as long as the carapace is 9-inches or longer and the harvester has the proper licenses and equipment. However, the counties encompassing Reelfoot Lake were exempted from all rules, except for endangered, threatened, or species "in need of management" and box turtles if taken by legal methods. Small turtles are sold for up to 75 cents each, and turtle catchers can take $35-40 per day in just these small reptiles.

Our tax dollars at work

Researchers at Good Samaritan Regional Medical Center in Phoenix, AZ are conducting advanced brain research to discover which portions of the brain are responsible for human response to phobias. Researchers use positron-emission tomography (PET) to produce a picture that reflects the level of neurological activity in brain tissue. The researchers sought volunteers who were afraid of snakes, then put the person in the PET machine, and suspend a 3-foot long python above the experimental subject while they lay still. Each PET scan lasts 60 seconds and heart rate and facial muscle movements are also measured. [The Arizona Republic, May 9, 1993, contributed by Tom Taylor] It is of course, a shame that the researchers don't put the python in the PET scanner and suspend the phobic humans above it to see how the python reacts.

Project snaps under pressure

Researchers in Kakadu National park in the Northern Territory of Australia have had to stop their study of lead pollution following a crocodile attack on a park ranger. It seems the researchers were trying to remove an osteoderm, or small bony plate, from the back of the croc's head, when the croc took exception to their ministrations and attacked a ranger accompanying the scientists. The study was begun to see if the crocs at Kakadu were accumulating excessive amounts of lead since they eat birds and wild pigs that had been wounded or killed by hunters using lead shot. Several dead crocs have been found to have large amounts of lead in their gut. The final result might be found in the local aborigines who eat crocodiles. [The New Scientist, May 15, 1993, contributed by Rick Reifsnyder]

Value of one desert tortoise determined

A desert tortoise died during grading work at a subdivision in March. The contractor had begun work before receiving a permit from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service which would have done a survey to determine if the reptiles were on the site or not. Representatives of the company were charged in federal court and entered a plea agreement that resulted in a $25,000 court fine and a $75,000 donation to the county. Their attorney said that taking the plea was probably less costly than having a jury trial. The $75,000 will go toward the county's desert tortoise conservation fund. [The Las Vegas Review-Journal/Sun, June 5, 1993, contributed by Bob Pierson]

The Swami does Snakes

Fellow readers of Chicago's New Age Magazine "The Monthly Aspectarian" and other publications of its type in the U.S. may be familiar with the work of Steve Bhaerman, also known as the Swami Beyondananda. In May, 1993, he "received a letter" which asked: "Was Eve really tempted by a snake? If so, what implications does this have in our present existence? Diane Gotuhevn, Zeeland, Michigan." The Swami replied: "I wish I could give you a definitive answer on this, but the exact circumstances of Eve's temptation is something that Biblical scholars have been disagreeing about for centuries. Fortunately some Religious Science practitioners recently conducted a scientific experiment to determine once and for all the likelihood that Eve was actually tempted by a snake. They took a group of 500 randomly-selected people from all religions and all walks of life. In front of each person, they placed two bowls. The first had honey-vanilla-walnut ice cream smothered in rich dark chocolate fudge. The second had a snake. 99.8 percent of the group found the ice cream more tempting. (The only one who actually chose the snake was Bushman who mistook the fudge sundae for water buffalo droppings.) From their collected data, the researchers drew three possible conclusions:
  1. Eve was on a diet at the time.
  2. She had kinky tastes.
  3. The press agent for the Bible juiced up the story to sell more Bibles.

As for the implications, I would say, `Beware of snakes bearing gifts. Beware of salesmen bearing Bibles. Beware of Bible salesmen bearing snakes. And be particularly wary of snakes bearing hot fudge sundaes.'"

Smuggling reaches new depths

Workers at Miami International Airport discovered 312 drug-stuffed boa constrictors after one inspector noted what he described as an "unnatural" bulge in one of the larger specimens found in the 41 box air cargo shipment. X-rays revealed two condoms, each containing about four ounces of cocaine in each snake. DEA and Customs let the snakes "go through" in hope of catching those responsible. An unidentified man picked up the snakes, loaded the boxes into an enclosed delivery van and drove to an apartment complex where he left the van which was kept under surveillance for the rest of a day and a night. Finally, the agents got a search warrant and found 202 dead boas and 110 survivors of heat which had reached 95 degrees outside the van. The survivors were taken to Miami Metrozoo, but soon died. Necropsy produced 80 pounds (36 kilos) of cocaine from the corpses. No one has been arrrested or charged. [Post-Tribune, July 3, 1993, contributed by Chuck Keating and Hamilton, Ontario Spectator, July 9, 1993, contributed by Brian Bankowski]

Future not rosy for these snakes

The only species of boa constrictor native to Arizona may be in danger of being hunted to death. The rosy boas can fetch up to $300 in California pet stores and are reported to be "one of the most sought-after animals for the pet trade," according to the Chief of Research for the Arizona Game and Fish Department. Since May, researchers have fit tiny radio transmitters in some snakes, and others with "electronic beads" to track them underground. The Department wants to learn more about the habits of this animal before taking any action towards legal protection. [The Arizona Republic, June 27, 1993, contributed by Tom Taylor]

Illegal gator kills

Someone is killing alligators in a Terrebone Parish waterway, out of season, and against the law. The owner of a swamp and marsh tour company said she found three dead alligators with their tails cut off in a canal in the Parish. She said, "People are out there killing ... alligators for the tails. I think it's the frog hunters." She added that the gators she found dead are not among those she regularly calls and feeds from her tour boats. The tails are taken because they are the best meat and can be hidden in an ice chest according to an enforcement supervisor the the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries. He added that his agents are guarding the area day and night in an effort to catch the perpetrators. Even though there is a 30-day open season on gator in the state for those with the proper permits, the area where the tours are held is off limits to alligator hunting year-round. [Houma, LA Courier, June 27, 1993] An editorial in the same paper on June 29, read in part: "These killings offend us not only because they are illegal, but because they are immoral. These animals were slaughtered for selfish, childish reasons by people who have little regard for other living things. But this crime of nature carries another price. What kind of image does it leave with the tourists on those boats? What will they talk about when they return to their homes in other states or countries? ... In that way, these actions hurt us all. Our marshes and swamps are vast, and it would be naive to believe that patrols by wildlife agents would stop every person who chooses to kill an animal illegally. We hope people will assume that responsibility themselves, that the killings will stop and that the parish's reputation as a tourist spot won't suffer in the long run." [Both contributed by Ernie Liner]

Toad may be listed as endangered

Researchers once considered the western or boreal toad so common in the high country of Colorado that they were called "ubiquitous." However, in the last decade, the state's only high-elevation toad has almost disappeared. Biologists will present the findings of this apparent decline to the State Wildlife Commission and ask that the toads be listed as endangered. According to Cynthia Carey, a biology professor at the University of Colorado at Boulder, the toads died from "red leg" caused by a bacteria which attacked their circulatory system. They used to be considered a very hardy species, forced to thrive in temperatures which can shift 85 degrees Farenheit in a single summer day. Environmental changes seem to be weakening the toads' immune systems, making them more vulnerable to fatal diseases, said Carey. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has pledged the state Division of Wildlife $15,000 a year for the next five years to reintroduce toads to their old habitat. [The Grand Junction, CO Daily Sentinel, July 4, 1993, contributed by Larry Valentine]

Stolen snake returned

An odd incident was reported in the Philadelphia Inquirer, July 8, 1993. It seems as though two people stole a python from its cage in the back of a pickup truck parked at a Kmart store while its owner was running an errand. The theft was witnessed and reported to police. The suspects returned it to the police three hours later because they thought it was getting sick. Seems the snake got cold, and sluggish and they got (if you'll pardon me the pun) cold feet about keeping it. [Contributed by P.L. Beltz]

Is this the "killer bee" to come?

A judge is Osorio, Brazil in Rio Grande Do Sul Province lifted the ban on breeding which had been imposed on a facility housing African Nile crocodiles in May. The legal fight over crocodile sex in this small town masks a serious environmental debate. Should a dangerous predatory species from one continent be moved to an area where the habitat is just what it likes at home? What started this all was efforts by local entrepreneurs to start a climate-controlled crocodile farm. About 100 crocodiles were produced in the first commercial hatch of this species in the Americas. Some ecologists fear a biological time bomb, suggesting that the crocs will escape, and find suitable habitat in South American waterways. If they did, the Nile crocs would be the biggest, meanest crocodilian in those waters, and would probably be expensive (if not impossible) to eradicate, according to experts. When asked why the facility did not breed Melanosuchus niger, the indigenous black caiman, the owners said that when they bought the Nile crocodiles, they received a complete, off-the-shelf, technological package for crocodile breeding that was developed over the last 30 years of commercial breeding in Africa. Little is known about raising or keeping the black caiman. [The New York Times, July 13, 1993]

Ancient amphibians sought

Want a glimpse of life 300 years ago? Want the thrill of discovering soft-bodied fauna a short car trip from Chicago? You can join the ranks of Mazon Creek collectors by writing a letter to Dr. Chris Ledvina, Mazon Creek Project, N.E.I.U., 5500 N. St. Louis, Chicago, IL 60625 and asking for a map and collectors permit. Don't forget to mention CHS when you write. Only three sites in the world have been located which preserve soft parts of plants and animals; Mazon's fossils have been described as `unique, stupendous, and unbelievable.' The fossils are found in concretions of iron and calcium rich rocks which look like round, or oblong, red blobs - called "concretions." Unlike most fossils, you just pick them up, but you still can't see them. The tricky part is getting the concretions open. Beating on them with a hammer or chisel will wreck the specimen. The preferred way is to put the concretions in a bucket of water and put the bucket in the freezer. After a while, take it out. Some of the concretions break along the plane of the fossil after almost every freezing. Refreeze any that don't pop. I was recently on a collecting trip sponsored by Ledvina and found it fascinating. Plus, I've been told that filling your freezer is more energy efficient that leaving it empty!

Thanks to this month's contributors!

Ron Dykes, Terry Dedden, Ernie Liner, Claus Sutor, Holly Collins, Mr. and Mrs. M.C. Zelenski, James W. Hatfield, III, also sent in materials which I appreciated, but had already used. You can contribute by sending clippings with date and place of publication and your name (firmly attached) to me.

September 1993

Act now to save species

  • Americans are familiar with the smoke and mirrors act that passes for cognitive thought in the U.S. Congress, however a recent article by Representative Billy Tauzin (LA) in the Environment Policy Briefing Roll Call [May 3, 1993] just about takes the cake. After citing why Turtle Excluder Devices [TEDs] are ruining the lives of Louisiana shrimpers, even, he claims leading to suicides among them, he urges the reader to support his House Resolution #1490 "The Endangered Species Procedural Reform Amendments of 1993." In a rebuttal in the May 13, 1993 issue of the same journal, Deborah Crouse of the Center for Marine Conservation states "Indeed, Mr. Tauzin seems to have forgotten that a 1990 report of a National Academy of Sciences study panel, convened at the request of TEDs opponents in Congress, determined that shrimp trawling `kills more sea turtles than all other human activities combined' and estimated the annual mortality due to shrimp trawling for Gulf and Atlantic waters at 33,000 to 44,000 possibly even as high as 55,000 sea turtles. This same Congressionally mandated panel found, however, that `shrimping can be compatible with the conservation of sea turtles... especially with the mandatory use of TEDs at most places at most times of the year.' She also pointed out that "...last fall, when Mr. Tauzin obtained an emergency waiver from TED requirements for Louisiana shrimpers due to Hurricane Andrew, the majority of shrimpers checked by NMFS officers continued to use their TEDs. Finally, we know of no documented suicides that can be linked to TEDs. We believe Mr. Tauzin does his constituents a disservice by continuing to focus his and their attention on this non-issue, rather than addressing their real problems, such as too many shrimpers, overcapitalization, and competition from cheaper aquaculture shrimp." [Both articles contributed by Kathy Bricker]
  • What we can do to help reauthorize a more sane Endangered Species Act than the one proposed by Mr. Tauzin is to write our U.S. Senators, U.S. Senate, Washington, DC 20510 asking for their cosponsorship and support of S 921, and our Representatives, U.S. House of Reps., Washington, DC 20515, or call their offices 202-224-3121 and ask them to cosponsor and support HR 2043. Both of these bills are preferable to the other alternatives out there: 1.) don't reauthorize the Endangered Species Act, or 2.) have Mr. Tauzin's law enacted with its support of the rights of property owners over those of the endangered species, among other anthropocentric clauses. If you live in Illinois and don't know who your reps and senators are, call 312-939-INFO. Every phone call and letter counts. Please contribute a few minutes of your time and a couple of 29 cent stamps to this valuable cause today.

Is this a first for the U.S.?

A 15-year-old boy was apparently squeezed to death by "Sally," his brother's pet python which he was snake sitting while his brother is in jail. The python was kept loose in the house and was fed a rabbit every month or so according to police authorities. Tom Boyer, a veterinarian at the Deer Creek Animal Hospital in Littleton said, "This obviously is a very tragic situation, but the family made some basic mistakes that resulted in this death." Cited were failure to comply with a local ordinance banning snakes over 6-feet, failure to keep the animal caged and locked up, and not having two people present to handle or feed a snake longer than 8 feet. Boyer said, "In case a snake wraps around you, you have somebody there to uncoil it. You never want to let one of these snakes coil around your head or chest, because they're massively strong." Boyer added that snakes must be kept on a regular feeding schedule. [Chicago Tribune, July 27, 1993 contributed by Ilene Sievert; all July 22, 1993 - AP online, contributed by Kathy Bricker; The New Orleans Times-Picayune and The Baton Rouge Advocate, from Ernie Liner; The Denver Rocky Mountain News, sent by Larry Valentine; Orlando Sentinel and USA Today, contributed by Bill Burnett; The Akron Beacon, from Fred Buettell; and the Boulder, CO Daily Camera, contributed by David Chiszar]

Odd reptile snaps sought

CHS member Dr. Bernard Bechtel, is seeking photos of herps with aberrant color or marking patterns for a new book planned for later this year or early next year. He cannot guarantee publication of your pictures, but if the editor chooses yours, you will receive a photo credit. Please send color prints or color slides, carefully wrapped and braced to prevent bending to: Bernard Bechtel, M.D., 208 East Brookwood Place, Valdosta, GA 31602. Please be sure to write your name and address gently on each photo or slide so that your images can be returned to you and/or properly credited. Please, no two headed turtles or other anatomical oddities.

McLizard leads to lawsuit

A Biloxi, MS woman who found half a lizard in her McDonalds chicken fajitas is suing the local restaurant for a minimum of $30,000 plus punitive damages and court costs. The owner of the restaurant is suing the supplier who has denied responsibility. According to the complaint, the lady received two chicken fajitas, a large drink, and fries. She took out the meal and began to eat it at her job when the head and upper part of a small lizard fell out of the sandwich. The complaint reads, "the remainder of which [lizard] she had unwittingly, but indisputably, devoured." The woman said, "The eyes and the mouth and the feet were left. It had been fried." [The Seattle Times, August 15, 1993, contributed by Lee W. Roof]

Chinese man eats mostly snakes

A Chinese farmer has reportedly subsisted on a diet of 10,000 live snakes over the last 20 years. According to an edition of the Nanjing Daily which was picked up by Reuters in early June, "When reporters got to his home to interview him, they saw he was just eating a snake about 24-inches long. The snake's head was in his mouth, and its body was twisting violently." [Arizona Republic, undated, contributed by John Christianson; Memphis, TN Commercial Appeal, June 1, 1993, sent by Bill Burnett]

Unbelievable tale from tabloid

According to a cover story from the July 13, 1993 Weekly World News contributed by Bill Montgomery, a Chicago-based zoologist named Richard Mears was killed and eaten by an 80-foot dinosaur. The photo reportedly reproduced from a "dramatic videotape filmed by research team shows [the victim] in the dinosaur's jaws, seconds before he was swallowed by the giant creature. Surviving team members captured the creature the next day." The animal in the photo appears to be a Cyclura - not a dinosaur. At least the tabloid got the food item right side in this time. This same paper once published a "photo" of a man was being eaten by a big snake which showed the man's head still hanging out of the snake's mouth!

Smuggler sentenced

Lucio Marcelo Coronel, 30, of Buenos Aires was sentenced to three concurrent 15-month terms after he pleaded guilty to three counts of smuggling endangered species and other protected wildlife. U.S. Customs found 76 Tartaruga turtles, five Argentine boas, 107 Chaco tortoises; 102 red-footed tortoises; 20 red tegus, and seven rainbow boas inside his suitcase. Also found were more than 100 other animals not listed as protected. Fish and Wildlife agent Charles Bepler said that most of the animals arrived alive, but many died later although "we were able to ship a good chunk of the animals back to Argentina, where they were released in the wild." [Leesburg Daily Commercial, August 12 and 13, 1993, from Bill Burnett]

Sickos mutilate turtles

Teenaged skinheads are blamed by neighbors, one saying "This is total sadism. There's a couple of sick kids running around... If you have no respect for animal life, you have no respect for human life." The July 28, 1993 Stoney Creek News described the scene, "One [snapping turtle] had a pitch fork still in its neck, to go along with gouged out eyes, puncture holes on its back and belly, and severed toe nails. The other was strung up by a wire, its eyes also gouged out." [Contributed by Brian Bankowski]

Snake breeder drafted by Steelers

In what may be a National Football League first, snake breeder and linebacker Chad Brown has signed a contract with the Pittsburgh Steelers after being drafted in the second round. Brown said, "I got my first snake my freshman year. Pretty soon I had like 14. And I started thinking, if I'm buying all these snakes for pets and my friends are buying these snakes and all these other people are buying snakes, then why shouldn't I be the one selling them." He and his partner have some 130 snakes of 30 species. "We can make $180,000 [this year], maybe more. And once we have enough snakes at sexual maturity in three or four years, we can make a lot more," added Brown. [USA Today, July 26, 1993, contributed by Bill Burnett]

Turtle Tales

  • The Center for Marine Conservation and the Southeastern North Carolina Waterman's Association are offering a reward of $2,000 for the first person to provide information leading to the arrest and conviction of anyone willfully killing sea turtles along North Carolina's coastline. In the last week three mutilated sea turtles have stranded along that state's shoreline. Eyewitness accounts state that one leatherback had two flippers hacked off, one loggerhead was shot in the head, and another turtle was chopped to pieces. Melvin Shepard, Jr., president of the Waterman's Association said, "This kind of behavior gives commercial fishermen a bad reputation. True or not, the first reaction of the public is to look to commercial fishermen." If you can provide information, contact Deborah Crouse or Thomas Miller at 202-429-5609.
  • After years of "lets watch the turtles lay eggs" walks on eastern beaches, some naturalists are expressing concern that tourists may be loving the turtles to death. "We were surprised to learn that no one has done any work on whether this has an effect on the turtles," said Karen Bjorndal, director of the University of Florida's Archie Carr Center for Sea Turtle Research. Florida officials say that some 12,000 people a year take part in official turtle walks, and many others watch the egg-laying without the supervision of trained volunteer tour guides. [The Leesburg, FL Daily Commercial, August 9, 1993, contributed by Bill Burnett]
  • Federal authorities are investigating the cause of death of 80 sea turtles that washed ashore in the Grand Isle area of Louisiana in the last weeks of May and first weeks of June. More than 30 of the turtles were Kemp's Ridleys. Experts feel it is unlikely that the turtles drowned in shrimp nets or purse seines, since their stomachs are not full of shrimp. Dissections have given no further clues to the cause of death, however the dates of the washups coincide with the opening of the shrimp season. [Houma, LA Courier, June 3, 1993, contributed by Kathy Bricker]
  • A 46-pound alligator snapping turtle was found and released back into the murky waters of the Trinity River in Fort Worth, TX after becoming the first of its species to be documented in Tarrant County. [The Leesburg, FL Daily Commercial, July 18, 1993, contributed by Bill Burnett; The Austin-American Statesman, July 15, 1993, from Bill Montgomery]
  • "Ducky," the injured sea turtle who was nursed back to health after an accident which split his shell open was released at sea twice. The first time, he hung around and was recognized by Ron Hardy, co-owner of Gulf World where Ducky was rehabilitated. The second release took place 3 miles out into the gulf over an old shipwreck. [Orlando Sentinel, June 6, 1993, contributed by Bill Burnett]
  • Two Kemp's ridley sea turtles were found suffering from pneumonia in the Sabine National Wildlife Refuge last year. After rehabilitation at the Aquarium of the Americas, they were released to the wild in the Gulf of Mexico near Cocodrie, LA. [The Times-Picayune, August 3, 1993, from Ernie Liner]
  • A good Samaritan in Memphis bought a 101-pound alligator snapping turtle for $89.89 from a fish market to save the reptile from being butchered. He donated the snapper to the Memphis Zoo in the name of his 15-month-old daughter Emily Chalmers. The zoo will most likely release the turtle in the wild after studying it for a few days. [The Memphis, TN Commercial, June 5, 1993, contributed by Bill Burnett]
  • Two Cambodian men from Tacoma, WA were fined $5,000 each for removing nine desert tortoises from the Mojave Desert to be eaten in a wedding ceremony. The two were with four other Cambodian nationals when their car was spotted driving slowly along the shoulder of a highway as they looked for more tortoises. Three of the tortoises rescued by police had painted marks on their shells indicating that they were part of a study group of tortoises from a valley between Barstow and Victoryville. [The Canton, OH Repository, July 22, 1993, contributed by Fred Buettell]
  • Officials said that a decline in the number of loggerhead sea turtle nests on the Southeastern U.S. coast is not necessarily cause for alarm. This year, nesting is down an average 43 percent in South Carolina and from 30 percent to 50 percent on Georgia beaches. [USA Today, July 28, 1993, from Bill Burnett]

Froglets from Bill Burnett

  • Frog hunting in Arkansas, Mississippi, and Tennessee was covered in the July 11, 1993 Commercial Appeal. In general, the article was positive to frog-giggers who spear the amphibs with sharpened bamboo poles from boats at night. Another side of the story came from the July 24 edition of the same paper... "A frog hunter tripped and impaled his head on the pitchfork-like instrument he was using to spear the animals. Jim Campbell, a 33-year-old lover of frog legs, was in fair condition after two barbed prongs from the 6-foot-long gig were removed... As Campbell was being prepared for surgery, a frog jumped out of his pouch in the emergency room. `Here we had this frog hopping around in the ER, and the doctors and techs hopping around after it," Dr. H. Stanley Jenkins said. "It's the first time we've ever had a frog in the ER.'"
  • According to a report from Reuters picked up by the Commercial Appeal [July 19, 1993] a Maine entrepreneur has developed a vending machine which sells worms, crayfish, small fish, and frogs.
  • Far Rockaway Beach, a New York City community, is being overrun by an invasion of thumb-sized green Fowler's toads. Rabbi Shmuel Judowitz said, "You can't take a step without stepping on five or six of them. At first I was afraid that they would come into the house, because it reminded me of one of the 10 plagues of Egypt, but we were told they couldn't jump up the steps. Robert Cook, a natural resources management specialist from the U.S. Parks Service, said, "Sometimes there are so many, it looks like the ground is moving." [June 24, 1993 The Leesburg Daily Commercial and USA Today]

Snake bits and bites

  • A snake handler was bitten by a Celenese cobra during a tourist show at the Everglades Alligator Farm. The handler put the animal back in its cage after the bite and had workers rush him to the hospital. Police ran a 250-mile relay to get antivenin from St. Cloud to Homestead. Flying was out of the question due to stormy weather. This is the 16th time Albert Kilian has been bitten. Of those, four were cobra bites. The Alligator Farm announced plans to devenom the remaining snakes at their facility. [Sun-Sentinel, July 27, 1993, from Jerry Dotson; Leesburg Daily Commercial, July 28, 1993, sent by Bill Burnett]
  • Three amateur handlers were bitten by rattlesnakes at a western Pennsylvania Rattlesnake Roundup. One man was treated and released quickly, but two others were taken to the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center where doctors scrambled to locate enough vials of antivenin to treat them. [The Orlando Sentinel, July 27, 1993, from Bill Burnett]
  • A San Francisco judge was reprimanded by California's judicial discipline agency for sending a rattlesnake head to an inmate who was known to fear snakes. [The Memphis Commercial Appeal, June 22, 1993, contributed by Bill Burnett]
  • A Malabar, FL man was bitten on his left ankle by a coral snake when he stepped out onto his darkened front porch. He killed the 3.5 foot reptile and called 911. Emergency room doctors determined Downs had not received enough venom from the snake to require antivenin. [The Orlando Sentinel, July 9, 1993, from Bill Burnett]
  • A 43-year-old resident of Elkton, VA was in intensive care at the local hospital for five rattlesnake bites including several on his tongue and lip which occurred when he bit off the head of a three-foot rattlesnake which he had seen while he was riding his bicycle near Shenandoah National Park. [Chicago Tribune, August 1, 1993, contributed by Roberta Schmitt and Claus Sutor]
  • Readers of the New York Times responded to an article in the Letters to the Editors section [Sunday August 22, 1993] by explaining that the "Swept Yards" featured on the front page of the August 8 issue were not cleaned and raked daily from a neatness compulsion, but rather to determine if snakes were in or near the houses. Apparently a tradition brought by West African slaves, it became customary in the old South to surround a house with raked sand which was inspected for wavy snake trails every morning. If a trail was found, the house was searched for the serpent. Vegetable gardens were also surrounded with swept sand for the same reason. [Contributed by P.L. Beltz]
  • Several Milwaukee men who threatened to turn a pet snake into a belt started a fight that resulted in a friend of the snake's owner being shot in the leg. According to police, the incident began when a man carrying a snake arrived at his job to provide security at a rock concert. [Milwaukee Journal, July 27, 1993. Contributor Mike Zelenski wrote "This could be a new movie... Boas `n' the Hoods!"]
  • Fortunately 21 reptiles were rescued from a fire at the Racine, WI Zoo Reptile Hut. Zookeepers, maintenance, and construction workers broke windows and transferred the animals into crates. The fire started when a zoo worker accidentally turned on a burner beneath a plastic cage with a snake inside. Racine Fire Department Lt. John Hilmer said, "Believe it or not the snake came out of the door," after the cage melted and created a hole for the snake to escape. Damage was estimated at $5,000. [Racine Journal-Times, July 24, 1993, contributed by Mike Zelenski]
  • An 11-foot Burmese Python missing in Springfield, MO was found three or four houses down the street. He was apparently the only thing taken during a residential burglary and it is surmised that he was taken by person(s) angry at his owner. [News-Header, July 7, 1993, from Mr. Laverne A. Copeland]
  • The Toledo Zoo is directing the first reintroduction of 30 Virgin Islands Boas into the wild on a small atoll near the U.S. territory as part of their "Species Survival Plan." Dr. Peter Tolson, a zoo conservation biologist, said "I believe and a lot of other conservationists believe these animals have a right to survive outside the rights of man. This is our effort to undo some of the damage these creatures have suffered at our hands." [The Dallas Morning News, July 28, 1993, contributed by Bill Montgomery]
  • Hunter Tylo, who plays "Taylor" on the soap opera " The Bold and the Beautiful," was awaiting the day when her pet boa constrictor would give birth, but unfortunately the babies died and the snake is fighting for her own life. Hunter said, "Pregnancy is a really tough time for snakes. They become very susceptible to all sorts of sickness. She's doing poorly, but I'm hoping she gets better." [Soap Opera Magazine, August 10, 1993, contributed by Marcia Rybak]

Reader replies to Typanum

"Keep up the excellent work with the column - it's one of my favorite Bulletin features. I couldn't agree less with Tom Keefer's opinion of HerPet-Pourri (and cartoons, too) in the July Tympanum. Of course some of these articles are abysmal garbage; that's precisely why we must publicize them - as such. `Know your enemy' is a pretty fundamental principle; taking the ostrich stance will not do us any good, however it may soothe us in the short run. Seeing this stuff keeps my missionary urge sharp. Happy herping! Mike Zelenski"

Thanks to this month's contributors

and to Jack Schoenfelder, Bruce Hannem, Jill Horwich, Bob Pierson and the great unknown "J.O.R." who sent clippings for items previously used. You can become a contributor, too. Merely send clippings with date and name of publication as well as your name (firmly attached with tape or glue) to me. NEXT MONTH: Gator tales.. what a croc!

October 1993

A few get caught ...

  • Two New Smryna Beach, Florida, men were charged in mid- August with illegally possessing turtle eggs and alligator skins on the Merrill Island National Wildlife Refuge. The men had been held over the weekend at the Brevard County jail, turned over to federal authorities, appeared before a judge on charges of possessing endangered species on a federal wildlife preserve, and were released on $25,000 bail apiece. Assistant U.S. Attorney Randy Gold said the men had 200 gopher tortoise and sea turtle eggs when they were arrested. Alligator skins and parts were found in the van of one of the suspects who told investigators they planned to sell the items to a customer expected to arrive by boat. [Orlando, FL Sentinel, August 17, 1993, contributed by Bill Burnett]
  • Law-enforcement officials raided a secret distribution center for baby turtles in the heart of New York City's Chinatown and confiscated 2,612 red-eared sliders. Two unidentified men were charged with cruelty to animals. Further charges may come from the federal Food and Drug Administration. [Reading, PA Eagle, August 19, 1993, from Brett DePoister.

Cobra bite story continues

Tuned in reptile readers may remember the horrifying tale of Drew Yeager, 34, of Haymarket, Virginia, who was bitten between the left thumb and forefinger by a forest cobra at his home. Doctors scrambled to get enough antivenin to save his life, and had to go as far as Washington, D.C., and Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, to get it. By the time Yeager was conscious and breathing on his own, he'd taken 35 vials. [Orlando, FL Sentinel, August 21, 1993, from Bill Burnett] The story doesn't end here, however since the law in Prince William County prevents possession of poisonous reptiles. County officials planned to seize and destroy the other 41 venomous snakes found in Yeager's home. The County animal control warden planned to kill the reptiles by putting them, cages and all, into a refrigerator truck and freezing diem. Officials raised concerns about the dangers of seizing the snakes after the first bite had depleted the region's supply of antivenin. [Washington Post, August 25, 1993, from Kathy Bricker]

Next it is reported that Yeager had moved the 43 venomous snakes (note change in quantity) to a rented warehouse in Stafford County which has no law banning possession. Yeager said that a friend of his will look after his vipers, rattlesnakes, copperheads, and cobras until his is better. His other 12 snakes, of the nonvenomous kind, will remain in his home. Yeager said that he had been bitten many times before this incident which occurred as he was helping his eight-foot forest cobra to shed its skin in the bathtub at 1:00 A.M. The snake turned and bit him and he said he knew he was in trouble. He put the snake back in its cage, put his hand in a bucket of ice, and called 911 before getting his two vials of antivenin and waiting for the ambulance. He said this was the worst bite he had ever received. He also said that his most prized animal is a 12-foot king cobra for which he paid $500 to the wife of a friend who was killed by its bite. [Richmond, VA Times Dispatch, August 28, 1993, from Mr. Laverne Copeland]

Next a second man was bitten in Prince William County on August 31! The 41-year-old victim, William Blakeslee, was bitten by his pet cobra which was destroyed by authorities immediately. Blakeslee's life was saved after 28 vials of antivenin were flown to the hospital from the Bronx Zoo. Meanwhile, Stafford County authorities were trying to find out just where in their area Yeager had taken his 41 or 43 venomous snakes. They said they want to be sure the snakes are being kept safely and under humane conditions. Stafford officials are considering adopting an emergency ban on the ownership of wild and exotic animals. [Richmond, VA Times Dispatch, August 31, 1993, from Laverne Copeland]

Meanwhile, the same paper [August 21, 1993] ran a feature piece about the first Richmond All Captive Bred Herpetological Exhibition and Trade Show put on by the Herpetoculture Society and Tony Dongarra who said that the reptiles in the show were bred all over the world.

Another bite story

A 35-year-old Tucson, Arizona, man was bitten by a 10-inch puff adder. Antivenin specific to the adder was flown in from a Dallas zoo for his treatment. Although he remained conscious, he may lose a finger, and has already lost 38 snakes including the puff adder, 19 diamondback rattlesnakes, 16 Mojave rattlers, a saw-scaled viper and a Scolecophis snake in addition to 52 Colorado River toads. An Arizona Game and Fish Department spokesman was uncertain if charges might be filed against the man, although the investigation is continuing. The victim owns and auto paint and body shop describes him self as an "amateur herpetologist" who keeps and breeds snakes (mostly venomous) as a hobby. He said he had never been bitten by a venomous snake before and that he had bought the puff adder at a swap meet. [Mesa, AZ Tribune, September 19, 1993, from Tom Taylor]

Lizard Land

Hours after Lancaster, Pennsylvania, police shot and killed one fugitive buffalo and tranquilized another, the quiet community was shocked by the discovery of a 2-foot lizard in Virginia Bare's bathtub in a nearby suburb. Police said they're convinced the creature emerged through the tub's drain. [Reading, PA Eagle, August 23, 1993] Contributor Brett DePoister wrote: "[This] shows how smart people are today. It would be impossible for a 2-foot (unless it is very sick and thin) Iguana to come through a hole with the diameter of a golf bail. When my Iguana was only 10 inches long, he was in the bathtub for an hour once a week, and would not be able to go through the drain."

A new book, 0 Ye Legendary Texas Horned Frog! (Yellow Rose Press; $10.95), by June Rayfield Welch, a professor of history at the University of Dallas, describes the natural history and personal history of Texas' homed "toads." Both fact and folktales are featured, including a story about how some Laredo companies went too far -producing souvenir jewelry by putting baby horned lizards into a substance to form a mold, burning the lizards to ashes, and then pouring metal into the mold to make the finished product. This is now illegal under Texas law. A group called the Horned Lizard Conservation Society has been founded in Austin. They plan to study, relocate and even breed the lizards in the hopes of restoring them to the Texas rangelands from which they've pretty much vanished in the last 25 years. [Orlando, FL Sentinel, August 22, 1993, from Bill Burnett]

Letters to the editor in the Wall Street Journal [August 17, 1993, from P. L. Beltz] mention writers' experiences with homed toads. One read: "Recently I took my new stepchildren back to my roots in Abilene .... When we arrived, I told them that it would take me only seconds to find one. After over an hour of fruitless searching, I gave up and asked neighbors why there were none. They told me what they have known locally for several years - that when the imported fire ant arrived in Abilene it all but wiped out the horned lizard population .... Patrick Batts" Another read: "Your reported obviously never kept a horned toad as a pet. He never held one in his hand and rubbed its tummy till it fell asleep. He never tied a string around its neck and took it for a walk. He surely never braved the perils of a red ant bed to capture food for that wonderful creature. He never let one go at the end of the day wondering how many hours he'd have to look to find it again when the urge to walk a horny toad reappeared. Those of us who have do miss diem. For years we've wondered where they went. I hope those who take the time to care find a way to bring them back. Sheri Russell" Protection sought for tortoise

The U.S. Interior Department proposed protecting 6.2 million acres of mostly federal land in California, Nevada and Utah as habitat for the threatened desert tortoise. If the proposal is finalized, activities deemed harmful to the habitat could be prohibited. The action stems from the settlement this week of two federal lawsuits filed by environmental groups to force the government to protect the tortoises from extinction. Hearings will be held during October in Riverside, Las Vegas, and St. George, Utah, before the proposal will become final. [Marin, CA Independent Journal, August 28, 1993, from first time contributor Malina S. Carlson. Hope your broken arm heals ok!]

Unemployment up by one

The Utah Division of Wildlife Resources eliminated the job of the state's only full-time herpetologist. Dave Ross had just completed a report indicating the Wasatch Front population of spotted frogs is fragmented and well on its way to extinction. Ross said he doesn't know if his dismissal was related to his conclusions on this project, and on a desert tortoise study he had done for the Division. "I was told I was being fired due to politics and budget cuts, rather than job performance," he said, "I got the feeling politics played a main role." Bob Williams, state director for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in Utah, called Ross' firing "really unfortunate." He said, "We rely so much on DWR biologists to give us on-the-ground decisions on herp animals, and without that resource it will be more difficult to make good decisions. It would appear they [DWRI don't have much concern for snakes or frogs or other herps that don't bring in the money." Game species including fish, deer and elk bring license revenues to the state. [Las Vegas Review Journal, July 18, 1993, from Bob Pierson]

Wanted: A Wied Piper

The Health Department of Eau Claire, Wisconsin, is trying to catch at least 200 white, domestic rats they believe were released in a residential neighborhood by a pet wholesaler who was arrested on animal abuse charges. A resident said, "The other day, I saw a bunch sitting in the yard, but they look like pets. They look more cute than anything." Officials put out poison and collected dozens of rats the next day. [Racine Journal-Times, September 4, 1993, from Mike Zelenski.]

Chinese who worship snakes

An article by Chen Weigang, in China and World Cultural Exchange [No. 3, 1993, from P. L. Beltz], describes snake worship by one of China's cultural minorities, the Dong. Living in the Zhuang Autonomous Region, one of the remotest places on earth, the group "formed its own notions own nature over the centuries. The Dong ancestors worshiped snakes, a tradition that has not entirely died out today. In the traditional concept of the Dong people, snakes are not ordinary reptiles but supernatural beings .... It is taboo for the Dong people to catch and eat snakes since snake gods protect them and give them good harvests. If someone happens to break the taboo, he has to burn joss sticks and offer wine to the snake gods to beg forgiveness; otherwise his family members might contract strange diseases or his domestic animals might die. If people see someone killing a snake (to get its gall bladder for medicine or its skin for musical instruments), they immediately have to take off their hats and belts and run away as fast as they can to avoid witnessing such a terrible deed. Snake holes on family tombs are a bad sign for the family, who must repair the tomb at once to escape misfortune. In dry summers Dong villagers make snakes with straw and rattan and take them out into the fields to do a 'snake dance,' imitating a snake crawling, looking for food, lifting its head, coiling and swaying its body. This shows their respect toward the snake gods and is a means of begging for rain and good harvests. On the ninth day of the ninth lunar month, all Dong families make glutinous rice cakes called 'snake cakes,' and offer them to the snake gods before eating them themselves .... Since 1949 when the People's Republic of China was founded, economic and social changes have caused a decline in the tradition of snake worship and eradicated many snake taboos. However, the tradition still lives on in certain remote areas." "Bad luck" from snakes includes loss of harvest and strange diseases. Perhaps snakes' "good luck" primarily consists of eating rodents!

Realtor Tales

Lois E. Geer of Century 21-Big State Real Estate in Lubbock, Texas, sent a letter to the September issue of Real Estate Today [September, 1993] which read: "A couple came into my office to pre-qualify for a home purchase. While trying to determine their house needs, I asked whether they kept any pets. 'Yes,' the wife replied. 'We have two boas and one python.' I was at a loss for words. Her husband added, 'They make wonderful pets. You don't have to exercise them, they don't mess up the house, and they're marvelous house guards.' 'Really?' I managed to say. 'Our house has been broken into twice,' he explained. 'We came home and found the front door wide open on both occasions, The intruders must have left in a big hurry, because nothing was ever taken."' [Sorry to not be able to source this great piece, but the sender didn't write their name on it, and I didn't catch that when I took it out of the envelope,]


The American Crocodile, Crocodylus acutus, is undergoing a baby boom at the Turkey Point nuclear power plant belonging to the Florida Power and Light Company. Last year was a record year with 12 nests and 155 hatchlings found, but this year will be better, with nine nests and 153 hatchlings discovered less than a month into hatching time. FPL apparently created ideal croc nesting sites when they excavated the salt water cooling pond for the plant. Researchers collect the hatchlings and transfer them by airboat in the waterways south of the plant. [Orlando, FL Sentinel, July 20, 1993, and August 15, 1993; Leesburg, FL Daily Commercial July 18, 1993, from Bill Burnett; Chicago Tribune, September 5, 1993, from Debi Hatchett and Claus Sutor; and the Palm Beach County, FL Sun-Sentinel, July 29, 1993, from Jerry Dotson]

Gator bites and bite reactions

A rescuer called a 10-year-old boy who survived an alligator attack, "The bravest little kid I ever met." The victim and three playmates saw an 8-foot gator while swimming in a canal, got out and threw rocks to scare the gator away and went back in. Next, the alligator bit the child on the arm and began to jerked him around. The boy escaped with a compound fracture and bone-deep tears in his left arm. [Orlando, FL Sentinel, August 8, 1993, from Bill Burnett]

A Fort Lauderdale man could face a fine of up to $500 and a 60-day jail term for keeping a 6-foot alligator and a 4-foot caiman in a concrete fish pond behind his house. He was cited by wildlife officials for lack of a permit after his pet alligator escaped and caused an uproar in the neighborhood. Wildlife officials said both animals would probably be destroyed. [Leesburg, FL, Daily Commercial, July 16, 1993, from Bill Burnett]

The 30-acre St. Augustine Alligator Farm is celebrating its 100di anniversary as Florida's oldest continuously operating attraction. The farm has 2,700 alligators and crocodiles, including "the world's largest crocodile," 17.5 feet long and 1,700 pounds. [Chicago Tribune Travel Section, August 22, 1993, from Eloise Beltz-Deckerl

Orlando residents have written their paper, the Sentinel, about the unfortunate death of a 10-year-old who was attacked by an alligator on a canoe trip earlier this year. One letter read: "Although this is a tremendous tragedy for the family and friends of this young boy, it is also a tragedy for the noble alligator. This alligator had obviously mastered survival of the fittest, being 11.5 feet long and 400 pounds and living many decades in the wild. Unfortunately, he was in the wrong place at the wrong time when Bradley meandered off-course into the river. This gator acted out of instinct. After all, humans were the ones invading his home and possibly his nest. I pity mankind for killing this innocent and beautiful gift from God. what right do we have? Besides, why kill an animal that was acting on instinct, and not kill humans who murder for no reason? This is not moral and not ethically correct. Celeste Brotherson" Another read: "Listening to comments on the radio and television the day the boy was killed ... I was appalled. One man even said they should have killed the parents instead of the gator because they had the child in the water. More comments were for the gator than for the child. When did gators become more important than children? When did the lakes and rivers become the alligators' and not the children's? The parents and the children were not in the wrong place; the alligator was in the wrong place. I believe gators should be in zoos or only remote locations and people should reclaim their rights to our land. Who cares if the gators become extinct? These little children are gone forever. Beverly C. Pyles" [June 30, 1993] The debate continued, week after week. Other letters supported the alligators. One read: "I am constantly amazed at the blithe ignorance of Florida natural history exhibited by so many who sally forth into Florida's wild places. Many are newcomers to our state and most haven't invested a modicum of time learning 'what's out there.' ... [I have] a great respect for the capabilities of Florida's flora and fauna - a respect that is manifested as alertness and caution while in nature's house. Douglas H. Sphar"

People in Florida are more likely to die from an insect sting or bit than from an alligator attack according to state records. Four Floridians died of insect stings in 1992. Three people died from animal bites -all from dogs. [Orlando, FL Sentinel, June 26, 1993, from Bill Burnett] In addition, more foreign tourists are shot and killed in South Florida than people are killed by alligators in the whole state, too.

Holiday gift idea

The Marine Manunal Stranding Center in Brigantine, New Jersey, rehabilitates injured sea life (including turtles) as well as picking up and reporting strandings along a section of New Jersey coast better known for gambling palaces and the fading Boardwalk. Their most recent newsletter contains an appeal for help: "We do not know why we are suddenly seeing so many more animals stranding than in the past. We do know that more animals mean more costs for transportation, food, medicine, lab tests, and pool maintenance. We need your help .... The MMSC relies solely on memberships donations and gift sales for operating funds." Individual membership is $15. Donations of any size would, of course, be welcome. Their address is P.O. Box 773, 3625 Brigantine Boulevard, Brigantine, NJ 08203. The facility is open to the public, so don't forget to visit if you go to Atlantic City.

Thanks to everyone who contributed this month,

and to Claus Sutor, Debi Hatchett (a.k.a. "Newt"), Tom Keefer, Ernie Liner, David Hardy, Mark Witwer, Holly Carter, Larry Valentine, and Brian Bankowski for the clippings, notes, and letters they sent. You, too can become a contributor. Send clippings with the publication name and date slug firmly attached (tape preferred) as well as your name clearly written on each clipping to me. Extra special thanks to folks like Bill Burnett, who clip everything they see, persuade their family to do likewise, photocopy everything so it all fits on one page, and send cute envelopes, notes, etc. along with it. Give yourself a big squeeze for me, Bill!

November 1993

Lost and found

  • Winnipeg, Canada is not exactly what one might consider prime snake habitat, but animal-control workers say they're being plagued by loose and exotic snakes. Over 20 calls have been received this year. A homeowner found a snake sloshing around in the toilet. A woman in a new apartment found a boa constrictor. A four-foot python was sunbathing by the local river. Officials opened a home for orphaned snakes and suspended its exotic animals control bylaw for two weeks in the hopes people would turn in illegal reptiles without facing $1,000 per diem fines. They now have a couple of big Burmese, a boa constrictor and a royal python. [The Spectator, September 15, 1993, from Brian Bankowski]
  • Singapore's former discus and shot put champion Fok Keng Choy sustained injuries in a freak accident earlier this year. He must also have had some trouble explaining it to the authorities. Seems Mr. Choy was sitting on the toilet when he was bitten on the testicles by a python which he had failed to notice when he sat down [Malaysian New Straits Times, picked up by The New Scientist, August 21, 1993, sent by rick Reifsnyder]
  • A 24-year-old Washington, PA woman found a 30-inch "green-spotted python" in her toilet. The Owensboro, PA Messenger Inquirer reports [September 20, 1993, from Bryan Elwood] that the lady thought the bright colors in the toilet bowl were from a necktie, or scarf that had fallen in. A police officer fished the snake out with a clothes hanger. Four people claimed ownership of the animal later the same day at the pet store where it was taken.
  • CHS member and Bartlett, TN animal control officer Tom Moxley found a 10-foot Burmese python at a gas station in town. He said that it appears as though someone may have put the snake in a dumpster. Naturally, he plans to keep it! [The Express, Bartlett, TN, September 22, 1993, contributed by Bill Burnett]

Is Virginia for reptile lovers?

A scintilla of articles were generated recently when police found more than 100 snakes and as many as a dozen alligators at a Norfolk, VA residence. The owner of the house, Robert Parks who is retired from the CandP Telephone Company, was charged with cruelty to animals and failure to perform duties of ownership according to a city police spokesman. Parks had several city permits to keep alligators and snakes, so police were trying to match permits and reptiles to see which were being kept legally. Many of the snakes were venomous including African and Asian pit vipers, African cobras, puff vipers, rattlesnakes, copperheads and cottonmouths. Many of the animals were found in cages or tanks outside the home, while the house was filled with dozens of snake aquariums stacked in every room of the house except the kitchen. The alligator pit was about four-feet deep covered with chain-link fencing and providing the primary housing for the alligators, five of which were at least eight feet long. Parks said he was collecting the reptiles in the hopes of moving to Florida and opening a reptile zoo. Neighbors reported hearing strange noises from the property. Animal control officers relocated non-venomous animals to the Virginia Zoological Park in Norfolk. Police refused to say where the venomous animals were taken. Police were unsure if all the animals were out of the house, since no one volunteered to explore a narrow crawl space under the house. Now starts the legal battle. Parks' lawyer said that the search was illegal; if so, the whole case would be thrown out. The hearing raised issues ranging from the sanctity of a person's home to how one can tell if a snake is skinny. [Richmond Times Dispatch, September 19, 22, and 25, 1993 from Mr. Laverne A. Copeland; September 18, 1993 Washington Post from Kathy Bricker; September 22, 1993 USA Today from Bill Burnett]

Kids got a "snake day"

Students in Haakon County, S.D. have had "snow days" off before, but this was their first day off on account of snakes. The incident started when a girl reaching for her shoes in a school cloakroom came nose to Jacobsen's organ with a full-grown rattlesnake. Some older boys beat the snake to death with baseball bats, a shovel, and a broom. Next the boys went into the schoolyard and killed four more rattlers. A teacher said, "They are really brave little guys, they really are." Classes were called off and a sidewalk in front of the school was dug up revealing more than 30 bull snakes, rattlesnakes, and snake eggs. [September 26, 1993: Reading Eagle, from Brett DePoister; Ann Arbor News, from Carl Gans; Owensboro, KY Messenger-Inquirer from Bryan Elwood]

Endangered Species Act Update

Endangered Species Act reauthorization bills are on the table in both houses of the U.S. Congress, but need massive public support to pass - or even survive. I urge all CHS members to write their senators and congress people to support the House Resolution 2043/Senate Bill 921 combination which supports the recovery of Endangered Species on a multispecies or ecosystem approach instead of the critter by critter method which has caused so much ill will (see "tiny toad" story below). This pair of bills has been endorsed by over 70 environmental, zoological and civic organizations, including Chicago's Shedd Aquarium. The addresses are: U.S. Senate, Washington, DC 20510; and U.S. House of Representatives, Washington, DC 20515 HR 2043

Tiny toad halts road

Even though the Eastern narrow-mouthed toad has not been seen in the road corridor area since one was sighted in 1986, and even though the species is doing well further south in its range, plans to widen 3.6 miles of road in St. Mary's County in southern Maryland ground to a halt while a solution is sought. [Reading Times, September 16, 1993, contributed by Brett DePoister]

Frog virus found

In May 1992, researchers in England set up the Frog Mortality Project [FMP Tel: 098-684-518] to look into the large number of reported frog deaths. Since then they have been notified of more than 300 cases of dead adult frogs by members of the public. Strange lesions on the frogs, or large numbers of dead animals were found in 222 of the cases. Researchers examined 50 frog skins under an electron microscope and found a poxvirus-like particle in 96 percent of them. They believe the particle could explain the rise in unusual frog deaths. [New Scientist, August 14, 1993, MAD and Rick Reifsnyder]

Turdally awesome?

George Balazs of the Southwest Fisheries Science Center in Honolulu, HI and associates published a report in this summer's issue of the Marine Pollution Bulletin of how for forty days and forty nights four years ago thousands of green turtle (Chelonia mydas) turds washed up on a beach in western Oahu. Usually, of course, turtle poop sinks. Researchers noted that turtles at a nearby colony in Kaneohe Bay were suffering from an unexplained disease which left animals covered in tumors and suggest the disease may have made the turds float. However, the colony still has disease problems, but their poop doesn't float ashore any more making this one of the shittier problems for biologists in a long time. [New Scientist, August 14, 1993, MAD and Rick Reifsnyder]

Flying tortoises

Two dozen desert tortoises evicted from Las Vegas by construction of new casinos and condos were flown to Carson City in Operation Desert Tortoise. Cheryl Darnell of the Reno Turtle and Tortoise Club said, "As the tortoise goes, so goes Nevada. We are all in this together." So far, there have been eight airlifts, sparing more than 200 tortoises euthanasia. Not just anyone can adopt a tortoise. First their home and yard are inspected, contracts signed, and documents approved. There is an 18-point Tortoise Adoption Readiness Checklist which has tripped up more than one potential adopter. Darnell said that the relationship between tortoise and human is "a slower, quieter relationship. It's more subtle. When a tortoise has enough trust in you to fall asleep in your lap, it's a beautiful thing." [San Francisco Chronicle, October 6, 1993, from Bob Pierson]

Snakes find unfriendly skies

A Taiwanese man was caught on July 5 at Los Angeles International Airport while trying to smuggle 52 snakes out of the U.S., apparently to Taiwan. Most of the snakes were in nylon bags in a brown paper sack, but 18 were strapped to the mans biceps and ankles. The man could receive five years in jail and $250,000 in fines. [Leesburg, FL Daily Commercial September 3, 1993, from Bill Burnett]

Range extension riles French

French scientists are worried about the so-called "Great American Turtle Invasion" brought about by the mass release of pet turtles into lakes and rivers. Fishermen have complained that freshwater turtles, mostly imported from Florida and Louisiana, have proliferated wildly in French rivers and eat native species. Scientists fear an ecological nightmare. The whole situation began when France banned the sale of native turtles to prevent their extinction for the food and pet trades. More than 1,000,000 U.S. turtles have been imported in the last five years according to officials from the Environmental Ministry. A French biologist said," They feed and breed like crazy, and they can live dozens of years. The young ones with the biggest appetites are eating up everything from insects to mollusks. More important, they are endangering fish populations because they go after eggs and small fish." Ben Tata, a biologist at France's Ministry of Agriculture pointed out that the introduction of other North American animals has occurred without too much damage in most cases. The muskrat, the mink and the beaver have meshed into Continental ecosystems, although North American gray squirrels pushed the native red European squirrel into extinction. Tata points out that the North American Turtle Invasion may not be the worst that could happen saying, "You cannot eliminate it by banning it and, besides, it would only be replaced by some other variety that could prove much worse." [Seattle Times, September 26, 1993, from Lee W. Roof]

"Mutant Turtle Terror Threatens Riviera Beaches"

Tabloid headlines are fueling a "turtle terror" of carnivorous terrapins which have reported mutated into monsters and even are reported to have attacked humans. The newspaper Nice-Matin reported that a bather at Lac Saint-Cassien near the Riviera coast had been bitten "by one of these strange creatures weighing nine to 11 pounds." The London Guardian said, "The little green terrapins only a few inches long are mutating into carnivorous creatures weighing up to 10 pounds and over one foot long." The turtle under scrutiny is (please do not die laughing here folks) Chrysemys scripta elegans. Young sliders are sold in pet shops to satisfy the demand of French children for "Mutant Ninja Turtles." Imports are reported to be between 300,000 and one million turtles per year. As the pet turtles grow too big, some French are releasing the animals. The media reports have created a fictional "terror." [from Reuter's, The Spectator, September 8, 1993, sent by Brian Bankowski]

Disney shells out for turtle disease

Walt Disney World in Orlando, FL has provided University of Florida researchers with a $750,000 grant to develop a screening test for the devastating upper respiratory disease found in Florida gopher tortoises. Researchers will examine how captive and free-ranging gopher tortoise populations are affected in Florida and examine a similar disease which decimated the Southwestern desert tortoise. Both are cause by a mycoplasma bacteria. [Orlando Sentinel, September 9, 1993, from Bill Burnett] In a related story, the Leesburg, FL Commercial [August 30, 1993] reported that the Florida Game and Fresh Water Fish Commission staff is considering asking for a requirement that developers seeking permits to relocate gopher tortoises test the animals for the respiratory syndrome.

Snake bite update

Drew Yeager received a lot of attention back in August when he was bitten by his pet Forest Cobra. The Western Maryland Herpetological Society newsletter (Volume 3, Issue 9) reports, "He is now at home resting. He does not know the whereabouts of his venomous collection. He instructed Mike Hardesty and Ross Poole to pack up his collection and ship it to Bill Haast in Florida. Mr. Haast never received the animals. According to Drew, Mike Hardesty is keeping the collection as payment for his efforts in saving Drew's life. Drew Yeager will be suing Mike Hardesty for the return of his animals."

Mexican restoration to benefit salamander

When the Spanish first arrived at the Aztec capital which later became Mexico City in 1519, they found it the seat of a highly civilized nation, surviving in an essentially hostile environment by means of specialized agricultural adaptations. One of these was the "Floating Gardens of Xochimilco" which provided much of the food consumed by the city's 200,000 inhabitants. Unfortunately, the increase in Mexico City's population has led to a decline in Xochimilco, since raw sewerage was dumped into the formerly pristine waterways surrounding the raised, floating beds which formerly were so productive. A $2 million plan now seeks to reverse the neglect of the floating gardens. First 2,200 acres were appropriated from peasants uphill from the garden. More than 40,000 yards of runoff collectors were built and the local sewage treatment plant was updated. Another plant was built, providing the city with a tertiary treatment capacity of 568 gallons a second. The Xochimilco area will be restored to support axolotls (called ajolotes in Spanish) as well as other reptiles, fish, and birds which have been pushed to the brink by pollution. Over 20,000 visitors a weekend flock to the area, and Mexican authorities are hopeful that their pesos and dollars will contribute to the continuation of the project. [New York Times, September 14, 1993, found by me!]

Indian poachers threaten species

According to a special feature in India Today, May 31, 1993 sent by Harry Andrews of the Madras Crocodile Bank, "lucrative prices, lax enforcement and a growing international demand have caused an alarming resurgence in poaching, pushing Indian wildlife to the brink." Chinese medical uses are one major cause of wildlife exploitation, but so are tanners, who skin lizards and snakes to make belts and purses for Italian and Greek traders. "Even Star tortoises and falcons are being flown off to meet the new flourishing illegal pet trade in the [Persian] Gulf and the U.S... In February, a consignment of 16 large wooden crates containing over 500 Star tortoises was discovered by accident in the Kutch area of Guajarat. It was to be transshipped by dhows to Dubai and then flow to the U.S. Only last October, customs officials at Amsterdam's Schiphol airport seized a consignment which had come in from Dubai carrying 300 Star tortoises of Indian origin. Traffic India's programme officer reported over 2,000 snake skins confiscated and that it is estimated that 50,000 Star tortoises have been exported in the last five years. Frog legs, turtle meat and live birds are being smuggled out as well.

Wanted: Alligator Snappers

The Missouri Department of Conservation (MDC) scheduled a search for Alligator Snappers in the state because little was known about the animal's number, size, distribution or habitat in southeastern counties of the state. It has been listed as rare in Missouri since 1974. Results are expected in December 1993. [Conservation Federation of Missouri Newsletter, May 1993 from Ann Hirschfeld]

Wal-Mart hopping to please neighbors

Westford, Massachusetts is the next site for a Wal-Mart, as the giant retailer moves into New England. Westford is also the home of pools of wood frogs, and 4,000 town residents signed petitions opposing Wal-Mart's planned construction next to the frog pond. Construction is expected to begin next year if Wal-Mart gets the necessary permits. Opponents hope to persuade the town Planning Board to reject the project, even though Wal-Mart changed its original plans and now proposes a buffer zone of trees and maintain a normal level of drainage into the pool. The developer also offered to station a biologist at the site to monitor migrating frogs during the breeding season. [Albuquerque Journal, September 7, 1993, from James N. Stuart]

Poachers zapped in Florida

Three suspects were arrested in Dayton Beach in connection with a poaching operation that tried to sell sea turtle eggs, gopher tortoises, and alligators. Two suspects were arrested last month on Merrit Island National Wildlife Refuge while carrying 200 loggerhead turtle eggs, eight dead gopher tortoises, and nine dead alligators in their van. The ringleader faces 18 counts of violating wildlife laws, including nine counts of possessing American alligators; one count of destruction of a threatened sea turtle nest; and eight counts of killing gopher tortoises. He is being held in the county jail with a $54,000 bond. He faces up to 50 years in prison and more than $50,000 in fines according to an Assistant State's Attorney. [Orlando, FL Sentinel, September 3, 1993 from Bill Burnett]

Adopt a reptile

The Centre for Endangered Reptiles which used to be in Picton, Canada has moved to 347 rue Bourget, Granby, Quebec Canada. David Galbraith, Executive Director and Curator urges CHS member to help conserve endangered reptiles and amphibians by supporting their conservation programme. Please contact the Centre for more information.

OHS alive again?

The latest reincarnation of the Oregon Herpetological Society can be found at P.O. Box 1518, Eugene, OR 97440-1518. Oregonians interested in sending articles, ads, anecdotes, and etc. for their newsletter are urged to contact Rick and Siri Forsman Simms.

Thanks to everyone who contributed this month!

In addition, some members sent materials previously used: Mike Dloogatch, Larry Valentine, Kathy Bricker, Bill Burnett, and P.L. Beltz. You can contribute to HerPET-Pourri, too! Send clippings with name of publication, date slug, and your name firmly attached (tape preferred) to me.

December 1993

Guess who came for breakfast?

When Mary Wilding of Griffith, IN went into her kitchen at 6:30 a.m. recently, she found a python (ball from the photo) curled up on top of her daughter's guinea pig cage. The guinea pig was "cowering in the corner of the cage," according to Wilding. She picked up the snake (reported to be either a boa or a python in the article) and let it curl around her arm while she tried to figure out who to call. Building management finally took the animal away in a box until animal control could be summoned. Wilding expressed hope that the snake would be reunited with its real owners "so it can get a real meal," she said. [The Tri-Town Times, September 30, 1993 from Gail Swanson] I wish more snake finders were as cool as Ms. Wilding!

Scaly dilemma

An Associated Press report reprinted by The Times-Picayune reports that a peasant in Brazzaville, Congo found 50 snake eggs which he took home. Shortly thereafter he came home to find 50 infant pythons crawling around his house. He's been trying to sell the animals for three weeks - to a zoo, to a ministry, to wallet makers - without success. He says he may have to let the snakes go if he can't find anybody to buy them. [November 4, 1993, from Ernie Liner] American python owners please note that in Africa you can't even get rid of small ones!

The Prez's new shoes

A "friend of Bill's" recently ordered a pair of python-skin boots from master cobbler Dave Gardner of Pearl, MS. Although Gardner's cowhide boots cost about $375, he's not saying how much he'll get for the exotic pair for Mr. Clinton. [Dallas Morning News, November 6, 1993, from Bob Sears]

Lost and found department

A 10- to 12-foot long Burmese python was found in a backyard in Clermont, FL by Sharon Dent who had stepped outside to move the sprinker. She summoned her 19-year old son who said, "It scared the hell out of me. I don't like snakes." Lake County Animal Control officials said that this is the second time this year they have been summoned to remove large exotic snakes. A local pet shop owner said that owners sometimes let big snakes loose when they get tired of them or can no longer take care of them and added that a large python can eat a rabbit or a chicken once a week. [Leesburg, FL Daily Commercial, September 28, 1993 from Bill Burnett]

Sickos attack pet shop

Vandals broke into the TLC Pet Shop and Aquariums in Rochester, NH and slaughtered about 3,000 fish, numerous rabbits, rats, snakes, turtles, and iguanas. The owner said, "What kills me is that they stole nothing, they just destroyed. This is pretty sick stuff." He said that he found the carnage when he opened the door Thursday morning. Four inches of water covered the store's six rooms filled with hundreds of fish dead or dying in it. He found other animals with broken backs; some had up to 20 stab wounds. Two Burmese pythons were stabbed with a screwdriver. The vandals smashed between 30 and 40 fish tanks and poured chemicals into the other tanks. Police say they have leads and evidence. The owner and his family planned to work through the weekend cleaning up and other pet store owners and suppliers have offered help to get his business going again. [The Times-Picayune, October 2, 1993, from Ernie Liner]

Interesting observation

J.D. Gillett of Bourne End, Buckinghamshire, England wrote a letter to the editor of New Scientist [October 30, 1993, from MAD] which told of his own experiences with pythons. "I well remember, when isolated on [an island] in Lake Victoria for over a year, some of the [locals] coming to tell me that my cat was being eaten by a python. We rushed to the scene ... [to find] only the hind paws and tip of its tail were showing. Together we `beat up' the huge snake whereupon it regurgitated the cat... What seemed of great interest to me was that my cat - except for the tips of its hind extremities - was encapsulated in a sort of gel...The cat survived. As my cook ... pointed out when I was laboriously and anxiously cleaning the gelatinous muck off the unfortunate cat, `Usifikiri, paka ana roho saba' - which may be translated as `Dinna fash yoursel', a cat has seven hearts.' It's perhaps not surprising that in the tropics a cat has two less than we in the west are accustomed to think... I would be most grateful if anyone will let me know whether this encapsulation before swallowing is a usual procedure. [Write to: Letters to the Editor, New Scientist, King's Reach Tower, Stamford Street, London SE1 9LS, United Kingdom or fax to 071 261 6464.]

Geckos in Vegas

Researcher Mary B. Saethre of the University of California at Los Angeles, reports finding a breeding population of 12 adults in a trailer park in Las Vegas, NV. This is the first known locality in Nevada and extends the known range of this species about 370 kilometers (1.6 km/1 mi) from Phoenix-Tempe in Arizona. She writes, "Establishment of the species in Las Vegas is not surprising; it appears to be dispersed via travelers and Las Vegas has a high volume of traffic moving through the area. These lizards were found in a long-standing trailer park, and the population is likely to have been in this area for a number of years." [Herpetological Review 24(4), 1993, from Bob Hansen]

How many mistakes can you find?

The Weekly World News of November 9, 1993 (contributor appreciated, but will not be acknowledged since you wouldn't want anybody to know you read these things!) reports "Inch-long frog ready for the big time - as a singer! Animal crazy Helmut Rickendel has dozens of pets, but his favorite is Renate - a singing tree frog barely an inch long! Helmut found the pip-squeak critter in his backyard in Burstadt, Germany, brought it in and quickly discovered that the little gal loved to croak along with the music on his radio. `She turned out to be so musical that within a month or two I'd taught her to sing four or five songs all by herself,' the German adman told reporters. `And when she learns a couple more, I'm going to see if I can get her a recording contract.' His bug-eyed buddy's favorite tune: Froggie Went A-Courtin', of course.

Some people will sell anything

Real Goods most recent catalog has a gift suggestion for all your gardening friends: "Biodegradable Poo Pets provide sustained delivery of nature's finest fertilizer for your plants... Baked like the dung bricks of antiquity, these germ free cow manure figurines are made by a unique process which sanitizes and removes odors. Hand-molded by Amish craftspeople these animal figures offer an easy way to have a green thumb... Each enriched sculpture will last two years out-of-doors and much longer indoors. Stool toad $12.00" I guess this would be a good idea for anyone on your shit list.

Dave Barry on Frogs

Alert reader Kathy Bricker sent in a Dave Barry column from the Washington-Post Magazine, November 7, 1993 wherein the renowned humorist tells two frog tales: 1.) From an article in the September 2 Times of India... "`Villagers of Khajuria in Ganjam district worshiped a frog on Monday to please the rain god Indra, as the dry spell continued to delay cultivation.' The article further states that `a big live frog tied with a bamboo stick was carried by villagers who roamed in and around the village chanting couplets in honor of the wife of Lord Indra.' The article does not give the exact wording of the couplets... The article also doesn't state whether this effort resulted in rain, but I'm sure it did. If you're a rain god, and you have people waving a frog around and chanting about your wife, you're definitely going to dump something on them." 2.) "Speaking of frogs, many alert readers sent in an Associated Press report concerning an incident in Manchester, NH... a woman ... opened a bag of pretzels and pulled out a pretzel with a one-inch frog baked onto it. The AP sent out a photograph showing the actual pretzel, and, sure enough, there's a frog sort of welded onto it, looking crouched and ready to hop away, except of course that frogs become very poor hoppers after being subjected to the pretzel-baking process... It's entirely possible that marketing experts at the pretzel company were simply enhancing their product line (`Now With Frogs!'). But apparently that was not the case with these pretzels, so the woman took them back to the food store, which gave her a handsome baked prince. No, seriously, the store gave her a refund..."

Maybe Chinese would like baked frogs

A report in the Shanghai Star [October 22, 1993 from P.L. Beltz] reports that a 1.5 million yuan ($263,000) bullfrog farm has been established in Jiangsu Province. It is the largest frog plant in East China and is expected to increase China's frogmeat exports and supply frogs for the domestic market where demand outstrips supply. Ernie Liner sent in an article from The Times-Picayune [November 10, 1993] which points out that Chinese people use many kinds of animals as food and medicine. The article says that turtle shell is used to treat fever and that snake blood is good for backaches. A single restaurant in Canton served 183 monkeys, 112 hawks and 8.73 tons of pangolins, boas, pythons and giant lizards in a six-month period. Inspectors who visited 136 hotels and restaurants in Canton found that nearly half served endangered wild animals. In September, the United Nations agency which regulates trade in wildlife recommended sanctions against China for its failure to end the smuggling of rhinoceros horn.

Alarming results from Lake Apopka

A study of alligators in Florida's Lake Apopka has shown that pesticides may cause reproductive problems and be the root cause of the noted population decline there. Louis Guillette of the University of Florida (UF) said that current pesticide testing only shows whether the substances cause cancer or death. He found that pesticides can act as synthetic sex hormones which are the same in animals and humans. He said, "Now there is a major question that is broader than cancer. We need to be more concerned about reproduction, the immune system, metabolism - the effects of these contaminants on the growth and viability of animals and humans." Guillette found that the alligator population in Lake Apopka which was once as plentiful as those in other Floridian locations declined rapidly since 1980 when a spill of the pesticide Kethane reached the lake from the Tower Chemical Company. Research showed that ingredients in the pesticide which include DDT and its derivative DDE can act like synthetic estrogens. This causes hormonal imbalances that result in reproductive problems in gators and turtles according to UF zoologist Tim Gross who said, "We're seeing demasculinization of male alligators and turtles in the wild populations on Lake Apopka, and our data strongly suggest that ... DDT and DDE could be causing these reproductive abnormalities." [The Sentinel, Orlando, FL, October 22, 1993 from Bill Burnett]

Good Housekeeping suggests...

A well-known national ladies magazine made some suggestions for residents of and visitors to Florida about the most exciting mega-fauna in that state: "Never feed them... Keep your distance... When cleaning fish, don't discard parts in the water... Don't use your hands or feet to fish golf balls out of the water... Don't swim in waters that might contain alligators (especially at dusk, when gators feed). [October, 1993, Bill Burnett's mom]

Gators killed after old lady eaten

All the newspaper accounts agree that a 70-year-old woman was killed in Wildwood, FL by alligators, but they disagree on how she came to be in the water at all. Contributor Bill Burnett wrote: "Mom reports lots of local rumors as to how the lady got into the water... (fainted, suicide, etc.) No one is even hinting that the gators came up on the land, grabbed her, and pulled her into the lake. We will never know the answer." According to a Orlando Sentinel story [October 6, 1993], the retired typist may have passed out or tipped and then fallen into the lake. No one saw the woman go into the water. One of her white sandals was found on the shore near an area that wildlife officials found was churned up. The autopsy showed the was killed when an alligator bit her head, breaking her neck and jaw. The gators also tore off her arms. Authorities have killed six alligators in a rather grisly search for the woman's arms. Two residents had been having breakfast when they noticed gators splashing at 7:40 a.m. Beverly and Jack Horrocks first speculated the animals were mating, then changed their minds after Beverly used her binoculars to see that what they had thought was a pillow was really a body. They called security who called the sheriff's department. The son of the woman was out looking for her and had enlisted the help of other neighbors. They soon found a shaken Jack Horrocks who said, "I can't believe what I just saw." The son is concealing the nature of his mother's death from his father who believes that his wife of 37 years merely drowned. They had moved to Florida from New Jersey about seven years ago. [Also October 5 and 7 as well as articles in the Leesburg, FL Daily Commercial, October 5 and 6, 1993 and USA Today, October 5, 1993]

Not accidental tourists

Two Palm Beach County, FL residents were hospitalized after their car struck a 10-foot alligator and became airborne for 94 feet on old State Road 80 according to the Florida Highway Patrol. The gator was killed on impact and was estimated to weigh 250 to 300 pounds. The injured driver told a hospital nurse that he walked about a half a mile to get help. It was unclear whether he swam across the canal where the gator is believed to have come from. An emergency helicopter then transported the couple to a hospital in West Palm Beach. The passenger was listed as critical. [Sun-Sentinel, Palm Beach edition, October 8, 1993] Contributor Jerry Dotson writes: "Poor gator!"

Local news

  • CHS member, cartoonist, and wildlife biologist Robert Sliwinski was recently featured on the front page of the Chicago Tribune (November 9, 1993). It wasn't because he draws such cute stuff to go with NEWTLINE but because he is the animal damage control officer at O'Hare International Airport. Writer Gary Washburn wrote: "To airport staffers, the soft-spoken 27-year-old is known as The Birdman, though Sliwinski also concerns himself with deer, coyotes, and other four-legged interlopers that make their way onto the sprawling 8,000-acre complex."
  • The Chicago Tribune also reported on some other local reptile fanciers: "Conservation officers also inspect pet shops and the occasional reptile swap. Essentially a flea market for live animals the reptile swap, held monthly in northwest suburban Streamwood, has sometimes attracted unlawful peddlers of things green and scaly. Recently.. conservation officers helped federal agents arrest several lizard merchants. Among the reptiles confiscated by U.S. Fish and Wildlife agents were Galapagos turtles crammed into tight wooden crates, and blue racer snakes." [November 9, 1993 contributed by an extremely sharp-eyed Claus Sutor]

Thanks to everyone who contributed clippings this month!

And also thanks to people who sent copies of things I'd already used including Mark Witwer, Mike Zelenski, Jack Schoenfelder, Cindy Sprigg, Ann Hirschfeld, Jerry Dotson, Mr. Laverne Copeland, and James Stuart. You can become a contributor, too. Just send clippings with your name and the date slug firmly attached with tape to me. Long-term readers will recall that this month marks the seventh anniversary of this column, since it started in December, 1986. I must admit, of course, there were a few months hiatus.

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