It's turtles, all the way down...
Government agencies want to preserve 1.3 million acres of public lands in Nevada to ensure the survival of the desert tortoise (Gopherus agassizii). However, ranchers, miners, developers, and desert recreationists fear their uses of the "empty" lands will be prohibited. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) held hearing in October in Las Vegas hoping an accommodation can be reached. Other species will be protected, too, including the California bear poppy, the gila monster, the Southwest willow flycatcher, and the Blue Diamond cholla. Presently local developers pay $500 an acre to fund research, collection, and adoption of desert tortoises. [Las Vegas Sun, October 10, 1993, from Bob Pierson] The October 13 issue of the same paper said that more than 30 critics showed up to speak against the proposal to protect land for the use of species other than Homo sapiens.
Environmentalists and real estate developers in Melbourne Beach, FL are at loggerheads over recent building on the beach within a few hundred feet of the ocean. Government officials and environmental activists are trying to protect a stretch of beach used as a nesting site by up to 15,000 sea turtles every year. In 1990, the U.S. Congress approved the Archie Carr National Wildlife Refuge which is supposed to include about 860 acres in four separate areas on the barrier island in Southern Brevard and northern Indian River counties. So far, however, less than half that much land has been purchased with the $63 million raised by county, state, and federal sources as well as private foundations. Congress contributed $5.5 million. Builders are pushing to get at the other land slated for protection. More than 30 projects are up for review by Brevard County and the Disney Company intends building a time share resort next to the proposed southern boundary of the Refuge. More development means more roads, more lights, more people driving and playing on the beaches. One researcher said, "If the Carr Refuge lands are not acquired nearly in their entirety, there probably won't be any green turtles here by the year 2000." [Chicago Tribune, October 9, 1993, from P.L. Beltz and Claus Sutor]
Two young eastern painted turtles were found east of the town of Como, N.C. (six miles south of the Virginia state line) covered in asphalt-covered fiberglass strings being used by highway workers to stop erosion along a small cypress swamp. They were rescued and cleaned off by two Richmond-area women and will apparently survive. Their experience prompted an article in the Richmond Times Dispatch [September 13, 1993, from Kathy Bricker] that discussed all forms of habitat loss and encroachment. CHS member and conservation biologist at the University of Richmond, Joseph Mitchell, was quoted, "Every time we cut down a tree that we didn't plant, every time we put in a new road or house, we modify the landscape so that what was living there originally can no longer live there, or we modify the life of that organism."
The EarthFirst! Journal features a story titled "Mexican Sea Turtles in Trouble" by Mark Heitchue [September 22, 1993, from Alan Willard]. Heitchue states that four "problems have been identified by Mexican biologists and conservationists... Mexico keeps promising to put turtle excluder devices (TEDs) on all Mexican shrimp trawlers... The unpunished rape and torture of two women sea turtle biologists by known turtle poachers is not only unforgivable, but has also created a climate of fear and intimidation for biologists doing front line work. The sale of two important nesting beaches despite promises to recognize these areas as protected turtle preserves. The continued poaching and open sale of sea turtle products throughout the country... It took a grassroots activist movement to close the notorious sea turtle slaughterhouse in Mexico where 75,000 turtles were being killed every year... a coalition of grassroots activists... helped force Japan to stop importation of endangered Hawksbill sea turtles for jewelry." They suggest several actions which are rather radical and will not be repeated here, but I will include their call for volunteers. You can contact them at P.O. Box 1415, Eugene, OR 97440.
From other materials I have received, it appears that the four charges above are being circulated widely and did indeed come from the research community involved. Also, Carole Allen of H.E.A.R.T. (Help Endangered Animals - Ridley Turtles) wrote saying that they were unable to obtain hatchlings this year. Call it a bureaucratic snafu, or an attempt to end the H.E.A.R.T. program depending on your point of view. TEDs aren't even being enforced well in the U.S. yet, as a letter sent by the Center for Marine Conservation to the Director of the Office of Protected Resources, National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) brings forward. Dated October 20, 1993 it reads in part: "[we are] pleased to support NMFS interim final rules published on September 20, 1993 requiring the use of turtle excluder devices (TEDs) in the summer flounder fishery from the southern border of North Carolina to Cape Charles, Virginia to protect sea turtles... the National Academy of Sciences 1990 report documented that the incidental capture of sea turtles in non-shrimp fisheries, including the summer flounder bottom trawl fishery, is the second largest source of human induced moralities [sic] of sea turtles (the first being the shrimp trawls)... We also urge the NMFS to require and place adequate numbers of observers to obtain an accurate picture of both the interactions between the ... trawlers and ... [the] sea turtles, the functioning of newly certified TEDs in this fishery. We are concerned that many such observer programs in the past have been only poorly staffed, resulting in scattered data inadequate for estimating the true magnitude of such interactions."
Another point of view from Baton Rouge on the turtle/trawler problem [The Courier, Terrebonne Parish, LA October 5, 1993, from Ernie Liner]: "If the politicians would wake up, they would recognized [sic] they are to blame for dwindling shrimp and crab populations, a commercial fisherman said." It seems that the Louisiana Legislature outlawed the commercial catch of redfish to please sport fishermen and now the redfish are reproducing so fast that they are eating all the shrimp. The article said: "State biologists have said that Louisiana has 68 million pounds of reds and they eat 1.5 percent of their bodyweight each day... and they just love shrimp and crabs... [Bert Jones, Chairman of the Wildlife and Fisheries Commission said] `We just want to make shrimping better for shrimpers." Shrimpers claim the commission is insensitive to their needs.
Two new turtle escape hatches for fishing nets, the Jones TED and the Flounder TED, have been approved by the NMFS. Both resulted from cooperation between members of the fish and flounder industries and the fisheries service. The vice president of the 551-member South Alabama Seafood Association said he was not aware of the new designs and added that TEDs have caused many shrimpers to go out of business. "We've lost millions and millions of dollars putting up with this stuff. I've lost thousands myself. I hope the good Lord sees fit to give us something this time that will actually work and not put more of us out of business." [Houma, LA Times-Picayune, November 6, 1993 from Ernie Liner]
Observers on Florida fishing boats were used to see if net restrictions could help endangered sea turtles without completely abolishing night fishing off that state's east coast, according to Governor Lawton Chiles. He said, "If there are additional strandings, we will go farther than that." [Orlando Sentinel and Leesburg, FL Daily Commercial, October 13, 1993 from Bill Burnett]
An ancient tortoise fossil was displayed for the first time since it was found 15 years ago at the third annual Fossil Fair in Orlando, FL. The fossilized shell which appears to be the size of a coffee table was found on an underwater ledge in Little Salt Spring in 1975. Its discovery was reported in National Geographic and Science magazines, but as Russell McCarty, a paleontologist reported, "The pieces had been sitting in boxes in a trailer in Little Salt Spring for a decade and a half." McCarty assembled the 200 plus pieces in slightly over two years. A sharpened wood stake found between the turtle's
carapace and plastron is considered evidence that a human hunter killed the animal when the ledge was at the ground level. Carbon dating of the stake gives an age of 12,030 years ago. Charring on the tortoise's shell shows that it was turned upside down and cooked on the spot. The species of turtle is given as Geochelone crassiscutata and the dimensions are three feet long and three feet wide, although the animal was killed before it was full grown. [Orlando, FL Sentinel, November 19, 1993 from Bill Burnett]
The Marine Mammal Stranding Center published their stranding list for the three month period of June to September. In previous issues, I have occasionally summarized their findings, but the list this time was so appalling, I am including each animal listed and excerpting from the stranding record. The abbreviation "UC" is for "unknown causes."
- Loggerhead female, UC, 66 pounds;
- Loggerhead female, propeller cut behind head, 125 pounds;
- Loggerhead, female, UC, decomposed;
- Loggerhead female, UC, digestive tract loaded with spider crabs, 101 pounds;
- Kemp's Ridley male, liver severed by propeller, 12.9 inches;
- Loggerhead female, captured alive and released;
- Loggerhead, UC, 24 inches;
- Loggerhead, prop cut along 25 inch length of top shell;
- Kemp's Ridley, released after found in water intake system of Salem
Nuclear Plant, 8.9 inches, 4.5 pounds;
- Loggerhead female, prop cut on head, 26 inches;
- Leatherback, UC, 700 pounds;
- Leatherback male, UC, 700 pounds;
- Loggerhead male, UC, 40 inches;
- Kemp's Ridley, prop cut on head and neck, plastic in gut, 9.2 inches,
- Loggerhead female, UC, 35 inches;
- Loggerhead male, UC, 37 inches;
- Loggerhead male, UC but rope was tied around one front flipper, 41
- Leatherback, UC, head and flippers missing, 53 inches;
- Leatherback female, 3 prop cuts on carapace, 400 pounds;
- Kemp's Ridley, UC, 12 inches;
- Leatherback male, prop cuts on carapace, 5 feet, approximately 700
- Loggerhead, UC;
- Leatherback, UC, 54 inches;
- Leatherback female, UC, cuts on both front flippers, 52 inches;
- Leatherback female, UC, 75 inches, 800 pounds;
- Leatherback entangled in netting, released, 5 feet, approximately 600
- Leatherback male, UC, large crack in top shell, braided
dacron line wrapped around neck and right front flipper, 80.5 inches;
- Leatherback, UC, 5 feet;
- Leatherback female, UC, 60.5 inches, about 700 pounds;
- Leatherback female, propcuts on carapace caused death, 60 inches, 500
- Leatherback, entangled in gill net buoy line 2 miles off shore cut
loose and released by U.S. Coast Guard, 5 feet, 600 pounds.
Folks, this list is from the area of New Jersey right around Atlantic City. If this is the case for approximately 50 miles of coastline, how many turtles are dying on the rest of the Eastern Seaboard? Is anybody collecting data on this? You can help the inappropriately named, but highly active Marine Mammal Stranding Center. Send checks to MMSC, P.O. Box 773, Brigantine, NJ 08203. Be sure to ask for their mail order list, the shirts, toys, magnets, mugs, etc. are very reasonably priced and proceeds benefit the center.
The Arkansas Department of Fish and Game has issued an Emergency Proclamation prohibiting capture and possession of alligator snapping turtles (Macroclemys temmincki) in that state. The action was prompted by evidence of their decline as well as a large scale commercial trade in the export of turtle meat. For information contact: Steve Wilson, Director, Arkansas Fish and Game 800-364-4263. [Herpetological Review 24(4), 1993, p. 125 from Kurt A. Buhlmann's Legislation and Conservation Alert column]
Holmes County, OH game officers had to reduce a population of snapping turtles in a local pond. The snappers had eaten a bunch of spring ducklings in a private wildlife refuge and an ornamental fish farm was also threatened by the voracious reptiles. Twelve snappers were captured, the largest was 18 pounds. The animals were relocated to more appropriate habitats where they may grow to 80 pounds someday. [The Wooster, OH Daily Record, September 25, 1993 from Steve Frantz]
Michael Klemens, Director of the Turtle Recovery Program [TRP] at the American Museum of Natural History sent their annual report: "The Turtle Recovery Program marked its fourth year of operation by organizing a "turtle summit," gathering scientists and policy makers from around the world to critically asses past efforts and chart a new course for turtle conservation. New field investigations began in Burma, Madagascar, and Tanzania. In the United States, we increased our efforts to integrate turtle conservation into land management and public policy issues. In September, an agreement was concluded that protected 45,000 acres of desert grassland in Mexico. This single action has ensured the survival of the endangered Bolson tortoise by protecting one of North America's last remaining tracts of pristine Chihuahuan grassland. Despite these successes, we are facing new challenges in our efforts to steward the world's turtles safely into the twenty-first century. Habitat loss, degradation, and fragmentation still remain the major threats facing tortoises and freshwater turtles. However, recent evidence indicates that large-scale commercial exploitation for food, medicine and the live animal trade is beginning to surpass habitat loss as the primary threat to an increasing number of turtle species! The TRP, in partnership with six other conservation groups, has established a task force to examine the scope and magnitude of this problem. The task force will develop educational and policy materials concerning trade issues that are to be targeted at all levels- from elementary schools to government decision makers.
All our activities are made possible by the generosity of our donors. We gratefully acknowledge your past support and ask you to renew, and if possible increase, your contribution to sustain our mission in the forthcoming year."
Regular readers know that I often suggest that we contribute to the TRP, and so I was a little shocked to read their annual report of individual donors and find so few names I recognize from CHS on the list. In fact, we were so few, that the list includes: Walter Allen, Ellin Beltz, Fred Caporaso, Philip and Diane Drajeske, Karen Furnweger, Richard Glasser, Cynthia and Paul Johnson, David Lee, Edward Moll, Barry Paterno, and Frank Slavens. Since these few wonderful people represent only 17 percent of the total individual donators this means that either CHS is not reaching a lot of turtle people or that a lot of well-known CHS turtle people are not contributing. In either case, we've work to do.
The TRP is an international project, supported by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature. The project spans political boundaries and has the respect of researchers and governments worldwide. I know Michael. He gives his heart and soul to this project - constantly off in some other country - trying to find solutions that can come from within the community of the native peoples, rather than impose restrictions from without. Project locations range from Madagascar to Mexico, from New England to Namibia, from Viet Nam to Venezuela. Everywhere on earth, including the U.S., turtles are vulnerable to habitat destruction and their inability to respond quickly to environmental disruptions. The TRP works with zoos on Species Survival Plans for turtle and tortoise species and has received donations from prestigious institutions and individuals worldwide (including Robert F. Kennedy, Jr.). This project is IMPORTANT for turtle conservation and I would hope that even if you can only spare $5.00 or $10.00 that you would address the check to "AMNH-IUCN-TURTLE" and mail it to Dr. Michael W. Klemmens, Director, Turtle Recovery Program, American Museum of Natural History, Central Park West at 79th Street, New York, NY 10024-5192. Contributions are tax deductible to the extent permitted by the current IRS rules and US law.
Thanks to everyone who contributed to the turtle spectacular this month and to Paul Gritas, Mike Zelemski, and Allen Salzberg who sent in clippings on turtles that I didn't use. A personal note, P.L. Beltz who has been a regular and voluminous contributor to this column will undergo surgery for cancer at about the time that the January Bulletin will be in your hands. Let's hope he's around for many more issues! You can contribute, too. Send clippings with date/publication slug and your name and address firmly attached with tape (not staples) to me. Contributors who photocopy articles with date and publication as well as their names all on one page are deserving of special praise!!!
End of his Age of Aquariums
After four decades of service as Director of Chicago's Shedd Aquarium, William P. Braker retired on December 31, 1993. According to an article titled "Days of Brine and Hoses..." in the WaterShedd newsletter [December, 1993 from Karen Furnweger], Braker first began his career at the aquarium as a "tank man," left to serve in the Korean War, returned after graduate school, and became the institution's second director in 1964. The Shedd maintains thousands of fish, marine mammals, sea turtles, and a few amphibians in its collections which are visited by millions of Chicagoans and visitors every year. In keeping with his paperweight motto ("I said maybe, and that's final!"), Braker will continue to serve on the Shedd's Board of Trustees.
Egregious or necessary?
U.S. Vice President Al Gore's committee on reinventing government suggested that the Department of the Interior should eliminate a $100,000 budget item "to train beagles in Hawaii to sniff out brown tree snakes." [Washington Post National Weekly Edition, September 27- October 3, 1993 from Gary R. Durkovitz] Herpetologists are aware that brown tree snakes are a "super tramp" species which have consumed much bird fauna on the island of Guam after being accidentally introduced there. Brown tree snakes have shown up in Texas in a serviceman's luggage, and are greatly feared on the Hawaiian islands with their unique and endemic avian fauna.
Are we what we keep?
Two recent articles suggest particular behaviors as representative of certain subgroups of reptile keepers. The first, titled "Pets an upscale reflection of owners" [Albuquerque Journal, October 28, 1993 from James N. Stuart] describes a psychological study done by Aline and Robert Kidd of over 200 pet owners. According to that study, "Turtle/tortoise owners [are] hard-working, reliable and upwardly mobile" but "snake owners [are] rulebreakers who want to be different and don't like routine jobs." Ms. Kidd reportedly said that "she had the best time with rule-breaking snake owners, who often traded in illegal snakes... `I'd get a call saying, "Leave the packet for Joe at Baskin Robbins."'"
The second article [Richmond, VA Times-Dispatch, October 3, 1993 from Laverne A. Copeland] refers to an interview with Dr. Alan Savitzky, an herpetologist at Old Dominion University, in which he compares gun owners and snake owners. Rex Springston wrote that "there is a small subculture within each group that likes to collect the most dangerous snakes or guns they can find." Savitzky opposes keeping venomous snakes at home, but said, "many snakes make ideal pets."
Make my day, complain Including summaries of articles such as the foregoing often raises comments about "why do you include this #*!# stuff?" First of all, it's nice to know you're reading the column. Second of all, I like to use just about everything sent in by members. Why should I have all the laughs alone? Also, I like to read things with which I do not agree, it keeps the old blood pressure high, and all the arteries clear. Besides, I feel it's important to know what ignorant myths are being propagated in press. I do quite a few programs for schools and so on during which I have a segment about reptile myths. I've heard quite a few new snake myths, urban legends, etc. from audience members at these things, too. Most recently, I spent a week on the island of St. Lucia in the Eastern Caribbean where some believe that geckos, which are called "mabouya," stick themselves to people like glue and drive them mad. Personally, I'd rather have a room full of geckos than a room full of blood-sucking mosquitos which probably would drive me mad, but there's no pleasing some people. So, keep the comments, cards and letters coming - good, bad, or indifferent - I read them all.
Salamanders in the news
The U.S. Department of the Interior and International Paper have struck a deal under which the latter will set aside 4,500 acres of habitat for the red hills salamander (Phaeognathus hubrichti) in exchange for the department's permission to move ahead with timbering around the new preserve. Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt said, "It may turn out to be a harbinger of many things to come," and added he hopes to avoid the environmental and economic "train wreck" which occurred in the Northwest when the spotted owl issue derailed logging industry resource utilization. [The Houma, LA Courier, November 21, 1993 from Ernie Liner]
Climbers of Half Dome, an apparently impregnable fortress of granitic rock at the Yosemite National Park, may be unknowingly killing off a small salamander (Hydromantes platycephalus) which is one of the rock's few native inhabitants. A formal study is needed and work will be done this year during the first ever monitoring of the salamanders on Half Dome. The Park Service is already trying to save other endangered amphibians including Rana boylii and Bufo canorous and has no plan to end the popular cable trek up Half Dome. The climbers who endanger the salamander may not even know they're doing anything wrong. The problem occurs when hikers use loose rocks to create wind shields for themselves thus depriving the salamanders of their own protection. The Park Service has plenty of other problems at Yosemite, not the least the thousands of tourists who descend on the park in season. [The Sacramento, CA Bee, May 24, 1993 from Bruce Hannem] Does anyone know the results of this study?
A clipping from the Lucknow, India Pioneer [September 18, 1992 from Harry Andrews] reports good news and bad news for the endangered gharial (Gaviakis gangeticus). Seventeen years ago, only about 60 gharials were swimming in the major rivers of Uttar Pradesh state. Now, largely because of efforts of the Ghariyal Rehabilitation project which was begun by the UP Forest Department, there are over 3,000 gharials and magars (Crocodilus palustris) in their rivers. The rehab project has been so successful that official plan to wrap it up in the next few years. Mr. R.S. Bhadouria, the chief Conservator of Forests (Wildlife) said, "This kind of rearing project cannot continue for an indefinite period. We have been successful in achieving our primary objective of saving the reptile from becoming extinct... Since the past two years, the central Government has stopped giving grants for this project. As of now, it is subsisting on the aid being given by the state government. But it is increasingly being felt that this money should now be diverted towards protecting other endangered species." The project began with the collection of 38 gharial eggs in 1975. Two centers were established and achieved an incubation success rate of 85 percent. Out of a total of 9,116 eggs collected and incubated, 7.835 eggs have been hatched. The reptiles were returned to the wild when they had grown to 1.5 meters at the rehab center. From 1979 until 1991, the centers released 2,849 gharials and 66 magars. The decline in gharials and magars is blamed on human pressure on their habitat and indiscriminate hunting for the skin trade. Contributor Harry Andrews is with the Madras Crocodile Bank, a center which raises several species of Indian crocodiles for release in the wild.
Three men were arrested by a Brevard County deputy sheriff and charged with alligator poaching following a chase across two lakes west of Cocoa, Florida. The deputy said he spotted the three trying to load a wounded alligator into an airboat on Lake Winder at about six in the morning. They then dropped the gator and sped away in their airboat with the deputy in hot pursuit in his airboat. [Orlando, FL Sentinel, October 3, 1993 from Bill Burnett]
The Shanghai Star [December 10, 1993 from P.L. Beltz] reports that the Shanghai Eastern Crocodile Boutique is trying to teach their customers the difference between their shoes and "fake" crocodile shoes. The shoes (real and fake) are not made from crocodiles but are named after the reptile apparently to appeal to Chinese consumers' sense of quality. Visitors to Hong Kong can shop at the authorized Crocodile dealership in the Crown Colony (at least until the lease is up).
According to Don Ashley, a consultant to the U.S. Alligator Farmers Association, "If people in America want to protect the alligator, the best thing they can do is buy an alligator handbag." Apparently the price of alligator skins is in free fall due to the current Japanese recession. About one third of all the farms in Louisiana and Florida may go under in the near future. Ashley said, "giving the gator a value gives their habitat a value. It gives society another good reason not to dam and dike and drain the swamps. Look, Florida has lost half its wetlands. Half. And it's not going to save the rest unless there's a good reason." Ginte Hemley, director of a wildlife trade monitoring program at the World Wildlife Fund in Washington, D.C. agrees: "There's little question in our minds that controlled hunting and ranching has helped provide incentives to protect both the species and habitat." During the late 1980s, alligator ranching was a booming business with skins bringing $60 per foot from the wild and $180 per foot for ranch- produced. Many farms were started, but by late 1990, the bottom had dropped out of the market. Now, wild skins fetch $20 per foot and farm-raised bring $75 per foot. [The New Orleans, LA Times-Picayune, October 10, 1993 from Ernie Liner]
Australian crocodiles were a traditional food source for an isolated 600 member community of Pormpuraaw aborigines in Trinity Inlet. In 1973, they began a research program to conserve the crocs; three years later they began selling the skins. Vic Onion, project manager of the Edward River Crocodile Farm said, "Like most isolated aboriginal communities, Edward River had 100 percent unemployment. Now they have jobs and a future." With 12,000 crocodiles, the farm is the largest of those in Australia and is now housed in two locations, one just south of Cairns, Queensland. Trinity Inlet is a tourist attraction and has daily tours led by aborigines as well as a small shop which retails locally produced crocodile souvenirs. Cairns restaurants also serve crocodile meat. The farm exported $340,000 worth of skins in the June 1991 - June 1992 year. [Chicago Tribune, September 13, 1993 from M.A. Dloogatch]
The third annual Gator Cookoff at Alligator Island in Fannet, Port Arthur, TX was held on Labor Day. Recipes included specialties from volumes one and two of Lynn Hoffpauir's "Alligator Island Swamp Kitchen Cookbook" including gator balls, gator spaghetti, alligator etoufee, alligator piquante, and Rockefeller fried gator. The Island is home to "Big Al, the largest living gator in captivity," according to a report in the Port Arthur News [September 3, 1993 from Gary R. Durkovitz].
A man swimming in the remote Jardine River on Cape York Peninsula, Australia was killed by two crocodiles as his wife and daughter watched from shore, according to police spokesman Gary Burkin. "Witnesses saw two separate swells of water each side of the man, before seeing a large crocodile come up," he said. National Parks and Wildlife Service in Queensland noted that in crocodile mating season, the animals are more likely to attack. [Orlando, FL Sentinel, December 25, 1993 from Bill Burnett] Two days later, the same paper noted that officials plant to relocate the two animals implicated in the death since killing the animals which are believed to be a mating pair would be against the law.
An unknown thief stole a baby caiman from a pet store in West Whiteland, PA two days before Christmas. The suspect was described as a white male, black hair, 6'3" tall and 200 pounds [Daily Local News, West Chester, PA, December 28, 1993] Contributor Mark Witwer wrote: "Remember the articles las summer about crocodilians turning up loose in our area? I wonder when the responsible soul who would do this will tire of it and release it? For the caiman's sake, let's hope it is recovered."
China Daily [November 2, 1993 from P.L. Beltz] reports: "The world's largest crocodile farm will be built in South China's Hainan Province. Involving an investment of 160 million yuan ($28 million), the farm is being funded by several Chinese companies and a Hong Kong company. Covering 200 hectares, the farm is located in Li'an Bay. The farm will combine crocodile raising, crocodile product processing and tourism. It will be able to raise 40,000 crocodiles a year when it is completed in 1996."
Latest reports from Florida in the bizarre story of the gator who was fatally shot by a homeowner after the gator plunged through a screen door credit the family parrot with giving the residents warning. The couple was awakened at 2:30 a.m. when Louis the parrot "was making noise, flopping around in his cage, ringing his bell," according to the husband. As the wife called 911, the husband shot the gator three times with a .357 Magnum revolver. Police arrived about 15 minutes later. [November 20, 1993: Austin- American Statesman, from Gary R. Durkovitz; New Orleans, LA Times-Picayune, from Ernie Liner; and Orlando, FL Sentinel from Bill Burnett]
Visitors to the Blue Hole, an abandoned quarry in the National Key Deer Refuge will no longer be able to see "Grandpa" a well-known 10-foot alligator. The animal was moved to a pen in Homosassa Springs State Wildlife Park by state workers because of fears that Grandpa would continue to indulge his appetite for Rottweilers, endangered Key Deer and other large mammals. [Leesburg, FL Daily Commercial and Orlando Sentinel, December 23, 1993 both from Bill Burnett]
The Nile crocodile (Crocodylus niloticus) was downgraded from endangered to
threatened status under the U.S. Endangered Species Act on October 25, 1993. The ranched population of Zimbabwe crocodiles will continue to be listed as threatened. The Nile crocodile is found in upstream waters of the Nile, tropical and southern Africa, the islands of Madagascar, the Comoros, and the Seychelles. [AAZPA Communique, December 1993 from Karen Furnweger]
How many reptiles do you have?
A Norfolk, VA man was convicted on a single misdemeanor count of failing to properly
maintain reptiles in his home after a plea bargain arrangement resulted in the state dropping a charge of cruelty to animals. Mr. Robert A. Parks is reported to be a frail, soft-spoken retired telephone worker who plans to transport his reptiles to a temporary home in Florida. His dream has faltered, however since the city raided his home, confiscated his animals, trashed his belongings and billed him for $21,500 for removing his creatures. He said, "The thing of it is, I never have figured out what I did wrong. I don't see where I broke any laws. The city has turned my whole life upside down, when a simple knock on my door would have taken care of it." Authorities had obtained a search warrant and entered the house on September 17 where they reportedly found more than 100 snakes. About two-thirds were venomous including cobras and gaboon vipers. Crocodiles and alligators were housed in the back yard. Three gators over eight feet long were housed in concrete-based pools. By the time Parks found out what was going on, police had barred him from the house. It took three days for the authorities to remove the animals and apparently "took the house apart" hunting for more creatures. According to a report in the Richmond Times-Dispatch [October 24, 1993 from Mr. Laverne A. Copeland], "When Parks finally was allowed back in after eight days he said he looked at the damage and threw up." Parks had lived in Norfolk for almost 25 years and had one previous brush with the law which resulted in his construction of larger containers for his alligators. Parks said he hoped to resolve the legal issues, sell his house and get out of town as quickly as possible adding, "I've had it up to my neck with Norfolk." The city's $21,000 bill is composed of charges including $3,829 for snake cages, as well as hourly rates for the workers involved.
Do Geckos Dream of Electric Sheep?
Moko, the newsletter of the New Zealand Herpetological Society [Summer 1993 from Joan Moore] reports that geckos (Naultinus elegans punctatus) were found in sheep fleece by sheep shearers and workers in a wool store. It is speculated that the geckos were using the warm environment provided by the woolly sheep to keep warm in a particularly wet and cool winter. Is it possible that at shearing time some geckos became bladerunners?
Colubrid protected The giant garter snake (Thamnophis gigas) was listed as a threatened species by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service effective November 19, 1993 under the U.S. Endangered Species Act. The snake joins other species in California's Central Valley which have not adapted well to human changes in their habitat including urbanization, flooding, contaminants, agricultural activities, and introduced predators. Only 13 populations are known from the fringes of agricultural areas in the Valley. [Sacramento, CA Bee, October 20 and 21, 1993 from Bruce Hannem, and AAZPA Communique from Karen Furnweger]
CHS Member News
Holiday greetings were received from Esther Lewis in retirement with husband and tortoises in Florida.
Marty Marcus sent his 1994 Reptile Round-up Calendar which features herp art by sixth-grade students. You can ask if he has any left by writing P.O. Box 760, Lakebay, WA 98349-0760. I don't know if he charges for it, but it sure is the cutest herp calendar I've ever seen.
Bernard Bechtel wrote: "...thank you for placing the slide request in the CHS Bulletin. I have not counted the responses, but it has drawn some very useful slides and prints... I am taking the slides to the publisher next week so that they can begin to collate them. I feel that the book cannot have too many illustrations, so I am hoping to ... add more if more arrive." Dr. Bechtel is doing a book on aberrant color patterns in snakes.
John Levell survived a timber rattlesnake bite this summer.
Joseph Jannsen sent in copies of the "snake bites hand that bathes it" from New York state papers with a note: "A 7-foot snake in a 20 gallon tank? I'd bite him too."
Quote of the Year, 1993
Mark Twain, wrote almost one hundred years ago in his classic Life on the Mississippi: "One who knows the Mississippi will promptly aver - not aloud but to himself - that ten thousand River Commissions, with the mines of the world at their back, cannot tame that lawless stream, cannot curb it or confine it, cannot say to it, `Go here,' or `Go there,' and make it obey; cannot save a shore which it has sentenced; cannot bar its path with an obstruction which it will not tear down, dance over, and laugh at." [St. Louis, MO Post-Dispatch, July 25, 1993 from K.S. Mierzwa] Save this for the next time somebody tells you technology can save the world.
Thanks to everyone who contributed this month and to those whose articles were duplicates, interesting but not herpetological, previously used in this column and Herp-93, and so on including: Brett DePoister, Ernie Liner, P.L. Beltz, John Adamek, and Jim Zimmerman. You can become a contributor, too! Send clippings with the publication name/date slug and your name firmly attached (tape is best, photocopying the whole bit sublime) to me.
I know what toads want...
A United States Department of Agriculture Farmers' Bulletin (No. 196, 1904) by A.H. Kirkland, M.S. titled "Usefulness of the American Toad," provides a table of bulk percent food elements recovered from the stomachs of 149 toads (Bufo americanus): Ants, 19 percent; Cutworms, 16 percent; Thousand-legged worms, 10 percent; Tent caterpillars, 9 percent; Ground beetles and allies, 8 percent; May beetles and allies, 6 percent; Wireworm beetles and allies, 5 percent; Weevils, 5 percent; Miscellaneous caterpillars, 3 percent; Grasshoppers, crickets, 3 percent; Spiders, 2 percent; Sowbugs, 2 percent; Potato beetles and allies, 1 percent; Carrion beetles, 1 percent; Miscellaneous beetles, 1 percent; Snails, 1 percent; Angleworms, 1 percent; Vegetable detritus, 1 percent; Gravel, 1 percent; and unidentified animal matter, 5 percent. What this shows toad keepers is the phenomenal variety expected by the average American toad and that the most common captive food items (crickets and angleworms) account for less than 5 percent of the "free- ranging" toad diet. It also suggests that this varied diet was eaten more or less constantly, all day every day, otherwise these items would not have been recognizable to the researcher. The implication for captive care is that we probably do not feed our toads enough variety often enough. The author also noted, "From studying toads in confinement, it appears that (angle) worms are not preferred by that animal as an article of diet, but may be eaten... The small roach or water bug was often found in stomachs of toads taken on city streets. The toad is entitled to unstinted praise for its work in destroying these insects." Incidentally, lest a more sensitive type be upset at the method of data collection implied by this study, please consider that none of us could have applied our version of political correctness ninety-two years ago. Also, the author stated that toads were apparently extremely abundant everywhere on farms and even on city streets in those pre-chemical and pre-automotive days. Would that they were still so common!
A long walk for tiny legs
Bob Madej, an endangered wildlife technician, has found a population of green salamanders (Aneides aeneus) along the Ohio River in southern Indiana. The nearest previously known population of these amphibians was over 100 miles away in the Blue Ridge Provinces of the Appalachian Plateau. [Focus, Indiana Division of Fish and Wildlife, undated, from Garrett Kazmierski]
New "green" fees
The Bastrop State Park golf course near Austin, TX will expand to 18 holes even though the park is a refuge for the endangered Houston toad (Bufo houstonensis). The parks department has proposed that golfers to pay a new "toad fee" which would be used to fund conservation programs. So far, the Fish and Wildlife Service has not approved the proposal. [Newsweek, October 4, 1993 from Debi Hatchett.] On January 19, 1994, the various parties to the solution of the Houston toad dilemma of Bastrop County met and discussed the toad's impact on future development in the area. More public meetings are scheduled [Elgin, TX Courier, January 26, 1994, from William B. Montgomery]
Did he get toad-ally high?
Two residents of Angels Camp, CA have been arrested on charges of smoking venom milked from captive toads which were confiscated and incarcerated in a terrarium at the office of a narcotics unit. The couple who live at a camp which teaches elementary school students about the wonders of nature have also been accused of possessing five mescaline-bearing cacti. Two of the cacti were supposedly purchased at a local discount chain store's nursery department. A narcotics agent said that the toad-venom smoking case is "the first prosecution of its type in the world." The report in the January 31, 1994 Austin, TX American-Statesman said, "according to law enforcement sources... drug agents are just beginning to catch on to the small underground culture smitten by the intense psychedelic high produced by smoking toad venom." Bufotenine, the presumed psychoactive agent in toad venom is listed as a controlled substance by the California Department of Justice. A veteran narcotics agent said, "I suspect that it [toad-venom smoking] might be increasing a bit, but I don't think we're going to see people selling kilos of toad slime." On March 1, 1994, California Fish and Game regulations will make the possession of Colorado River toads (Bufo alvarius) a misdemeanor in that state, may further strengthen the state's ability to prosecute "toad heads." The change in rules, however, was made because the toads are declining in numbers in California. [William B. Montgomery; January 30, 1994: Leesburg, FL Daily Commercial, from Bill Burnett and Herald-News from Marty Wnek]
Frogs maximal leapers
Biologists at the University of Pennsylvania trained high-speed cameras on frogs wearing electrodes and monitored the frog's muscle movements and activity. They found that muscles wait about 26 milliseconds after receiving the contraction signal before they react. During the delay, chemical reactions begin to prepare the force-generating units (sarcomeres) inside the muscle fiber for shortening. If the sarcomeres shorten too much or too little, the muscle fails to achieve maximum potential. Frogs apparently control the shortening just right. In addition, their muscles are attached in all the right places to get the most bang for their bounce. [Science, January 21, 1994 from Eloise Beltz-Decker and Science News, January 22, 1994 from Mark Witwer]
Arizona tightens herp laws
The Arizona Game and Fish Commission approved new amphibian and reptile regulations
limiting the take of certain species. "Herpetologic hobbyists" argued against some of the
changes, but there was no widespread opposition to the changes according to an article in the Arizona Republic [October 24, 1993 from Tom Taylor?]. The laws were tightened in an effort to reduce the illegal trafficking of reptiles from the state.
A tale of two tuataras
The Toledo Zoo has acquired two female tuataras for their "Dino ROAR!" exhibit from the Wellington Zoo in New Zealand. Tuataras are the only surviving rhynchocephalians, an order believed to have appeared on earth more than 240 million years ago. The two tuataras will be housed in a special temperature-controlled exhibit. They eat insects and small reptiles. Only 13 tuataras are known to live in captivity in the U.S., with an estimated 200 in zoos worldwide. [The Akron, OH Beacon Journal, December 27, 1993 from Jim Zimmerman]
Barf of the month club
Regular contributor Bob Pierson send a copy of Michael Paskevich's column from the Las Vegas, NV Review-Journal [January 28, 1994] which describes the new "Splash" review at the Riviera Hotel. Herpetologists might wish to skip it since the show includes an act of wanton cruelty described by Paskevich: "Then there's alligator wrasslin' and hasslin' with `Tahar the Beastmaster' in a dreadful act that could be the worst to ever desecrate a Vegas stage. Tahar, who looks like talk show host Montel Williams on steroids, first hauls out a quartet of smaller gators that, say backstage sources, spend their lives in a dry box and are given a pre-show bath as a wake-up call. Gators usually spend their winters hibernating in warmer underwater dens, and Tahar's first gang was semi-comatose, prompting him to kick and prod the dumb beasts to force movement. He hoisted them in the air, rubbed their bellies to `hypnotize' them and held their snouts shut, the latter a simple feat compared to unlocking the jaws when they latch onto something tasty... Half the audience was laughing aloud when, for his finale, Tahar and his helpers hauled out a huge coffin-like box containing an even bigger alligator that refused to play along... Patrons who might be `faint of heart' were warned to leave the showroom and a few did, offended but not afraid. The gator was noosed around the neck and dragged about the stage, occasionally snapping its jaws when goosed. This pitiful exploitation belongs in a circus sideshow." Where are the animal rights people for something like this? The only ones I've seen this winter have been screaming obscenities at fur-coat wearers in the shopping district, while dudes in snakeskin boots walk by unmolested.
Eric Thiss sent a clipping from the Minneapolis Star Tribune [January 22, 1994] about what happened when a resident of New Hope, Hennepin County tried to rescue some pet-store rats from "becoming snake food." Authorities finally moved in after neighbors became alarmed by the sight of "rats - lots and lots of `em - crawling up the curtains and peering out the windows." Animal control workers removed 450 sickly rats from the home and planned to exterminate an estimated 500 more that remained hidden in the the walls, the attic and the basement of the home which has since been condemned. The captured rats had to be destroyed because they were infected with pneumonia and other respiratory diseases, lice, fleas, and other parasites. The homeowner may be charged with building code violations or cruelty to animals and will have to pay for the removal, extermination, and demolition of the home.
Ma Junren, the trainer of Wang Junxia, the record-setting Chinese women's distance runner, often serves the runner a blood cocktail prepared by beheading a turtle with a cleaver. [USA Today, February 1, 1994 from Bill Burnett]
All that slithers is not cold Residents in Santa Rosa, CA are still nervous following the escape of a 6-foot Burmese python which may be in the city's sewers. "Tiny" disappeared after having been placed in a bathtub of warm water to aid shedding. The caretaker left for 15 to 20 minutes. When she returned (can anyone guess), the snake was gone! After the neighbors were warned, one said, "I'd be afraid to sit down on the toilet in case that thing decided to hop up and bite me." [San Francisco Chronicle, January 21, 1994 from Kathy Bricker]
A Texas driver experienced what was described as "squeals on wheels" after a snake slithered out of the dash of her 1988 Thunderbird and sat on her lap while she was driving. It is reportedly not easy to stop a vehicle if the driver has climbed atop the driver's seat and therefore has no feet near the brakes. The woman said, "My daughter was screaming, and I finally got the car stopped by putting it into a lower gear and letting it coast to a stop." [Dallas Morning News, September 10, 1993 from Gary R. Durkovitz]
A 12-foot python was captured in West Palm Beach because neighbors noticed it was chasing a neighborhood cat around. The snake was taken to Lion County Safari where it can play with the big cats. [Orlando Sentinel, December 4, 1993 from Bill Burnett]
A 9-foot python offered by a husband to wife as a Christmas present in Daytona Beach, FL was quickly returned after wreaking havoc in its prospective home. The $250 python was boxed and gift wrapped like a present and placed under the tree. During the night, the snake escaped from the box and knocked over the Christmas tree. The proprietor of the pet shop from whence it was purchased arrived on Christmas to find eight messages on his answering machine all pleading with him to take the snake back. [Tampa Tribune, December 30, 1993 from Robert Wallen]
A proposal by Mark Bell to build a commercial snake farm in the Golden Gate Estates neighborhood of Naples, FL has fellow neighbors up in arms protesting his plans. The land is currently zoned agricultural and although a snake-farm is not a specifically permitted use, it is not a prohibited use, either. [Naples Daily News, November 29, 1993 from Lennie Jones] If anybody knows how this turned out, would they please let me know?
A tabloid reports that a 46-year old South African policeman provides law and order in a tough Johannesburg neighborhood with the help of three 15-foot pythons and a little black magic. The man said, "Dirty Harry wouldn't last a day here. There are more .44 and .357 Magnum handguns [here] than there are hookers and drug pushers... I'll have no mugging on my beat. I sling Lily over my shoulder and march to the trouble spot. The crooks take one look at me and decide they'd rather be somewhere else. He is also a certified witch doctor. [The Sun, December 21, 1993 from Steve Franz]
Eleven cute McGregor's pit vipers (Trimeresurus f. mcgregori) were hatched at the Fort Worth Zoological Park. The father has a dark brown color phase and bred with a silver-grey female. The babies are solid yellow and yellow with a dark brown spotted pattern. It is not known if their colors will change with time since this is the first captive breeding of this species. [AAZPA Communique, December 1993 from Karen Furnweger]
A 9-foot Burmese python was found in St. Cloud, FL and is being kept by the Osceola County Animal Control Department as a part of the pet awareness program. An officer said, "He just lays around the computer, in the chair, up on the desk. He's an absolutely lazy creature, but he's very friendly." [Orlando Sentinel, November 11, 1993 from Bill Burnett]
Seven snakes were stolen in late December from an exhibit designed to enhance positive reptile awareness at the Louisiana Nature and Science Center, New Orleans. One of the snakes was an amphiuma-eating mud snake (Farancia abacura). Snake-handling equipment and a field guide were also taken. About a week later, the director of the center received a message on the center's answering machine which said that the snakes would be placed in a bag behind a public library. Five of the seven burgled snakes were returned along with a note saying that the other two had died. The mud snake was reportedly thin but alive. The identity of the criminal or the reason for the theft remain unknown. [New Orleans Times-Picayune, December 30, 1993 and January 3, 1994 as well as the Houma, LA Courier, January 4, 1994 all from Ernie Liner]
Lisa Koester is to be congratulated on the re-emergence of The Chicago Turtle Club Newsletter. Lisa was one of the founders of The CTC and has been an active CHS member, most recently serving as Librarian. You can join the CTC for a $5.00 annual contribution. They also meet monthly. See the inside back cover of the CHS Bulletin for details.
Thanks to this month's contributors and to Rick Dowling, Garrett Kazmierski, Stuart Haw, Mark Witwer, Tonya Halog, Ernie Liner, Jack Schoenfelder who sent articles previously used, cartoons, and items of interest which weren't used above. You can become an acknowledged contributor, too! Send clippings with name of publication and date slug (look in the upper
corner of newspapers, and lower corner of magazines) and your name firmly attached (tape preferred) to me.
CHS member's snakes stolen!
Thomas Moxley, the Bartlett Animal Control Officer, was burglarized of 26 snakes in the early hours of February 25 according to a report in the Bartlett, TN Express [March 10, 1994 from Bill Burnett]. Moxley said, "These were 'snake people' all right, they knew exactly which ones to take." Stolen animals include tri-color bullsnakes and several albinos. The total financial loss to Moxley could be more than $1,800 not counting lost offspring since the snakes stolen were his breeders.
What they meant was...
CHS member Gordon Rodda who has worked long and hard on the Boiga irregularis problem
on Guam writes: "I couldn't help noticing the paragraph on Brown Tree Snakes in the February Bulletin. It is my understanding that the point being made about snake-sniffing dogs by [Vice President Albert] Gore's reinventing government committee was not that snake-sniffing dogs are a bad idea, but that it was unnecessary and undesirable for Congress to specify that exactly $100,000 was to be spent on this task. Gore's group would prefer that Congress dictate goals (such as the protection of Hawaii's wildlife) and the Department of the Interior be given authority to decide whether snake-sniffing dogs deserve more or less than $100,000. The controversy is over the relative power and specificity of the executive and legislative branches of government, rather than being a herpetological policy question. Gore's group did not argue that the dogs are a bad idea. Unfortunately, the issue was simplified in some of the media coverage."
Alleged toad smokers to fight charges
A man and wife, former residents of Angels Camp, CA, and alleged toad venom smokers have engaged an attorney from Sonora to defend them. He said, "If they (police) thought we could all get high on banana peels I guess we could all be arrested on that these days." Webster said he would ask the judge to dismiss the toad charge as legally defective since the toads produced the hallucinogen - not the defendants. The lawyer also pointed out that the cactus which allegedly produce mescaline are the kind of cactus, "you can buy at Pay Less Drug Store." Webster said that he would like some of the charges to be dismissed and the remainder reduced to misdemeanors. The Tuolumne County judge postponed the hearing until March 21, at which time th lawyer said his clients would plead not guilty. Police claim that in addition to the toads, they found LSD, mescaline-producing cacti, morphine, and Cannabis sativa. "He's not just on this toad kick," one officer was quoted as saying. Until the arrest the 41-year-old man taught at a nature camp outside Sonora run by the local school district. His wife worked in a child-care center. Since their arrest, he has taken to working at manual labor and she is unemployed. They have also moved from the area. The toads will shortly be moved to Steinhart Aquarium in San Francisco. [Sacramento, CA Bee, March 2, 1994 from Bruce Hannem]
An opinion piece in the Phoenix, AZ Gazette from Tom Taylor of Tempe suggests that the drive for legalization of toad venom may be lead by CROAK (Committee Reacting to Our Amphibian Kinships), GROSS (Group Recommending Organized Slime Sucking) and BARF (Biting Amphibians is Really Fun).
Few media circuses have as many "legs" as this story has as it hopped around the world. I think the number of clippings I have received is probably the most I have ever gotten for any amphibian story. Recent contributions in date order are: February 7, Phoenix, AZ Gazette from Tom Taylor; Feb. 17, Albuquerque, NM Journal from James N. Stuart, Leesburg, FL Daily Commercial from Bill Burnett, New Orleans, LA Times-Picayune, Baton Rouge, LA The Advocate both from Ernie Liner; Feb. 20, Chicago Tribune from Rob Carmichael and Claus Sutor, New York Times from P.L. Beltz; Feb. 22, Sandusky, OH Register from Matt Meade; and March 7 The Wall Street Journal, from Mike Zelenski.
More amphibians in the news
After several years of reporting amphibian decline, the press really went overboard on the recent announcement that one study had linked disappearing frogs and an increase in ultraviolet- B rays striking the Earth's surface due to a thinning ozone layer. Andrew Blaustein and John Hays of Oregon State University, in an article in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (March 1, 1994) report that ultraviolet radiation is killing the eggs of frogs in the Cascade mountains of the Pacific Northwest. In addition, they found that species in decline have a limited ability to repair damage from the ultraviolet radiation which causes change in their DNA or genetic coding molecule due to the absence of a protective enzyme. Blaustein was quoted, "Showing damage to an animal means there probably will be an effect on humans. So I think that it's very important that people listen to this warning signal." One frog species studied, Pseudacris regilla, the Pacific Chorus Frog was found to have six times as much of the enzyme as the other two species. The Western toad (Bufo boreas) and the Cascades frog (Rana cascadae) had far less of the enzyme and are both in decline. [March 1, 1994 South Bend, IN Tribune from Garrett Kazmierski, Memphis, TN Commercial Appeal from Bill Burnett, Chicago Tribune from Claus Sutor, Phoenix, AZ Gazette from Tom Taylor, and March 2 Orlando, FL Sentinel from Bill Burnett, March 6 Editorial Chicago Tribune from P.L. Beltz]
In the continuing story of the conflict over the Houston toad (Bufo houstonensis) in Bastrop County, Texas, the most recent report [Elgin Courier, February 16, 1994 from Bill Montgomery] reports that a task force has been appointed to study the toads' impact on the county. A member of the commissioners' court said, "There are approximately 7,000 acres of public land available for the toad and I feel that is sufficient. This would eliminate the need for buying private land." The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service proposed that the California red-legged frog (Rana aurora draytonii) be considered for inclusion on the federal list of endangered species. The species has disappeared from 75 percent of its historic range as the result of the introduction of non-native competitive species - especially the bullfrog - as well as more familiar threats including agriculture, urbanization, water diversion and irrigation projects, livestock grazing and logging. The last red-legged frogs in the Sierra Nevada vanished after the 1987-1992 drought. [Sacramento, CA Bee, February 4, 1994 from Bruce Hannem]
According to an Associate Press report picked up by the Hammond, IN Times [March 12, 1994 from Philip Drajeske] 300,000 toads get squashed every year on British roads. However, hundreds of volunteers at 500 sites around England are dedicated to helping the toads achieve their breeding ponds without significant flattening along the way. Mick Durant, co-founder of the Surrey Wildlife Protection Group said, "You just need a bucket, a strong torch and to be very fast and dodge the traffic. You can get some very irate drivers." He's been toad-ally involved with the project for 11 years. He said, "I just went down the lane one day when it was wet and warm... and I saw all these poor little animals on the ground just splattered everywhere. I mean, I'm a builder, and builders are supposed to be strong. But driving home one night and seeing all the dead toads, I just sat in my car and cried."
A salamander in the George Washington National Park is the first species to be protected under a new federal plan to keep species from becoming endangered. The Cow Knob salamander (Plethodon shenandoah) lives only on Shenandoah Mountain along the Virginia-West Virginia line. The new approach is an attempt to stabilize rare species and avoid controversies such as the spotted-owl debacle of the Bush-Clinton campaign. The new agreement limits logging and certain other human activities as well as seeking more research into the elusive animal's habits. CHS member and University of Richmond ecologist Joseph C. Mitchell said that the agreement is "the first of its kind and is likely to become the model for the rest of the country." [Richmond, VA Times-Dispatch, January 26, 1994 from Mr. Laverne A. Copeland]
I want one too
A new auto ornament from the U.S. Southwest is apparently exciting a lot of comment. Shaped like the ubiquitous fish symbol found on the back of fundamental Christian vehicles, but with legs and the word "Darwin" inside, it is intended as a tongue-in-cheek reminder that not everyone is a Creationist these days. They're manufactured by Evolution Design, a one-woman Austin, TX company that does not advertise. The designer, Chris Gilman, had the idea about a decade ago, but only made the prototype in 1989. He said that the effect was immediate: "People would honk their horn and I'd think, uh-oh. But they'd be yelling, 'That fish! Where did you get it?'" [The Wall Street Journal, February 2, 1994 from J.H. Schoenfelder] For a big laugh, type "Creationist" and see what your spell-checking program offers as a replacement!
Burhop's Seafood at Plaza Del Lago, 1515 Sheridan Road, Wilmette, IL presented a cooking demonstration for alligator balls, turtle gumbo, and frog legs Provencale March 19. This lovely item was reported by Lezli Bitterman in the Bits and Pieces column of the Chicago Sun-Times [March 3, 1994 from Steve Spitzer]. A Hanover, Ontario man has been jailed for 90 days for one count of cruelty to animals after fire fighters found a two-day-old piglet in the corner of a tank in which an alligator was regularly kept. The man had rescued the gator when the fire started, but left the food item behind. The mammal was later destroyed and the alligator has since died. [Hamilton, Ontario Canada Spectator, February 10, 1994] Contributor Brian Bankowski wrote: "There's no reason generally for use of live foods and this article just proves it! What we don't need is this kind of negative publicity making herpers look like a gang of sadistic perverts."
See you later, alligator?
Yolo County Animal Control confiscated a 5-foot caiman from a Phi Delta Theta fraternity house at University of California, Davis. The brothers reportedly had two caimans, but had let the other one go at an undetermined location when it got too big. Keeping caimans is illegal in the state, whether in an "animal house" or not. [Sacramento, CA Bee, January 1, 1994 from Bruce Hannem]
Alice, the alligator who was removed from her loving family after a 42-year uneventful residence in a house, was "pardoned" by Illinois Governor Jim Edgar after massive radio publicity embarrassed the Department of Agriculture. The "ag-guys" decided that under the law Alice was a dangerous reptile, so as Pearl and Mel ("Swede") Pedersen looked on helplessly they scooped her into a bag and carried her away. The governor said it shouldn't have happened, "Those people should be allowed to keep their pet. Forty-two years is a good track record of not being dangerous." Ever since they got her as a 10-inch baby, the alligator had been part of the family. Alice took bubble baths with the four Pedersen children, then joined them in the shower as they grew. She took long naps by the water heater and snuggled into bed with Mrs. Pedersen. Alice begged table scraps by sitting up on her tail and was housebroken, doing her duty in a bathtub partially filled with water. The Pedersens have decided that Alice should go to a zoo and are working on plans to send her to a facility run by John Mellyn near San Antonio, TX. Meanwhile, Alice is on display in a Wauconda pet shop. It's not that the Pedersens don't want her back, but as 77-year-old Swede said, "Alice was going to outlive us. We needed to find a good home for her." [Chicago Tribune, March 13, 1994 from K.S. Mierzwa]
An alligator briefly occupied the East Room of the White House during the Presidency of John Quincy Adam's term. [National Enquirer, February 15, 1994 name withheld by request] Winston, the three-legged alligator, was freed from a St. Petersburg, FL drain pipe in which he had been stuck for more than a week. City workers removed a grate and a trapper moved the 7-foot 3-inch critter to Alligator Lake near Safety Harbor. Residents of a condo complex had petitioned the mayor of the town to free the gator: "[he] has committed no crime other than making a critical wrong turn on his journey through life." [December 31, 1993 Leesburg, FL Daily Commercial and Orlando Sentinel from Bill Burnett]
Two Maryland mechanics turned snake charmer to coax a python from a car after a high school student lost it while returning from his girlfriend's house the night before. Monty the Python (oh, how original!) had escaped from a knotted pillowcase the worked his way into a heating vent and wrapped himself around the steering column. It cost the student $125 to have his dashboard in and out to get the snake free. [Havre de Grace, MD The Record, February 25,
1994 from Mark Witwer]
A three-foot boa escaped into the auto of its owner, an Associated Press writer relocating from New York to New Orleans. The writer had put the snake in a zippered duffel bag in the front seat. After one rest stop in Georgia, she noticed that the bag was unzipped about a half inch and "Emmeline" was gone. A mechanic opened and closed the instrument panel after finding that the snake had broken both the speedometer and odometer. The writer was later able to extricate Emmeline somewhere in Mississippi. Incidentally, Triple A Auto Club does not send out mechanics to get snakes out of dashboards. [Pittsburgh, PA Tribune Review, March 6, 1994, no name but greatly appreciated!]
NASA will use snakes in a study of how blood circulatory systems work. It is not a frivolous question for a space agency; blood circulation problems are a plague for astronauts. Without gravity, bodies seem to be unable to prevent blood from spilling downward. Returning astronauts faint when they try to stand up. Thirty tree climbing yellow rat snakes in long skinny tubes will be spun on a centrifuge to simulate gravity loading at the California space laboratory. In addition, researchers are writing a proposal to fly the snakes on a shuttle mission and monitor their blood flow in microgravity. [Sacramento, CA Bee, February 28, 1994 from Bruce Hannem]
A Chesterfield County, VA man was bitten by his pet cobra (yes, another one) and will now face charges of violating the county's wild and exotic animal ordinance. The snake was destroyed. [Richmond, VA Times-Dispatch, January 25, 1994 from Mr. Laverne A. Copeland]
Neighbors of Mark Bell's proposed snake farm in the Golden Gate Estates in Collier County, FL have begun a legal suit against the land owners and the county to try to stop the project. The lawsuit seeks to have the building permits granted to Bell revoked contending that county zoning laws do not permit a snake farm in that particular neighborhood. According to the January 4, 1994 Bonita News-Press [from Alan Rigerman] Bell expressed bewilderment about his neighbors attitudes during a public hearing. He said, "I don't know what all the fuss is about."
Gopher tortoises have stopped a 52-unit farm labor housing development in Sebring, FL. Well, actually it was a law that stopped the development until the tortoises (Gopherus polyphemus) are either relocated or a $28,000 mitigation fee is paid into the Florida Game and Fresh Water Fish Commission Trust Fund. [Leesburg, FL Daily Commercial, December 23, 1993 from Bill Burnett]
The federal government announced that it plans to designate 6.4 million acres of desert as critical habitat for the desert tortoise (Gopherus agassizii). Included in the area is a proposed nuclear dump site in Ward Valley. The move is opposed by (is anyone surprised?) the California Cattlemen's Association, mining groups, off-road vehicle users, and real estate developers. The whole process had been a tightrope walk between special interest groups, the government, and the tortoises. Certain areas were placed in, then out of the protected zone. In the end, even the Fish and Wildlife Service knew the compromise was less than perfect. David Klinger a press liaison officer with FWS said, "Critical habitat doesn't prohibit anything... [but] it could have the effect of limiting a certain project... Since 1979 there have been 118,000 consultations regarding proposed activities within areas designated as critical habitat. Only 33 projects were halted." [Las Vegas Review-Journal, February 8, 1994 from Bob Pierson, The Wall Street Journal February 9 and Chicago Sun-Times February 10 from M.A. Dloogatch]
Meanwhile, a plan being considered by the Steering Committee of Clark County, NV would permit land developers to kill desert tortoises by grading property, and permit authorities to kill them by lethal injection "if all relocation options are exhausted." If this plan is approved, it will still require the approval of FWS. Chris Brown the Southern Nevada director of Citizen Alert said at a public meeting that the 30-year plan being considered by the county's Desert Tortoise Steering Committee leans more toward satisfying developers than it does toward preserving the wild environment of tortoises. [Las Vegas Review-Journal, February 10, 12 and 15 from Bob Pierson]
A rather snotty British opinion piece by A. A. Gill [Sunday London Times, February 13 from R.J. Olsen] makes fun of the acreage set aside in a feeble attempt to protect the desert tortoise: "The tortoise sanctuary, stretching across CA, UT and NV is 6.5 million acres. That's the same size as Great Britain. Land's End to John o' Groats with nothing in it but tortoises. Imagine taking the kids to see the nature reserve." "America is down to its last 2 million [tortoises]. No you and I might well think that 2m tortoises was an embarrassment, a veritable plethora, a plague, even." In my opinion, Gill is just jealous that we colonials can set aside an area as big as his whole country for anything, let alone tortoises.
The taxman cometh
Herpetologists of Illinois can make a positive contribution to the fauna of the state by putting a donation on line 15a of their IL-1040 state income tax form. Your gift will support the Illinois Wildlife Preservation Fund. Last year, $170,000 was raised and the fund has provided more than $2 million for conservation since 1984. In addition, the fund is the primary source of money for the Division of Natural Heritage, Illinois Department of Conservation. Your accountant can advise you on the tax-deductible nature of this contribution. [WaterShedd, March 1994 from Karen Furnweger]
Next month - lots of turtles! Due to the overwhelming volume of contributions this month, I ran over my usual length and have many nifty turtle tales to share. Do not stop sending clippings just because we have a one month surplus! Contribute by sending clippings with the date and publication slug firmly attached with your name to me. Letters, cards and photos are appreciated and will be acknowledged. Additional contributors this month are: J.H. Schoenfelder, Ernie Liner, Mark Witwer, J.N. Stuart, P.L. Beltz, and Bob Pierson. Thanks to everyone who contributed!
The National Zoo in Washington has successfully bred Komodo dragon chicks; the first time they have been bred in captivity outside their native Indonesia. Dr. Dale Marcellini, chief herpetologist at the National Zoo, said that previous attempts had generally failed because it is nearly impossible to sex adult Varanus komodoensis and breeding pairs must be young and like each other enough to start a family. [The New York Times, March 1, 1994 from Mark Witwer]
Iguana new home
The first pure-bred Caymanian iguana (Cyclura nubila lewisii) was released by that island's National Trust into a 625-acre reserve on the east end of the island. Regular readers will remember that last year several captive bred but not pure bred iguanas were released in an effort to see how they would cope with humans, dogs, and other non-native species. Only one of the three radio implanted iguanas wandered away from the study area and into a dog pen. The Programme Manager, Fred Burton, told the Caymanian Compass [January 17, 1994 from L.W. Reed] that his sorrow at losing a hybrid animal was somewhat mitigated by the knowledge gained about the species. He said that the Trust now knew that the "iguanas don't have the danger signals where dogs are concerned." He also said that the only baby iguana released at the study site remained there. The Blue iguana is native and indigenous to the island, where it persists in small pockets. The total number of animals remaining is considered to be less than 200. The National Trust began breeding them in 1990 in an attempt to repopulate the species. An iguana enclosure has been built at their Botanic Park and further releases are planned.
That skinking feeling
The state of Florida plans to purchase 40,000 acres of sand scrubland in an effort to protect two species, the sand skink (Neoseps reynoldsi) and the blue-tailed mole skink (Eumeces egregius lividus). The government has targeted about a dozen properties that it estimates will cost $31 million to buy from developers, corporations, and individuals. Biologists estimate that up to 90 percent of Florida's original scrub has been lost to agriculture, citrus groves, and residential development. A research biologist at the Archbold Biological Station in Lake Placid said, "These scrub areas are one of the highest and driest points of old dune systems and they're good for housing because they don't flood, and for citrus because there's no standing water." The proposed Lake Wales refuge will protect an entire ecosystem which includes about a dozen endangered scrub plants, the habitat of four threatened species including the two skink species, the Eastern indigo snake (Drymarchon corais couperi) and the Florida scrub jay. [Leesburg, FL Daily Commercial, January 3, 1994 and the Orlando, FL Sentinel, January 2, 1994 from Bill Burnett]
It's frog and toad time
English toads get great press (from cars and newspapers). The newest piece is from Wisley, England [via the Memphis, TN Commercial Appeal, March 13, 1994 from Bill Burnett] which interviews Mike Durant, co-founder of the Surrey Wildlife Protection Group, who helps toads cross roads: "You just need a bucket, a strong torch (flashlight to us Yanks) and to be very fast and dodge the traffic. You can get some very irate drivers. A toad will only come back to where it's born. A toad will not go anywhere else to spawn." As croaking toads inside his bucket try to climb atop one another, Durant continues: "These noises... males are trying to mate with males and they tend to dislike it. I think it's a noise to say `I'm not a female, I'm a male.'" Durant measures his crew's success in squashed toads. They have collected squished toads every year from Surrey County, southwest of London. Two years ago they got 111, last year 58, and this year 25. Durant has been helping toads for eleven years. He concluded, "... at night, the cars are squashing them. It's a terrible life, isn't it?"
In the U.S. it's citizens versus toads in St. Mary's County Maryland. The citizens want a wider road; I think the eastern narrowmouth toads would prefer none. Gastrophryne carolinensis is listed as an endangered species in that state, but a Democratic delegate said that he feels the county's goal of widening and straightening nearly four miles of road outweighs the importance of the toad. In addition, no one's seen the species in that part of the county since 1986. [The Baltimore, MD Evening Sun, March 16, 1994 from Mark T. Witwer] CHS member Alan Resetar was quoted in an article in the Hammond, IN Post-Tribune [March 31, 1994 from Jack Schoenfelder] about frogs: "Their throat and calling muscles are 10 times stronger than an Olympic athlete's leg muscles. Male peepers (Pseudacris crucifer) peep up to a quarter of a million times without resting or stopping to eat. Resetar added that some Hoosiers used to believe that only brown-eyed people could see western chorus frogs (Pseudacris triseriata); a belief perhaps prompted by that species crypic coloration. Resetar added: "These frogs are part of our natural heritage. They were part of the original fauna of the area and were here before the first settlers arrived. They hang on in spite of pollution and the draining of wetlands."
Recent reports that ozone is the prime cause in amphibian declines are being disputed by some biologists, who contend that more than one factor is likely at work in the disappearances. Andrew R. Blaustein of Oregon State University said, "We know that it can't be as simple as ultraviolet radiation because some of the species that are declining lay their eggs in shaded waters. There's gotta be other causes." Worldwide amphibian decline was noted at the First World Congress of Herpetology at Canterbury in 1989. Since then researchers have been trying to determine the mechanism of the declines. Blaustein recently published an article which implicates the fungus, Saprolegnia, that commonly infects hatchery raised fish in the decline of a species of toad. Blaustein pointed out that the fungus has turned up worldwide and that a banned fungicide was previously used to control it. [Las Vegas Review-Journal/Sun, April 10, 1994 from Bob Pierson]
An emerald smile
Writer Bert Emke wrote a nifty piece published by the Louisville Courier Journal [March 17, 1994 from E.A. Zorn]. Titled "The Land of Poets, Pints, and Newts," it reads: "Last year, on a trip to Ireland, my wife, Jane, and I stopped at the Convent of the Good Shepherd in Limerick to see its famous lacemakers. There were four or five elderly women in a big room, listening to the radio and chatting softly as they stitched. Jane sat with them and admired their work, and they asked her about the needlework project she had brought with her... featuring a stylized turtle. They said it was lovely, then woman shyly asked what it was. Jane said it was a turtle, but that didn't seem to help. The old woman had never seen a turtle. Neither had her fellow lacemakers, though they all said they were sure that turtles must be lovely animals. Evidently, when St. Patrick was driving reptiles out of Ireland 15 centuries ago, he got carried away and didn't stop with serpents. There are also no turtles or tortoises in Ireland, at least none that are native there. In fact... the only reptile found in the wild is the newt." The last `tis newts to me, I always thought they were amphibians.
What price conservation?
The long standing land use controversy between land developers and the desert tortoise (Gopherus agassizii) in and around Las Vegas has heated up to just about the boiling point as witnessed by the following articles all from the Las Vegas Review-Journal sent by regular contributor Bob Pierson.
Headline March 30 "Killing of desert tortoises called cheaper than captivity." "The last-resort euthanasia option, while allowable under a Fish and Wildlife Service permit, has been characterized by Commissioner Don Schlesinger, as an unacceptable scheme concocted by bureaucrats. A cost-analysis of the options, by Regional Environmental Consultants of San Diego, CA shows euthanasia the cheapest at $44 per tortoise. Maintaining them in pens at a conservation center would cost $854 per tortoise, or possibly more than $11 million over 20 years. Relocating them in Southern Nevada would cost about $750 per tortoise... The euthanasia option, which could involve killing many of some 14,000 displaced tortoises over the next 20 years, was backed by developers and a state wildlife biologist, who said he fears relocating urban-area tortoises inflicted with a respiratory disease could hasten the infection among wild populations... Betty Burge, a wildlife biologist who is chairwoman of the nonprofit Tortoise Group organization, said her group's policy is to view displaced tortoises as `a special resource that should be used for conservation-related purposes such as translocation and research that increases our understanding of the species.' Jim Moore, representing The Nature Conservancy... said ... `We believe euthanasia will undermine the plan. Requirement for adoption should be relaxed to promote adoption.' Keith Rogers, Staff Writer" April 5 "The government has not `come up' with the Desert Tortoise Habitat Conservation Plan. A committee of citizens who represent all segments of the community interested in the tortoise and the use of its habitat, has volunteered hundreds and hundreds of hours of time developing a plan that considers all viable alternatives. Ann Schreiber." [Letters to the editor, April 8]
"Five hundred dollars. That's what I paid to Clark County so they could come to my construction site and do a tortoise study and remove any tortoises to a safe location. Never mind the fact that someone with even a one-digit IQ could handle the job. Never mind the fact that if I had started construction and without paying the fee, and accidentally killed a tortoise, I would be on the receiving end of some pretty unpleasant legal ramifications. Never mind the fact that millions of dollars have already been embezzled by county government under the guise of protecting tortoises. I spent $500 to protect tortoises, and when I read that the people I gave the money to are killing tortoises, you'll have to pardon me if I want to screw off the tops of their heads and take out their brains and put them all together and see if it makes one. Edward J. Finley." [Letters to the editor, April 8]
"... I am the last one to defend that law [the Endangered Species Act]. I have said in public many times that I do not believe the tortoise is threatened and I disagree completely with what the federal government is forcing us to do... What people do not realize is that, in fact, the community is asking for a federal permit to `take' (which means to harm, harass or potentially kill) desert tortoises so that progress on projects like regional and neighborhood parks, schools, flood control, roads, sewer lines, and water lines can continue... We could just tell them [the tortoises] to `run for their lives,' but that is not an acceptable solution under the federal law. In exchange for this permit, we have to provide for their preservation on land that is not planned for development and is more likely to remain in its natural state forever. That is what the federal law says. People might remember the chaos in 1989 when the desert tortoise was first listed under the ESA. Home building, school construction, and public works projects all came to a screeching halt... and infrastructure development was slowed such that critically needed services were put on hold. The state of Nevada, the city of Las Vegas, and the Southern Nevada Home Builders Association sued the federal government... [and lost]... Everyone involved in the lawsuit agreed that Clark County should facilitate a solution allowed by the law... A committee of citizens crafted the Habitat Conservation Plan we are living with now. The steering committee is open to any member of the public and includes environmentalist, recreationists, off-road vehicle enthusiasts, pet owners, home builders, biologists, ranchers and miners. The government approved that plan. It is important for people to know that no taxpayer dollars have been spent preserving the desert tortoise. The costs of this plan are paid by those who benefit from it - developers pay a fee of $550 per acre in exchange for the ability to remove desert tortoises from the property. In a sense, it's a true impact fee because it's a real example of growth paying for growth... There is a lot of irony involved in this issue. There are no easy answers and it will take courage and leadership to support a solution that is based in fact and our understanding of all the intertwined issues. Paul J. Christensen. Clark County Commissioner. [Letters to the editor, April 19]
"So a few hundred will have to go if the rest are to be saved. Now, let's see if I have this right: We kill them with earth-movers and the like, then decide there aren't enough of them in the region and fret over their existence, then devote millions in the name of preservation, then kill them when the cost is too great. I wonder if the desert tortoise is confused yet. I know I am... No developer has yet embraced the idea of giving one free tortoise to each new homebuyer... John L. Smith, columnist" April 1
"I have worked at the Desert Tortoise Conservation Center, building pens and taking care of tortoises. The center was never intended to be a permanent solution; it is a storehouse and a place to conduct research in an effort to save the Vegas Valley's growing dislocated population of tortoises. The center is not filled to capacity, as only about a quarter of the land already acquired is being used for the pens, and it has been estimated there are no more than a couple thousand wild tortoises left in the valley. As for funding the facility, the money should already be in the bank for this purpose; that is why developers pay fees to build on tortoise habitat. There should be millions available by now (I have heard between $8 and $10 million). I have heard that the county no longer wishes to be responsible for operating the center and wants out. Just what does the county intend to do with the millions of dollars already raised from development fees, if it does not intend to fund the conservation center as the money was intended to do? Randall D. Watkins." [Letters to the editor, April 8]
Personally, I wonder... Has any of these people, agencies, governments, etc. ever considered just selling desert tortoises? I bet they could get $200-300 a pop from pet keepers or collectors. Glue on a permit like they already do and make money on the deal. Couldn't be any worse than killing them, could it?
For people unclear on the concept
Last month's Letters to the Editor of the Bulletin had a contribution from Jill Horwich who made an issue of my use of the phrase "Yucky stuff" as a headline for a piece about Burhop's running a cooking school for alligator balls, turtle soup, and frog legs. Ms. Horwich stated that this type of meat is no different than beef or pork and that wild animals are probably killed in a more humane manner than are domestic animals. Let me be perfectly clear for those who misunderstand why I feel that the consumption of the specific articles in my piece is "yucky." First, I object to the taking of wild animals for food. The turtles and the frogs prepared by the chef were most definitely wild caught since there are no captive breeding for food programs for aquatic turtles, sea turtles, or frogs to my knowledge anywhere in the world. The alligators whose balls were being fried may have been hunted from the wild, captive bred or farmed. The article didn't say. Second, wild animals are not killed more humanely than domestically raised cows, steers, pigs, chickens, and so forth. Wild animals are often killed by the collector who is under no legal restraints or U.S. Department of Agriculture rules as to the killing of said animals. Turtles are routinely killed by decapitation. I have seen several, including one lovely Graptemys nigrinoda, beheaded at grocery stores in Chinatown. Frogs can be pithed or decapitated. I have seen frogs pithed and it is also not a pleasant sight. Biology students know that frogs are routinely used in school laboratories to study the effects of various drugs on the heart - which beats for a long time after pithing. Are they really dead when their chests are sliced open and their still beating hearts are offered to the god of biology education? Are we Aztecs? The point is that consuming an animal which was pillaged from the wild, whose offspring will never be born to replenish wild populations, is quite a different thing from buying a piece of dead, domestic cow.
Thanks to everyone who contributed this month, and a special thanks to a group of people including Jim Harding, Kathy Bricker, Bill Burnett and probably others who mailed stuff to me in the past and never saw their articles or acknowledgements. Some of you may have heard of the postal problems in Chicago that were so severe that the Chief of the U.S. Snail actually came out and visited (gasp!) our post offices. Well, about a week after his visit, I got a bunch of mail which I opened and found some older articles I'd already used. Since people like Jim, Kathy, and Bill are usually so timely with their contributions, I looked at the envelopes. The mail was from August, 1993!!!! So, if you've sent something before and I haven't seemed to use it or thank you, perhaps your letters are still on their way! In fairness to all the fine workers at the post office, I have occasionally received overseas letters addressed to: Ellin Beltz, CHS, Chicago USA. This is not the right address. Please send contributions to me (see the bottom of this page for the most recent email). I use or acknowledge everything I receive and your contributions are read and enjoyed by at least 1900 other people worldwide. So, confuse the snail, send your clippings today!
H.E.A.R.T. (Held Endangered Animals - Ridley Turtles, Lepidochelys kempii) sent a letter this month which reads: "The sea turtles and especially the endangered Kemp's ridleys are losing out again...the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) both charged with protection of sea turtles did nothing but follow up and count carcasses while over 200 sea turtles including over 100 Kemp's ridley sea turtles were washing up on Texas beaches! ... NMFS has reduced the penalty for not having a TED (turtle excluder device) or disabling a TED to merely a civil fine instead of arrest and a criminal charge. This is a tragedy for the sea turtles and especially for the Kemp's ridleys. 204 dead turtles this year, most of them in April and May. Over 100 Kemp's ridleys dead! Thirteen percent of them were headstarted! Of course, the government stopped the headstarting experiment at Galveston, TX that was adding tough little 10 month old ridleys to the wild population. The government contends headstarting isn't successful although research shows it is. ... We want to know what is killing the turtles no matter what it is so it can be stopped!. Is there some other type of fishing going on that drowns sea turtles? A Texas Parks and Wildlife (TPWD) biologist reported that on May 11 he saw "15 shrimp and two menhaden poagie boats" between Galveston and Calcasieu, Louisiana. And TPWD "received several complaints of dead fish around shrimp boats and poagie boats." ... Public comments to legislators are needed to question a combination of factors:
Suggested recipients of letters include: a.) NOAA, NMFS, 1335 East West Highway, Silver Spring, MD 20910; b.) Secretary of the Department of the Interior, 7800 C Street, N.W., Washington, D.C. 20240; c.) your congressional representative (call 312-939-INFO if you don't know who that is) at the U.S. House of Representative, Washington, D.C. 20515; and your senator at the U.S. Senate, Washington, D.C. 20210. Please send photocopies of your letters to HEART Box 681231, Houston, TX 77268-1231.
- Why doesn't the government get ready for shrimping season and why didn't they respond immediately to dead turtle strandings?
- Why was the TED violation penalty reduced?
- Why can't we get specific numbers on how NMFS arrived at their 95 percent TED compliance rate?
- Why was the sea turtle stranding network drastically cut back when it provides important information about strandings and fishing activity?
- Why has funding been reduced for the Kemp's ridley turtle nesting beach operation at Rancho Nuevo, Mexico?
- Why not restart the headstart experiment for Kemp's ridleys stopped by USFWS last summer?..."
A report from Scripps Howard News Service sent by alert reader Larry Valentine of Grand Junction, CO from the local Daily Sentinel [March 2, 1994] reports on hearings conducted by the House Merchant Marine and Fisheries subcommittee as part of their evaluation of the Endangered Species Act. Gary Matlock, a deputy regional director of NMFS said that organization supports captive propagation programs "only as a last resort." Unnamed Clinton administration officials stated "that specialized breeding strategies alone will not solve the problem of endangered species." Specifically cited was the Galveston, TX headstarting facility. The article says (with no further sourcing): "Scientists now concede there is little evidence of success." For readers new to the issue, or for others who may not have seen it the first time, there is apparently a political stress between a particular scientist at NMFS and the Galveston headstarting facility. Tempers between the two rose when the scientist suggested performing (and may indeed have performed parts of) an experiment in which turtles would be strapped to detonating chunks of oil platforms to evaluate their response to the demolition of oceanic structures. The headstarters described this experiment as "barbaric" and bad blood has existed ever since. The latest shot in the war is the closing of the Galveston facility based in part on "scientific testimony" showing that there is a null result from headstarting. However, much knowledge has been gained by headstarting facilities around the world including as one example the temperature-dependent sex ratio - at different temperatures, different sexes hatch. Since turtles take such a long time to reach scientific maturity, it is not yet possible to know if headstarted hatchlings will return to their nesting beaches, or to their release beaches off Padre Island, TX. It is a shame that one researcher has apparently put his ego in front of the survival of the species for which so many have worked so hard. Your letters to all concerned will truly be appreciated.
Texas Parks and Wildlife Magazine (March, 1994 from Mark Witwer) reports that sea turtles have been found living around offshore oil platforms in the Gulf of Mexico. Researchers with the U.S. Department of the Interior, Minerals Management Service (MMS) report finding loggerhead sea turtles around the lest of oil drilling rigs offshore from Galveston, TX. Dr. Ann Bull, a marine biologist at MMS "speculated that the turtles were feeding on crabs, flying fish and shrimp that were attracted to the platform lights." She said, "We don't know how many loggerheads might be living in that part of the Gulf ... but there is no doubt that some of them take up residence, at least briefly or seasonally, around offshore platforms that offer shelter, overhead protection, and a spectacular menu at night."
Turtles forced to leave their habitat by bulldozers in Guangzhou, China have been returned to a slightly different location in the province after a two-year absence. Local officials punished the construction company responsible for the destruction of habitat and have gone all out to restore the area. More than 60 hatchlings have been released. The province is home to more than 30 kinds of protected marine animals and this year, over 900 cases of wildlife poaching or fishing have been prosecuted. The Huidong green turtle conservation area is the only protected zone for these animals along China's entire coastline. It has been recognized by the United Nations for its efforts on behalf of an estimated 1,000 turtles [China Daily, December 14, 1993 from P.L. Beltz] A later story from the same publication [January 8, 1994] details the results of this years "head start efforts" for green sea turtles at the preserve. It reads: "Since 1985 [when the preserve was set aside] more than 570 female turtles have climbed onshore and given birth to more than 28,900 turtle babies. Most of them have been released into the sea."
The February, 1994 issue of National Geographic had a cover story on sea turtles by Anne and Jack Rudloe. It's good reading in general with an excellent description of how a TED works, however, it was apparently written before the Galveston head starting facility was closed since it mentions a Texas hatching facility. [from P.L. Beltz]
Large numbers of loggerhead sea turtles have been counted nesting on the east and west coasts of Florida. The Orlando, FL Sentinel reports that "Today, the main killer of turtles is pollution. Turtles think plastic grocery bags are jellyfish and try to eat them. Netting also has depleted turtle populations, even though TEDs are required by law on commercial netters in Florida." [May 6, 1994 from Bill Burnett]
Turtles choosing to nest on Daytona Beach and other Volusia, FL County beaches will receive more protection this year after the county received warnings from the USFWS. The service had cited a number of eggs and baby turtles smashed or run over by cars, trapped in tire ruts, or disoriented by headlights from cars and trucks driving on beaches last summer and stated these to be violations of the federal Endangered Species Act. This year, vehicles will be banned from beaches at night, and completely from some heavy nesting areas. In addition, the county will be looking for beach lighting violations. [Orlando, FL Sentinel, April 30, 1994 from Bill Burnett]
The Marine Mammal Stranding Center in Brigantine, NJ reports a large number of sea turtle strandings for the last half of 1993: two female leatherbacks, dead on beach, another with rear flippers amputated and healed over with rope marks on carapace, another with chafing of both front flippers at base, the last two possibly killed by entanglement; a loggerhead of unknown sex found dead with a fractured carapace, probably killed by a boat hit; a male leatherback killed by entanglement with black polyfilament line around mouth, shell and rear flipper; another possibly killed by a boat hit; a female leatherback found missing its head and right front flipper, another killed by entanglement by mono line around its neck and right rear flipper; also 13 other turtles found dead but too decomposed for necropsy; two green turtles were found alive, one was sent to the North Carolina Aquarium for release, the other died of a stomach wall infection four days after it was recovered. The center is supported by public donations and the sale of cups, shirts, and other goodies. Even though the name doesn't say "reptiles," Bob Schoelkopf and Sheila Dean retrieve, record, and recover all reported sea turtles, box turtles, and snakes suggested to their facility. I strongly urge CHS members to support their work. Contact the center at P.O. Box 773, Brigantine, NJ 08203 or call 609-266-0538 for more information.
Science [Volume 263, March 4, 1994] reports that Indian sea turtles are imperiled by shrimp trawlers due to the Indian government's construction of a major shrimp fishing port within 10 kilometers of the best Olive Ridley nesting beach on the subcontinent. The Madras Crocodile Bank (a CHS exchange member) plans to sue the Indian government to try to stop the opening of the port. Send letters of support to them by writing: Post Bag Number 4, Mahabalipuram 603 104 Tamil Nadu, South India.
Canadian broadcasters plan to reduce violence on television and the first casualty was "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles." The ban includes shows with "gratuitous violence" and limits shows with contents "suitable for adults only" to the hours after 9 p.m. The code also demands that "violence will not be the central theme" of children's cartoons. The mutants apparently failed on all counts. [The New York Times, January 11, 1994 from P.L. Beltz]
Crab trappers in New Jersey apparently kill diamondback terrapins (Malaclemmys terrapin) along with their target species. This has caused a hue and cry among residents who are proposing a no-trapping zone around the Sedge Islands Wildlife Management Area in Barnegat Bay, Ocean County. Other threats to diamondbacks include predation by raccoons and foxes. [Asbury Park Press, February 20, 1994 from Bruce T. Henderson, DVM] It is interesting to note the comeback made by terrapins; at the beginning of this century, they had been all but eliminated due to market trapping. "Diamond Jim" and other great gastronomes of the Gilded Age snarfed down soups and stews of terrapin along with the last of the passenger pigeons and other tasteful delights. The terrapins, fortunately, were able to recover. The subspecies of terrapin, unfortunately, have been so mixed by releases and "turtle farming" as to have become quite indistinct in some areas. I had a terrapin which I rescued from a Chinese grocery. It was a very pleasant animal, but nearly died from what I presume to have been "captivity depression." It must be hard for an animal accustomed to an entire salt marsh to exist in a small tub in a small apartment. I gave it to someone with more space and it perked right up.
On April 20, 1994 the Chicago Tribune [from sharp-eyed Claus Sutor] reported: "Raging fire endangers Galapagos turtles. Quito, Ecuador - A fire roared Tuesday across the largest of the Galapagos Islands, burning 2,500 acres and threatening a treasured environment. The fire on Isabela island, home of mammoth Galapagos turtles and scores of other wholly unique varieties of plants and reptiles, was out of control..." Bill Burnett sent a clipping dated May 1 from the Orlando, FL Sentinel which stated: "If worse comes to worst, if the firebreaks fail and the huge wildfire rages onward through the largest of the Galapagos Islands, scientists say they will take the rescue of giant tortoises into their own hands. They will lift the endangered tortoises, one by one, and haul them to safety... A two-week-old wildfire has seared 21,000 acres on Isabela Island, but it is still five miles from the nearest nesting area of tortoises. And firefighters say the blaze is now under control. ...Isabela has been wracked by fires from volcanic eruptions for millennia, but probably never before has it endured two major fires within a decade. It has now - a devastating one in 1985 and the present fire, both caused by humans.
Dumb human tricks
An Argentine man was sentenced to 15 months in prison for trying to smuggle 417 reptiles in one suitcase into the U.S. including: 76 Podocnemis expansa, 107 Geochelone chilensis, 102 Geochelone carbonaria, 20 Tupinambis rufescens, 5 Boa constrictor occidentalis, and 7 Epicrates cenchris and another 100 specimens not protected by CITES. Unfortunately, 92 percent of the Podocnemis turtles died while in the suitcase. The remaining animals were shipped back to Argentina and were to be released in the wild. The man claimed he was going to give the animals to the Bronx Zoo in NY, but USFWS agents concluded he planned to sell the animals to exotic animal dealers. [World Wildlife Fund Traffic USA, January 1994 - from Karen Furnweger]
Some people never learn... One of the two Taiwanese men busted by the USFWS and U.S. Customs for smuggling 18 snakes in sacks tied around his arms and legs (not to mention 34 more in their luggage) has been busted previously on similar charges! Apparently Customs agents discovered a lizard in his pocket, more reptiles wrapped around his body, inside his clothing and in his carry-on bag. USFWS confiscated one emerald tree boa, eight savanna monitors, three tegus, an albino red-eared slider, two African fat-tail geckos, three California king snakes, two Mexican milk snakes and one whipsnake. [WWF Traffic USA, January 1994 from Karen Furnweger]
But what killed the snake?
The owner of an exotic pet shop from Bay Shore, Long Island, NY was found dead by authorities in a field. Nearby lay the corpse of his pet Mojave rattlesnake. Newspapers around the country reported details: he'd had a fight with his girlfriend, he'd threatened this type of suicide before, he was fascinated by venomous snakes, etc. Puncture wounds were found on the body which are believed to be consistent with snakebite, but an autopsy remained to be performed [Newsday, March 14 and 15, 1994] Contributor Joseph Jannsen wrote: "As of March 29, there has not been a follow up." Does anybody know how this story ends?
Slithery, slender tales
Five players for the Arkansas Razorbacks have pet snakes including Corliss Williamson who said, "They are just neat to be around. I used to have a fear of snakes but I started playing with [teammate] Cory Beck's snake and became fascinated with them. [The Washington Times, April 4, 1994 from Kathy Bricker]
A Deland, FL man's scheme to protect his car backfired when his 7-foot python which was supposed to "watch the car" was stolen along with the Oldsmobile Delta 88 in which it had been sleeping. The car was found the next day by Volusia, FL sheriff's deputies who took the snake to the Humane Society. The animal was later taken to the Central Florida Zoological Park after its owner claimed he didn't have enough money to go and get her. The zoo planned to take care of the snake until the 19-year old college student can get back for her - but cautioned they can't care for it forever. [Orlando, FL Sentinel, April 20, 1994 from Bill Burnett] By April 27, the same paper was reporting that the animal would be offered for adoption by the zoo.
Pictures of snakes have been banned from publications of the Alameda Newspaper Group "until a snake actually holds up a bank, is nominated for a Cabinet post or wins the Super Lotto." Seems as though the boss of the ANG doesn't like snakes. In contrast, the inventer of the Nautilus workout machine Arthur Jones loved snakes and kept cobras and rattlesnakes in his home. [Orlando, FL Sentinel April 28, 1994 from Bill Burnett]
A thief stole the corpse of a 12-foot Burmese python from a Pasco, WA woman's freezer. She had adopted the snake three years ago from the Benton-Franklin Humane Society. Tired of feeding the snake three 7-pound rabbits every two weeks, she froze the snake in an effort to humanely kill it with plans to have the corpse skinned and sold for snakeskin goods. [Leesburg, FL Daily Commercial, April 27, 1994 from Bill Burnett]
A dead 11-foot python was found in a residential driveway by sewer workers in Lorain, OH who visited the house to check on the sewers. The residents of the house didn't know the snake was there. An animal keeper at the Tropical Rain Forest at the Cleveland Metro-parks Zoo was quoted as saying, "There have been incidences where pet snakes have attacked and killed babies or small kids in their homes. If he was healthy and he decided to wrap around someone, there would be a real threat. We worry about that with our pythons because they're very, very strong. They're also capable of eating small dogs and cats." [The Morning Journal, May 5, 1994 from Matthew B. Meade]
An Associated Press report picked up by the Cleveland, OH Plain Dealer [May 13, 1994 contributed by Jim Zimmerman] reads: "Twentynine Palms, CA - A bird dropped a snake over a power station, short circuiting a line and causing a two-hour blackout in the desert. More than 4,000 homes ... were without power Wednesday while ... crews removed what was left of the rosy boa and restored the circuit."
Thanks to all columnar contributors including Larry Valentine, Lisa Koester, Karen Furnweger, Bob Pierson, Kathy Bricker, and Donna-Marie Gazdziak who sent clippings that were very interesting, but couldn't be included this month. You can become a contributor, too. Send clippings with the publication name/date slug and your name firmly attached to me.
Dr. Michael W. Klemens has joined the staff of the Wildlife Conservation Society (New York Zoological Society) as Director for Program Development. Michael will continue heading the Turtle Recovery Program which was formerly at the American Museum of Natural History. CHS member Dee Fick has started the Florida Keys Herpetological Society. Their first meeting was July 7. She writes, "Wish us luck... [our society will be] for people of all ages who have an interest in reptiles and amphibians.
But did he swallow?
While jogging, President Bill Clinton wore a shirt which showed a toad and the inscription "Toad Suck Arkansas." When questioned by the ever-alert Washington press corps, he explained the shirt publicizes an annual fair in Conway, Ark. where toads compete on a 50-yard course. He said, "You've got to keep the toad both going and within your lane, and if the toad gets out of the lane, you get disqualified." Toad Suck Daze is one of the state's largest festivals and includes toad-related games, jumping frog contests, and offers toad-related bric-a-brac for sale.
[The Times-Picayune, March 14, 1994 from Ernie Liner]
Toad Smoke Daze, Phase Two
The couple arrested in California for "smoking toad," which was reported in newspapers from coast to coast have had their day in court. The judge ordered them to take a drug-abuse course, which if they complete it and remain drug-free, will enable them to avoid jail. A writer for the New York Times Magazine [June 5, 1994 from P.L. Beltz] tried smoking toad juice. Anyone interested in his descriptions of the experience is referred to a library to read it for themselves. This writer feels that it would be a highly unpleasant experience and wishes to give the matter no further publicity.
Speaking of highly unpleasant experiences...
A 42-year-old Florida resident was bitten by an alligator while hunting for golf balls in a water hazard on a West Palm Beach golf course. The man was treated and released. The gator was destroyed. [The Times-Picayune, April 16, 1994 from Ernie Liner]
A visitor to Arizona was bitten by rattlesnake while hiking. He did the right thing and went to a hospital immediately. Forty-eight hours later he was discharged. His three-page bill totalled $16,161.40. The man has no medical insurance. [The Tucson Weekly, March 30 - April 5, 1994 from David L. Hardy, Sr.]
A 9-foot alligator attacked a police car removing a 10-inch chunk of plastic from the front bumper. The alligator was destroyed. [The Gainesville Sun, May 3, 1994 from Dan Pearson] A Nile crocodile attacked an American woman while she was washing her hair in the Epulu River in Zaire. After a protracted struggle, the crocodile was forced to let go, but the woman lost her arm. The 28-year old Missouri woman plans to return to her job in Africa later this year. She said, "I have to [go] - that crocodile still has my watch." She does have a sense of humor about it. She tried to get "HOOK" and "LEFTY" license plates for her car, but had to settle for "BITN" as the other words were already in use. [The Las Vegas Review-Journal/Sun, May 7, 1994 from Bob Pierson] The story is told in "chilling detail" in this month's Readers' Digest for those who like that sort of thing.
A Myrtle Beach, SC woman received a ticket with a $60 fine for stopping in the middle of a highway to help a turtle cross the road. She plans to appeal. [The Concord, NH Monitor, May 18, 1994 from Brian Carter]
The Deja Vu on Lincoln Avenue in Chicago is holding biweekly turtle races. The club owner says he got the idea from turtle races held on the Ray Raynor children's television show. [The Chicago Sun-Times, April 8, 1994 from Debi Hatchett]
China Daily reports that "The Cantonese have a reputation for eating anything and everything... They eat everything that flies except airplanes, and everything in the ocean except boats... And among the exotic fare served up... the snake dish is the most renowned... Autumn is thought to be the best time... since snake meat is the most tender at that time of year... hundreds of thousands of snakes are consumed in [the provincial capital] Guangzhou... You need to have a strong stomach to enter a Guangzhou snake restaurant. The snakes are kept alive in glass tanks. Waitresses invite the customers to select one... The creature is killed and skinned in front of the diners... " [May, 1994 from P.L. Beltz]
A Eustis, FL man said he wasn't sorry for hacking an alligator to death with a machete. A police dog tracked a trail of blood from a local lake to the house where the man's wife had hidden the meat in a child's room when she saw the officers approaching. The remainder of the animal was buried in the back yard. The man claimed the gator had eaten his bait and bobber every time he'd cast into the lake. [The Leesburg, FL Daily Commercial and Orlando, FL Sentinel, April 2, 1994 from Bill Burnett's mom]
An alligator which sunned itself on an island in Lake Alice on the University of Florida campus was removed after several complaints. However, some of the children in the neighborhood were "upset and outraged" when the creature was taken. The animal was destroyed. [The Gainesville, FL Sun, April 20, 1994 from Dan Pearson]
During a WWF wrestling match in Zapopan, Mexico, Jake (the Snake) Roberts was doing his usual bit with a "gigantic snake," chasing people, making faces, attempting to scare people, and putting the critter around his neck. Wrestling Observer Newsletter [May 26, 1994 from Bill Burnett] reports that the snake "suddenly started constricting around Roberts' neck and had him nearly choked out and he collapsed backstage and they had to pull the snake off him and try to revive him." My personal three cheers for the snake; perhaps it should have won the match!
A 34-year old Mississippi woman was heading home, stopped at a McDonald's's and looked up to see a man pointing a gun at her. He demanded money, she tried to drive away, the man fired at the car. Two Slidell police officers chased the suspects along an interstate. One officer said, "They bailed out of the automobile... and jumped into a canal. It was a bit of a surprise for them, though. They were sharing that part of the canal with a 10-foot alligator and some of its offspring." The gator family was given partial credit for the arrest by the officers who booked two teens for attempted armed robbery and attempted murder. [The Baton Rouge, LA Sunday Advocate, March 20, 1994 from Ernie Liner]
Snake smuggler pleads guilty
A Parma, OH man pleaded guilty to charges of smuggling 226 snakes and 64 lizards into the U.S. by carrying them past customs in suitcases. The man and friends went to Papua, New Guinea and collected wild pythons. Customs seized 73 animals in March 1987. Eighteen were Boelen's pythons [MIKE Morelia boelensi? please check spelling] which authorities said were worth $3,000 each. The man was also caught in December 1987 with 20 pythons in his luggage and again in May 1989 with 61 reptiles. His companion was charged with bringing 81 ring pythons from New Guinea in August 1991. The Beacon-Journal [May 27, 1994 from Jim Zimmerman] states, "some of the snakes... were so rare that zoo curators had never seen live ones before." All of the animals listed in the indictment were designated as protected animals under CITES. The man may spend as much as 15 months in prison and has agreed to cooperate with wildlife officials in their investigation of international reptile smuggling. [Jim also sent an article about this from the Cleveland Plain Dealer, May 24, 1994 which had the value of Boelen's pythons at $10,000 each.] Incidentally, WWF Traffic USA [January, 1994 from Karen Furnweger] reported that the management authority of wildlife on Papua New Guinea has notified the CITES Secretariat that it has been tagging saltwater and New Guinea crocodiles with various color/number tags to permit identification of legally collected skins.
Updating previous stories
A Chicago-area man who took baby loggerhead turtles from their hatching beach in Venice, FL, decided he couldn't care for them, and dropped them off at the Shedd Aquarium was sentenced to 70 days in federal prison and ordered to pay $14,455 restitution. The judge said, "The only reason I'm not giving you more time is because you did bring the turtles into the Shedd when they became ill. The history I see before me is of a person who totally disregards the law. Apparently you don't believe the rules of society apply to you." The turtles will be returned to the Gulf of Mexico in August. CHS member and Shedd staff member Karen Furnweger was quoted, "These federal laws protecting them are so important, and that's why so many people wanted to see them applied in force in [this man's] case. We want people to be aware that they should never disturb these animals under any circumstances." [The Chicago Tribune, June 10, 1994 from K.S. Mierzwa]
Galapagos tortoises having been having a rough year. First there was a massive wildfire, and now individual tortoises are being killed and eaten. Workers found the remains of at least 42 giant tortoises on the island of Isabela which had been butchered. About 1,000 humans live on that island, and more live on nearby islands. Only about 6,000 tortoises live on the island; 400 are being moved to special reserves to protect them from hunters. [Science, April 29, 1994; The Orlando, FL Sentinel, May 12, 1994 from Bill Burnett; The Times-Picayune, April 23, 1994 and The Houma, LA Courier, April 27, 1994 from Ernie Liner]
The Streamwood, IL Reptile Swap held monthly on the farm of long-time member Lee Watson was featured in a front page Chicago Tribune article on June 22, 1994. After detailing the hot market for exotic animals, the article stated that law-enforcement agents say that swaps are "the next phase of our investigation." They feel that there is an underground network of illicit animal traders. Last year 22 reptile vendors were charged with more than 40 violations, although most were misdemeanors. Fines ranged from $50 to $900 and one case remains to be settled. Watson was quoted "I though it was all a lot of bunk. That was the biggest travesty of justice I've ever seen." Enforcement agents felt they "could only scratch the surface in the six or seven months [they] were there." In addition a Department of Conservation official said that reptile trading in Streamwood is not currently being conducted because they were forced to turn to other cases. (Note: The Streamwood Swap Meet is not sponsored by or connected with the CHS in any way except that a lot of our members attend. EB)
"I was interested to see in your April [column] that someone in Austin is producing those plastic stick-on Darwin fishes. Evidently through convergent evolution, a similar or identical decoration is being produced by a group... in L.A. [The Darwinners, 6671 Sunset Blvd. #1525, Los Angeles, CA] ... By the way, I used my WordPerfect spell-checker on the word `creationist' as you suggested and learned a new verb in the process. Keep up the good work! James N. Stuart"
Mark Bell, a CHS member who moved from Michigan to Golden Gate Estates, will be permitted to build a snake breeding facility under a case against him was dismissed. Bell said that the ruling was what "we were looking for. The whole thing was blown out of proportion." He said he did not understand why people were concerned about his snakes getting loose, since the area already has a substantial native snake population, including venomous snakes. [The Naples Daily News, May 13, 1994 from Alan W. Rigerman]
"I enjoy your column... I really look forward to reading, and yes, re-reading. I sincerely hope that the Beltz that had the surgery is doing very well... Please let us know. E.A. Zorn." Finally (I hope) we can say that P.L. Beltz is recovering from cancer surgeries and will be continuing as a regular contributor!
The biggest toad in the world [Guiness Book of Records] has died at the age of 12 in the southern Swedish town of Karlstad. [The Memphis, TN Commercial Appeal, March 21, 1994 from Bill Burnett]
Dear Abby received a letter concerning the iguana in the fast-food "restaurant" from a member of the Georgia Herp Society. "If you take an iguana out in public, you should never force your presence on anyone - let them come to you... I think it was tacky and stupid of that writer to take his reptile into an eating establishment." [Many sources: first received from Ernie Liner, The Houma, LA Courier, June 7, 1994]
Some Nevada old-timers have suggested an alternate reason for what they consider to be an apparent decline in the desert tortoise. They agree that the tortoises were more common in the 1920s through the 1950s, but suggest that the government poisoning of coyotes and ravens may have led to an artificial increase of population. Coyotes and ravens prey upon the relatively vulnerable juveniles; the more young that survived - they reason - the more adult tortoises there would have been. In addition, one rancher claims that cattle are actually beneficial since they crop the grasses down, providing the tender shoots favored by the tortoises. [The Las Vegas Review-Journal, April 24, 1994 from Bob Pierson]
Researchers at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, MD found that a substance extracted from the skin of a frog, Epipedobates tricolor, shows promise as a nonaddicting pain blocker. Low doses of epibatidine are more potent that morphine, but act differently from opiate painkillers. [Albuquerque Journal, May 15, 1994 from James N. Stuart]
Turtles, turtles, turtles
A Kemp's ridley turtle was taken to Jack Rudloe's Gulf Specimen Marine Laboratories in the Florida panhandle town of Panacea with a fishhook imbedded in its gullet. Rudloe said that sea turtles are threatened by monofilament fish line, hooks and electronic detection gear in addition to commercial fishing operations. "It's time to put the fairness back into fishing... Stainless steel hooks and monofilament line and monofilament nets should be banned, and fishing gear should be biodegradable," he said. The turtle may not survive the surgery necessary to remove the hook. [The Orlando, FL Sentinel, May 13, 1994 from Bill Burnett]
A suit was filed in U.S. Customs Court in New York asking the federal government to ban imports of shrimp from countries that have not reduced sea turtle deaths in nets. At stake is a $1.8 billion trade in shrimp conducted by 80 nations. The U.S. is the world's largest shrimp- consuming nation. [The Houma, LA Courier, June 8, 1994 from Ernie Liner]
Field work on the transmission of a virus which debilitates sea turtles is being conducted at The Turtle Hospital of Marathon, FL. Green turtles are at risk of the disease which is characterized by fibrous tumors. Researchers estimate that 75 percent of the green turtles in Earth's oceans may have been exposed or affected by the disease, up from about 7 percent in the early 1980s. Necropsies have revealed that the tumors affect internal organs as well as growing on the turtles' heads. If the tumors cover the animals' eyes, they stop feeding and starve. [The Florida Keys Keynoter, May 18, 1994 from Dee Fick]
Some figures being circulated sourced to the National Wilderness Institute are being used in an effort to claim that the Endangered Species Act as currently structured spends too much money to save species. The top four most expensive species on this list are the Atlantic green turtle $88,236,000, the loggerhead sea turtle $85,947,000, the blunt-nosed leopard lizard $70,252,000, and the Kemp's ridley sea turtle $63,600,000. These numbers are from 1973 to the present. [The Wall Street Journal, June 3, 1994 from P.L. Beltz]
Science [April 29, 1994] reports a marine biologist at the University of North Carolina - Chapel Hill has found that loggerhead sea turtles seem to have a magnetic compass in their heads which lets them use the Earth's magnetic field to navigate. The compass is so sophisticated that they can tell longitude as well as latitude. This feat was first accomplished by human mariners in the early 1800s and required the use of timepieces in addition to compasses. Nowadays we use Global Positioning Satellites, but the turtles just "follow their nose." The experiment used hatchling turtles attached to harnesses tethered to a swivel arm in the center of an upended satellite dish filled with water. The hatchlings could them swim in any direction while the swivel arm, and its attached computer, created a record of their movements. A magnetic coil system surrounded the dish. The coils produced variable fields and the results were recorded. When the north/south direction was reversed, the turtles turned too. If the field was merely rotated, the turtles turned to compensate. The initial alignment of the turtle's compass depends on the first light they see and if light was provided from the west, the hatchlings would always swim west. On beaches without human influence, the first light seen by hatchlings is a sky-glow over the ocean. Where people build houses and roads, baby turtles often go the wrong way and die. [Contributed by Bill Burnett]
A golfer in Rice, MN found a two-headed baby turtle while he was setting up to putt. The turtle has two front and two back legs, one tail and two heads. The golfer took the turtle home. His wife said, "It likes flies. Both heads eat. Sometimes, they even fight for food. When it tips over, one turtle fights to flip itself up one way and the other fights to flip itself up the other way." [June 11, 1994: The Montgomery, AL Advertiser from Rick Dowling, The Times-Picayune from Ernie Liner]
An Indiana man found a 40-pound snapping turtle wedged inside a truck tire in Hudson Lake. He first thought the turtle was alive, but said, "Then I saw that the poor devil was trapped in there and was dead. That's the biggest one I ever saw, and I've lived here for 40 years. Somebody didn't realize the consequences what could happen when they threw the tire into the water." [The South Bend Tribune, June 7, 1994 from Garrett Kazmierski]
No offense intended
To briefly respond to the letter from a CHS member who canceled his membership over some things that were in this column in the past, I would merely share with you some things I was taught in Jesuit grammar school: 1.) Among other freedoms, the U.S. Constitution guarantees freedom of the press, freedom of speech, and freedom of religion; 2.) The Catholic edition of the Bible quotes Jesus as saying "Judge not lest ye be judged," "Let those who are without sin cast the first stone," and "Love thy neighbor as thyself for the love of me." Based on this foundation, it pains me that in the pursuit of political (and other) correctness we can't maintain open minds! The further divided herpetologists, herpetoculturists, hobbyists, animal lovers, and natural history buffs become, the easier it is for the people who don't care about animals or nature at all to get laws passed that limit our freedoms. Be glad you live in a country where we are allowed to practice any religion - or none; to read any newspaper or book we want; to write columns and publish newsletters representing all sorts of views. I'm sorry if one reader felt that I put down his beliefs and symbols, or made fun of an important religious and social figure who is considered the son of God by Christians. That certainly wasn't the intent. Nor did I intend to imply unquestioning support for the organization EarthFirst, its views, or its actions in the January column when I reprinted their request for volunteers. I just thought it was neat they were going to do something constructive for a change and thought our members might like to know about it. If anybody else has any other complaints, comments, or encouragements write to me or to the Editor, CHS Bulletin. It's a free country - so express yourselves.
Thanks to everyone who contributed this month! In addition, Jack Schoenfelder, Garrett Kazmierski, Ernie Liner, Bill Burnett, Tom Taylor, Bob Pierson, James N. Stuart, Claus Sutor, Brian Bankowski (from Costa Rica - lucky fellow!), Kathy Bricker, Dee Fick, Karen Furnweger, Mark Witwer, and K.S. Mierzwa contributed photos, stories, cards, and clippings. The file folder is getting skinny though, so your contribution is requested! Please include the date/publication slug and your name firmly attached to the article. Photocopies are the best, tape is preferred to staples. To understand why, staple two pieces of newsprint together and then try to separate them well enough to read both pieces! Tape can be cut through if need be. Send your contributions to me.
After years of exploitation, including the taking of newly hatched babies for varnished paperweights and the adults for turtle soup, alligator snappers are protected throughout their historic range. The species is listed as Category 2 in the U.S. Endangered Species Act. State protection will have to suffice until the species' status is reviewed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in 1995. [Wildlife Conservation May/June 1994 from Karen Furnweger]
New rules published
Jim Harding sent along a copy of the Director of the Michigan Department of Natural Resources Order #DFI-166.93 which states: "I hereby order: That it shall be unlawful to kill, take, trap, possess, buy, sell, offer to buy or sell, barter, or attempt to take, trap, possess or barter any reptile or amphibian from the wild, or the eggs of any reptile or amphibian from the wild, except as provided within this order." Certain species are prohibited utterly without special permit from that office, including: Eastern Massasaugas, Blanding's turtles, Wood turtles, Spotted turtles, Eastern box turtles, Black rat snakes, Cricket frogs and any reptiles and amphibians protected under the Endangered Species Act. Commercial take is limited to snapping turtles with a carapace length of 12 inches or more and green frogs subject to legal limitations. "All reptiles and amphibians taken for personal take shall not be bought, sold or offered for sale." There are possession limits for all legally collected animals. For a full copy of the act, write: DNR, Box 30028, Lansing, MI 68909. Don't say you didn't know - it looks as if the state means business on this one.
Box turtle update
Those who attended a recent CHS meeting were made aware of a grass roots movement from the New York Turtle and Tortoise Society (including CHS member and regular contributor to this column, Alan Salzberg) to have the Eastern box turtle immediately listed on Appendix III of the CITES treaty. In addition, they hope to have its status changed to Appendix II at the next CITES meeting in November. Why? Well, as reported in this column previously, more than 30,000 box turtles were legally shipped overseas last year, and the species is becoming uncommon in many parts of its range. The pressures on the species began to build once Mediterranean tortoises were no longer legal for sale in northern Europe. Animal dealers switched to box turtles instead. Collectors here are paid about a dollar, and the animals are sold in Europe for up to $200 (according to a recent houseguest). However, the mortality of the transhipped reptiles is very high. CHS member Jim Harding suggested that it may be 90 percent within three years. He added, "Recent research has clearly shown that such species have virtually no harvestable population surpluses, and cannot be harvested on a sustained basis." [The Lansing State Journal May 25, 1994 from Jim Harding]
The old shell game
A town near London, Ontario Canada has sponsored turtle races for 20 years, but this year the Ministry of Natural Resources requested that the organizers offer instructional seminars along with the races. It seems that permits are required to catch midland painted turtles in the province, and that special dispensation was given those collecting for the races. All the turtles will be released after the event. [London, Ontario Free Press July 15, 1994 from Ted Teachout]
Shell shocked, but healing
A yellow-bellied slider was found in Apex, NC with a 3.5 inch gash in her 10-inch wide shell which exposed her spinal cord. Vets at the North Carolina State University's College of Veterinary Medicine said that the cut looked as though it had been caused by a shovel or a golf club. A team of doctors washed the wound, and injected the turtle with antibiotics, then built a temporary shell to cover the gash. The turtle was released into a pond outside Raleigh. [The Baton Rouge, La Advocate June 30, 1994 from Ernie Liner]
Mosquito/toad compromise reached
Efforts to control mosquitos by pesticide spraying can continue in areas of Albany County, Wyoming where Wyoming toads are not found under a compromise accepted by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). In 1992, the EPA angered local residents and ranchers by banning the use of 43 pesticides in a 970-square-mile area. A toad search will be conducted and areas which show as wetlands on aerial photographs will be examined for the vanishing amphibian. After an area has been certified "toad-free," pesticides can be used for mosquito abatement. [The Casper, WY Star-Tribune April 16, 1994 from J.N. Stuart]
Fangs for the mammaries?
The Arizona Republic (June 14, 1994 from Tom Taylor) reports "At a west-side topless bar, lounge lizards aren't the only reptiles lurking in the shadows. Six rattlesnakes have joined the cast... a guaranteed conversation starter. The fanged serpents, kept in a special cage, are popular with the patrons, but not with state Game and Fish Department officials who say rattlesnakes can be displayed only for educational purposes... The snakes are kept in a specially designed terrarium, which consists of a 750-gallon tank inside a 1,000-gallon tank, with sophisticated environmental controls, a security system and authentic desert flora... The cage has sound- proofing... the snakes seem to ignore the topless dancing altogether."
Newts in space
Four Japanese red-bellied newts, quickly dubbed "astronewts" by the bright boys at NASA, were loaded onto the space shuttle Columbia after beating all comers in an egg-laying competition. Besides the newts and a group of Japanese fish called Medaka, the non-human passenger list includes six goldfish, 126 jellyfish, 144 newt eggs, 340 Medaka eggs, 180 toad eggs and six toad testes for the purposes of fertilization, 11,200 baby sea urchins and 500 flies. A control group of the same kinds and number of animals will remain on earth and undergo the same experiments as the space critters. Scientists are interested in examining how eggs and animals develop and behave in weightlessness. [The Chicago Tribune July 8, 1994] Recent television reports suggest that one or more of the newts died in orbit. If anyone finds the rest of this story, I'd really like to see it.
Headstarting controversy explained
Jean Karnes sent a copy of the Summer 1994 Marine Conservation News(MCN) from the Center for Marine Conservation written by Deborah Crouse which expresses their point of view on the closing of the Galveston Head Start Center for Kemp's Ridley Turtles. The Center was supported for many years by the efforts of H.E.A.R.T. whose founder and tireless leader, Carole Allen once spoke to the CHS. Apparently hearings were held in March and "five witnesses specifically noted that `headstarting' Kemp's Ridley sea turtles could not be substituted for Turtle Excluder Device (TED) requirements in the shrimp fishery. (MCN)" Louisiana Representative Billy Tauzin chaired the hearing. Rep. Tauzin has long represented the interests of shrimpers and opposed TEDs. Now he is championing the raising and releasing of baby sea turtles "so that shrimpers won't have to use TEDs." The National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) stopped headstarting after 15 years after a review of the project by outside scientists indicated that they did not feel that the headstarted turtles survived to reproduce. Until data indicating the 16,500 hatchlings already released are surviving/reproducing, it is unlikely that the project will be refunded. In all fairness, it should be pointed out that the project has not been going on long enough for any of its hatchlings to have become reproductively active. In addition, protection of adults and nestlings on the beaches at Rancho Nuevo, Mexico may - in the long run - have more to do with the potential survival of the species in the wild. Crouse concludes: "To rely on headstarting as an alternative to TEDs would waste hundreds of thousands of taxpayer's dollars, raising turtles simply to be caught and drowned in shrimp trawls soon after release. As every single witness, even those in favor of restarting headstarting, recognized at the hearing, captive propagation or rearing stands no chance of helping an endangered species if the original threats are not addressed as well."
National Wildlife (April/May, 1994 from Mark Witwer) has a great article about Puerto Rican boa constrictors that eat fruit bats. I suggest that you check it out in your local library because there is no way I could do justice to the photos, and the article is well written, too. Snakes "set up house" in an attic in a community near New Orleans according to a Times- Picayune report (May 21, 1994 from Ernie Liner). The family had thought they had rats. It turned out to be rat snakes. One said, "I haven't slept in three days." Two snakes were captured, up to four more have been spotted. She added "They make a nasty sound, sickening. I turn the TV and radio up, but I still could hear it."
A "Rattlesnake Show" was held at the Stockton, IL Business Expo. "Snake experts Dan, John and Joe Roth... took the stage with a variety of snakes, including Western and Eastern Diamondback and Timber rattlesnakes, a copperhead snake, albino and regular reticulated Burmese pythons [sic], a corn snake and a bull snake." The show was reportedly educational and informative. The article continued, "The Roths participate in the yearly World's Largest Rattlesnake Hunt in Sweetwater, Texas where they both collect and butcher rattlesnakes... Roth keeps his 30 Western Diamondbacks, two Eastern Diamondbacks, one Timber and one Rock rattler and his copperhead in his home." [The Freeport, IL Journal-Standard April 2, 1994 from Lester Telkamp]
CHS member Rick Dowling was recently featured in his local Prattville, AL paper, The Prattville Progress which he kindly sent along. Seems that since 1988, he has advertised in that journal offering to come and get snakes which are bothering people on their property. He said, "The first year or so, the only calls that I got were after people had killed the snake and wanted me to come out and identify it. But now I get about two calls a week from people who want me to relocate the snakes.... I came across a man who was shooting at several snakes in a small creek. He was convinced the snakes were water moccasins. I told him that they were simple water snakes, but apparently his father and his grandfather before him had decided that all water snakes were water moccasins. I reached down and picked up one of the snakes, just to show him that it was harmless and it bit me. Well, the man just freaked out and told me that I was going to die. As you can see, I'm still here."
Let's see if I can sort this one out... A man who owned a "surly" 10-foot python asked a friend to feed it for him. The feeder bought a small brown and white rabbit for $21.49 and took it to work with him. A co-worker flipped out that the bunny was snake food and (as the police report reads) "took the rabbit and brought it to her vehicle. The complainant [who had bought the rabbit] went out to [the co-worker's] vehicle, but she refused to open the door to give him back the rabbit... [she] then drove off and took his rabbit. The complainant stated he contacted [the co-worker] by telephone because he thought it was a joke... [she] refused to return the rabbit because she did not approve of the use for the rabbit." Since then, the feeder bought another rabbit, and was fired from his job. He believes it was due in part to negative publicity surrounding this incident, although an official at the company told the reporter the bunny heist had no effect on the feeder's employability. [The Daily Herald April 25, 1994 from Clover Krajicek]
"Psycho on the loose in Mokena!" screamed a recent headline on The Herald-News (Joliet, IL from K.S. Mierzwa). The "Psycho" of the headline is a snake which escaped while visiting the shop in which his human worked. Seemed the human (stop me if this gets too familiar) left the snake in his truck with the window cracked one inch. Somehow, an 8.5 foot Burmese python that is reportedly six inches around squeezed out of the truck and left. The owner said, "I got it for an investment. I was going to breed them... He's worth some big money." [At the risk of having more people cancel their memberships, I'd like to propose that the snake isn't the only psycho in Joliet. EB]
Where does a 1000-lb crocodilian sleep?
In this case, in traffic. A 12-foot alligator apparently passed out while crossing a highway, causing a 1.5 hour traffic jam while officers tried to wake it up. Some artist ought to do a poster on how to recesutate [mike spell this word, please!!!] an alligator. The police tried everything. One put his squad car right in front of the critter and set off the siren and blue lights. Another poked at it with a stick. The fire department showed up. When it finally did wake up, one police officer said, "He had an attitude problem. A gator that size does what he wants to and goes where he wants to go. I was open for suggestions." [The Houma, LA Courier June 16, 1994 from Ernie Liner]
Thanks to everyone who contributed this month and to J.H. Schoenfelder, Kathy Bricker, Clover Krajicek, Ray Boldt, J.N. Stuart, and Marty Wnek who sent stuff I enjoyed reading but didn't use. You can become a contributor, too. Send clippings with publication/date slug and your name firmly attached with tape (or the whole shebang photocopied, please, please) to me.
In the June, 1994 issue of the Bulletin... you had a reference to a 7-foot python which was found in a stolen car in Deland, Florida. It was reported... that the snake would be offered for adoption by its present caregivers, the Central Florida Zoological Park. I am writing this as an update to that story. The python was housed at the Central Florida Zoo for approximately one month and was never offered for adoption. It was being held until the owner could save enough money to have it shipped back to him. Fortunately, we had an anonymous person donate the money for shipping costs. The snake has since been returned to its owner. Sincerely, Tim Walsh, Reptile Keeper, Central Florida Zoological Park."
A couple of months ago, Ray Pawley from the Chicago Zoological Park (Brookfield Zoo) and past president of our group, solicited funds from attendees for a project to sample the blood of tortoises from different islands in the Galapagos in an effort to determine which tortoises are more closely related, and which are farther apart. From a husbandry standpoint, this might give guidance for a potential mating for "Lonesome George." Although George is the last known survivor of all the tortoises from his island, somewhere in captivity may be another. DNA blood testing of captive Galapagos tortoises when compared to the sample from wild tortoises will provide the answer. In any case, I received a letter from Peter Burchfield, Gladys Porter Zoo, which reads, "Thank you (CHS members) so much for your help with the Galapagos tortoise DNA project. Without your help and support it would not have been possible. Thanks again!" From Omni Magazine August, 1994: "Move over Nessie. Recent reports tell of a giant killer turtle living in Island Lake, Illinois some 40 miles northwest of Chicago." The turtles are reported "to be anywhere from the size of a small pickup truck to an 18-wheel semi," said a village trustee. The water supervisor tried to catch it, but "All he got for his trouble was bent hooks," said the police chief. Contributor Marty Marcus wrote: "Ok, Ellin, `fess up now. This smells like a scheme cooked up by some of your local herpers to attract more eco-tourism $$$s to Illinois!"
Oldest turtle found
An article from Natural History written by Michael Lee [June 1994 from Jim Harding] suggests that the ancestral series of the turtle has finally been worked out. Pariasaurs have long been known from the fossil record, but no one had really worked with them. Perhaps it was because their name is pronounced "pariah - saur," or perhaps because the animals were small, not dangerous, and not very exciting. Dr. Lee wrote, "Pareiasaurs were among the largest animals of their time, but resemble nothing alive today. Imagine a fat hippopotamus with a thick tail. Shave off all its hair and cover its back with little armor plates... Aesthetically challenged to say the least, ...(they) have long been neglected by paleontologists, dismissed as an inconsequential evolutionary dead end." About 260 million years ago, a two-foot primitive reptile named Captorhinus crawled about on four legs without benefit of any bony plates. It had five neck vertebrae, 20 back vertebrae, and its shoulder girdle (Acromion process) was outside the rib cage. Five million years later, Bradysaurus arose. It was about 10 feet long and had a row of small bony plates down its back - between its backbone and its skin. These animals lived in what is now southern Africa. Geological records indicate that the continent had moved out of the Arctic Circle and that the climate was still cool, if not cold. Turtle ancestors apparently had stout, tubby bodies to prevent heat loss. By 248 million years ago, Scutosaurus, a 10 foot long Pareiasaur had fused bony plates covering the shoulder and pelvic areas and a bunch of unfused plates in rows laterally across the back. Another early Pareiasaur, Anthodon was only three feet long but had interlocking plates across its back and sides. It also had five neck vertebrae, but only 14 in its back. The shoulder process had become much more slender and is only three vertebrae behind its position in modern turtles. By 210 million years ago, Proganochelys, a primitive turtle, is known. It was about three feet long, lived open land, and looked like a modern turtle. The shell completely covers the body. It had eight neck and 10 back vertebrae, the Acromion process now lay within the rib cage touching the collarbone but not the shell while the ribs had become fused with the shell. Modern turtles have this feature fused to their shells like their ribs.
Oldest reptile tracks found
A team from the Smithsonian Institution, the New Mexico Museum of Natural History in Albuquerque, and the University of Denver are studying 2,000 slabs of rock from mountains north of Las Cruces, NM and have found reptile and amphibious tracks dating to about 285 million years ago. So far, 23 different types of footprints have been identified, including those of Dimetrodon an early reptile with a sail-fin on its back commonly misidentified as a dinosaur. The tracks were made in the Permian Period, millions of years before the first dinosaurs arose. It is also about 100 million years older than the oldest previously known track site. An amateur paleontologist discovered the tracks several years ago. [Associated Press, May 19, 1994]
Oldest amphibian found
Researchers suggest that the impetus for the colonization of land may have been the dangerous conditions of life in the Devonian oceans where toothed and armored fish roamed and fed. Paleontologist from the University of Pennsylvania recently excavated what is believed to be one of the earliest land animals, certainly the earliest known to us. Named Hynerpeton bassetti after the nearby town of Hyner, PA and (our favorite) Greek root "erpeton" the critter was about 2 feet long and looked like a cross between a fish and a baby crocodile. Previous amphibian fossils are known from Scotland, Russia, Brazil and Greenland. None, however, are as old as Hynerpeton or show the same series of specialized features. When this creature roamed the land 365 million years ago, Pennsylvania was a swampy delta receiving water and sediment from an ancient set of Appalachian mountains. The researchers searched dynamite-blasted cliffsides and road cuts finding the first piece, a fist-sized shoulderbone, among bits and pieces of ancient fish bones. [Chicago Tribune, July 29, 1994, from Claus Sutor]
How to catch more snakes...
CHS member Rick Dowling has long been known in his community for capturing snakes for fellow residents. Recently however, Rick was away and his wife, Kathy, received a call from someone upset because there was a snake in their yard. Rick sent a copy of the Prattville, AL Progress June 18, 1994 which reports: "Although Kathy does not quite share Rick's fondness for reptiles, she nevertheless answered the call. Armed with an oven mitt and a plastic container, Kathy managed to capture the 4-foot long snake and brought it home."
An Ontario woman placed a live white mouse in a cage on the floor of her kitchen after seeing a snake slither under the refrigerator in her apartment. She described the snake as about one inch in diameter and banded with orange and black. She said, "I don't have anything against snakes and I don't want to see it clubbed to death." Animal control would try for it if it were "in any area where we could get it, under a table or chesterfield... But they won't move heavy furniture like a fridge or tear down walls," said a spokesman. [Hamilton, Ont. Spectator, July 24, 1994] Contributor Brian Bankowski wrote, "I told them it was bound to be some sort of kingsnake... It was my idea to use a mouse as bait, but I don't think she quite understood what I meant!"
Another venomous pet bite
A snake owner accidentally knocked over a cage containing his "pet" puff adder. When he tried to retrieve the animal (does this suggest the cage top was not locked?) he was bitten. After his hands and arms had swelled to twice their normal size, he was flown to the Medical College of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia. Antivenin was obtained from the Philadelphia Zoo and the man will recover. [West Chester, PA The Daily Local News, August 14, 1994 from Mark Witwer]
Shrimp vs turtles round 3,119...
Federal officials are cracking down on shrimpers not using turtle excluder devices (TEDs) to prevent "accidental by-catch" of endangered sea turtles. More than 80 dead sea turtles washed up on Texas beaches in only the first two weeks of the 1994 shrimp season. Agents from the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) have begun confiscating shrimp from violators. More than $50,000 in shrimp was taken from two boats. [Houma, LA The Courier, July 24, 1994 from Ernie Liner]
Andy Kemmerer, director of the NMFS southeast region, said that additional enforcement officials have been brought to the Texas coast so more inspections can be conducted. He said, "What we think we have, what we are confident we have, is a few shrimpers who are not adhering to the law. We're going to ferret those people out if at all possible." [Houma, LA The Courier, July 21, 1994 from Ernie Liner]
In the first week of stepped up shrimp boat enforcement, over 100 boats were boarded, and 15 to 20 were found in violation of TED regulations. The death toll of washed up turtles reached 81 with all but two of the deaths "without a doubt... related to the opening of the July 7 shrimp season," according to Brent Giezetanner of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Two captains were cited for violations of the endangered species act. [Baton Rouge, LA The Sunday Advocate, July 24, 1994 from Ernie Liner]
"This is the smoking gun we all feared," said Deborah Crouse, Senior Conservation Scientist at the Center for Marine Conservation. "For two months last spring (April and May) while more than 200 endangered and threatened sea turtles died, we accepted NMFS' explanations of possible red tides and fish kills, and claims that the shrimpers were if full compliance with the TED regulations. But the fact that strandings stopped as soon as the Texas closure for brown shrimp began, and then resumed within days of continued shrimping points directly at shrimp trawls as the cause of these mortalities. If a major enforcement presence in the next few days doesn't stop the flow of dead turtles, we will have no choice but to call for a closure of the fishery in Texas. Clearly the fishers have ignored the rules, and found ways to disable their TEDs while keeping them in the nets to evade citations. The NMFS needs to increase enforcement and return to confiscating the catch." [Press release, Center for Marine Conservation, July 15, 1994 from Kathy Bricker]
In a shocking display of insensitivity, caterers at the 1994 Society for the Study of Amphibians and Reptiles Annual Banquet at Athens, GA last month made Gulf shrimp the featured dish. When asked, one of the caterers said, "Why what's wrong with it? Shrimp's a hallmark of Southern cuisine."
Until recently, the Jamaican iguana (Cyclura collei) was believed extinct. However, in 1990, a pig-hunter's dog retrieved an adult male of the species, the first one seen alive in 50 years. The animal later died of its injuries, but the Jamaican Iguana Research and Conservation Group was established. Through its efforts, 50 adults was found. Eggs and hatchlings were collected and 80 of the offspring are being raised at Hope Zoo. Some will be release, and some will form the nucleus of captive-breeding programs in Jamaica and the US. The only protection the species has in the wild is the remoteness of its habitat. They live in the last West Indian dry forest on the island which is threatened by limestone mining, development, charcoal burning, and hunting. Another threat is the introduced mongoose, which preys on juveniles. [Wildlife Conservation, May/June, 1994 from Karen Furnweger]
The Free China Journal of Taiwan [May 20, 1994 from Jim Harding] reports on conservation efforts to save the green turtle, Chelonia mydas on the island of Wanan in the Penghu archipelago. Concrete walkways were built by the tourism Bureau on that island to confine and direct movement of tourists to certain areas. Unfortunately the walkways block nesting efforts by turtles, and so one section has been demolished. This is an interesting dilemma... the walkways were built to save fragile beach vegetation, but block the turtles. The paper reports, "A long period of ignorance has greatly reduced Wanan's green turtle rookeries... [which] used to total more than 50 every nesting season... Las year, there were just 12. On Taiwan proper, marine turtle nests have disappeared from most of the beaches on the eastern and southern coasts."
Only in America
An Albuquerue man who regularly shot at lizards was fatally shot by local police after firing off a few rounds inside his apartment. Maintenance workers called the cops. The man was shot by a SWAT officer after ignoring repeated orders to drop his handgun. [Albuquerque, NM The Sunday Journal, July 31, 1994 from J.N. Stuart]
Massachusetts Governor, William Weld was attacked by a snapping turtle while he was reeling in a small-mouth bass. He said, it was a "terrifying, almost out-of-canoe experience. It [the turtle] was so big it would have knocked the canoe over if it had hit us." His companion whopped the turtle with an oar and it retreated, fish-less into the depths. [Milwaukee Sentinel, April 28, 1994 from Douglas Tadeyeske]
"Police in Coraopolis, PA were holding a 15-pound snapping turtle they say its owner used to chase his girlfriend... and tried to get it to bite her. Charges... include assault and theft." [USA Today, June 21, 1994 from Douglas Tadeyske]
Thanks to this month's contributors and to P.L. Beltz, Bryan Elwood, and Steven J. Ragsdale, as well as apologies to the unknown contributor of the oldest track story who didn't put their name on the clipping. You can contribute, too. Send clippings with date/publication slug and your name firmly attached (photocopies preferred) with tape, no staples to me.
Frog calls on e-mail?
At the first World Congress of Herpetology in 1989, researchers from around the world gathered to talk about amphibians. What they found when they compared notes, was that populations of frogs and salamanders around the world were in apparent decline. They organized the Declining Amphibian Populations Task Force (DAPTF) under the World Conservation Union Species Survival Commission. Subgroups were founded around the world. DAPTF has been extremely active, publishing a regular newsletter, and holding annual national meetings. Recently, under the leadership of Midwest coordinator Michael Lannoo, the Midwest DAPTF has held its second annual meeting. Meanwhile, the world organization has a new Executive Director, Tim Halliday and the newsletter office has moved. The new address for the FrogLog newsletter is [available by using a search engine for the latest webaddress: changed 2003]/
It'sss a ssstickup
Associated Press reports that two people taking a late night stroll in Camden, N.J. were held up at snake-point by two men who hopped out of a passing car. Two other men got out of the car and went through the victims pockets. [Chicago Tribune, August 12, 1994 form Steven J. Ragsdale]
Third sex of turtle found
A report in The New York Times [September 4, 1994 from P.L. Beltz] says that "surprising numbers of turtles in Lake Apopka (FL), which was polluted by pesticides years ago, are being born as hermaphrodites, which may be carrying sexual equality too far." In addition, some male alligators in the same lake have been found to have abnormal sex organs.
Johnny Herp-seed unappreciated
Apparently a well-meaning Milwaukee resident has been capturing Butler's garter snakes and releasing them in other areas where they do not belong. Gary Casper, of the Milwaukee Public Museum said that between kids taking a few animals and the man moving hundreds, the man is doing more damage especially since he apparently has little regard to whether the new habitat is appropriate or not. He is also promoting hybridization by releasing them in areas where there are other garter snakes as well as thoroughly lousing up studies by scientists trying to get accurate information of population and habitat. For more information write: Vertebrate Zoology Section, MPM, 800 West Wells Street, Milwaukee, WI 53233-1478. [The Milwaukee Journal, May 18, 1994 from Gary Casper]
Lose anything lately?
Psycho, the 8.5-foot python that gave its owner the slip, is still at large in Mokena. That's not his owner's only problem; he's been charged with one count of possession of a dangerous animal. [The Star, July 17, 1994 from Steven J. Ragsdale]
An alligator that slipped his leash and went for a swim in a German lake was netted alive after being chased by police and divers for five-days. Local newspaper headlines were in favor of the animal which was handed over the Cologne zoo after capture. [Chicago Tribune, July 17, 1994 P.L. Beltz] The New Orleans Times-Picayune had a bit more on the story. Apparently the alligator hunt cost the equivalent of $75,000 and kept 10,000 daily beach visitors away from the lake. [July 16, 1994 from Ernie Liner]
An 18-foot long boa constrictor awakened a Colorado Springs couple in the middle of the night - and it wasn't their snake. Six police and a Humane Society officer removed the 120- pound animal whose provenance remains unknown. [USA Today, June 22, 1994 from Bill Burnett]
A ball python found curled up behind a refrigerator in a vacant apartment in Burlington, WI was reunited with a man believed to be its original owner. Apparently, the man gave the snake (named "Floyd") to a second man who lived in the apartment. A police spokesman said, "The guy had it for one night. He had it in his waterbed with him, and it got loose on him. When he woke up it was gone." The four-foot animal was not found prior to the man moving out. [Racine, WI Journal Times, August 4, 1994 from Mike Zelenski]
A 7.5-foot boa constrictor was found by a Swedish man after he lifted the toilet lid in his apartment. The man fled, the snake retreated down the pipes. It was found that the snake was a house pet in another apartment which had been put in the bathroom to cool off during a heat wave. The boa was recovered by using miniature video cameras which are usually used to find blockages in waste pipes. [Chicago Tribune, August 11, 1994 from P.L. Beltz]
A 9-foot reticulated python was brought to the McHenry County Conservation District nature center by that county's animal control. It was found in the town of Wonder Lake and is believed to be about five years old. No one had reported such a creature missing, and no one had stepped forward to claim it. The law in Illinois states that constricting snakes over six feet are considered "dangerous animals." [McHenry County Conservation District News, September - October, 1994 from K.S. Mierzwa]
A venomous snake was discovered curled up on a classroom chair in an elementary school in Man, WV. The 8-year old who found it believed it to be a rubber toy, picked it up, and was bitten. He was taken to the hospital. The copperhead (which is a local animal) was killed. [Baltimore, MD Evening Sun, from Mark T. Witwer]
A Flamborough, Ontario boy nearly stepped on a 12-foot Burmese python in the woods near his house. An animal control officer speculated that the animal may have become separated from its owner during a snake walk, "They said this guy was commonly seen in the forest walking his snake. It may have been that this guy lost it, rather than letting it go." No one has reported the animal missing. The officer continued, "I'd hate to think that someone set it free because not being natural to this area, it wouldn't have much of a chance. As far as this snake goes now we have some health concerns." [Hamilton, Ontario Canada Spectator, September 1, 1994 from frequent contributor and globe-hopper Brian Bankowski. Thanks for the holiday photos, too!]
A 10-foot alligator was found in the sewers in North Miami Beach, FL by a maintenance worker. The animal was nicknamed "Buck" by the residents of Buckley Towers in whose sewers he was found. The condo association's treasurer said, "We think he's stuck." Gawkers hovered over sewer grates at the street, hoping to see the animal and feeding it gourmet bologna and meat patties. Feeding alligators is, of course, against the law and a wildlife trapper has been called in. [Orlando Sentinel, July 21, 1994 from Bill Burnett]
A woman who kept 36 caimans in her home in Kansas City, MO has been ordered to get rid of them. Neighbors had complained after they saw her on a television program. The caiman owner has the support of the National Society for the Protection of Animals and the former director of the Topeka zoo. [The Springfield, MO News-Leader, August 12, 1994]
A woman who keeps about 70 snakes in her home in Olympia, WA has been issued two city violations, one for operating a home business without a permit and the other for having created a nuisance with her rat cages. In addition, the city ordered her to get rid of her snakes by claiming they were a public nuisance following an incident in which she was bitten by a pet rattlesnake. The woman counterclaimed that none of her snakes has ever escaped, that snake keeping is a hobby and that selling or trading the occasional reptile is no different than selling a kitten or a puppy. She is an active member of the Pacific Northwest Herpetological Society and is a volunteer reptile counselor with the Boy Scouts of America, even helping scouts get their reptile badge. [The Olympian, September 11, 1994]
A CHS member and resident of Chicago was arrested in downstate Illinois after an early morning traffic stop on Interstate 55 with a cargo of 1,100 turtles and 100 non-venomous snakes including several endangered and threatened species reportedly including spotted turtles, western hognose snakes, an alligator snapping turtle and "river cooters." Sgt. Tim Sickmeyer, the Illinois Department of Conservation field supervisor with the special operations unit said the man arrested was known to the investigators as a dealer and operator of "Tony's Tiny Turtles" aquatic wildlife sales business. Sickmeyer added, "The whole thing is still under investigation. The luster of the traffic stop is going to long wear off before we get through everything. There is a lot of commercial activity involved with these species, most of which is legal." According to the Lincoln, Illinois Courier [September 3, 1994 from Steven M. Coogan] Tony Janowski was arrested and his van impounded. He was charged with three misdemeanors, a conservation permit violation and two traffic counts in Logan County and was released after posting $200 cash for a $2,000 bond. His next hearing is September 27, according to The Courier.
A Gainesville, FL man was arrested on the Cayman Islands and pleaded guilty to the theft of an endemic blue iguana while on holiday there, according to the Caymanian Compass [July 19, 1994 from L.W. Reed, D.V.M.]. The man had taken the animal from the Botanic Garden, lured the animal to the edge of the enclosure with food, then wrapped it up in a tee shirt and taken it away in his car. The iguana was identified by an implanted microchip and was replaced in the zoo. The man apologized to the Park and the people of the Cayman Islands for what he called his "irresponsible act."
Santa Fe Tapas in Chicago is offering rattlesnake fritters with jalapeno hollandaise. [Chicago Tribune, August 5, 1994 from Steven J. Ragsdale]
Phil Smidt and Son, Inc. 1205 N. Calumet Avenue, Hammond, IN 46320 has an ad with a line of high stepping frogs captioned "Phil Smidt has great legs. Our tender frog legs, sauteed and lightly breaded, are served family-style..." [New City, September 22, 1994 from P.L. Beltz]
PieWorks "Pizza By Design" in a shopping center out east has an ad which reads, "Some of our new toppings may rattle you. Yep, you heard right, Pardner. PieWorks now has a rattlesnake pie. Our new DiamondBlack has real rattlesnake sausage and homemade black bean salsa for that extra ssspice! But if that's too wild, you can always go for something tamer on your pizza, like buffalo, prairie chicken, or alligator." [Sent by William Brown, no citation]
A chef who specializes in crocodile cuisine was nearly eaten by a 6.5 foot long crocodile while swimming in an isolated outback river 100 miles southeast of Darwin, Australia. He said, "It feels strange to be on the other end of the food chain." The croc lost several teeth, the man was punctured and scratched all over. [The Houma, LA Courier, July 21, 1994 from Ernie Liner]
An 8-foot alligator chomped on his handlers thigh during an exhibition at a tourist attraction in St. Petersburg, FL. The gash required five stitches to close. A tourist said, "It was a pretty nasty sight." [Leesburg, FL Daily Commercial, July 30, 1994 from Bill Burnett]
It's the time of year to think about year-end donations to worthy causes, and I know I've suggested a few for your consideration in the past including H.E.A.R.T. (Help Endangered Animals Ridley Turtles, P.O. Box 681231, Houston, TX 72268-1231) which now has a catalog of gifts for all the turtle-lovers on your list; The IUCN Turtle Species Survival Group (Dr. Michael W. Klemens, Director, Wildlife Conservation Society, 185th Street and Southern Boulevard, Bronx, NY 10460-1099) which is working with governments and individuals around the world for the conservation of chelonians; and the Marine Mammal Stranding Center (Bob Schoelkopf, Director, P.O. Box 773, Brigantine, NJ 08203) which picks up stranded animals, rehabilitates any which can be, and releases those that have some hope of surviving in the wild. In addition to these, one of my neighbors passed along a catalog from the Center for Marine Conservation which is titled "Whale Gifts" but has some of the cutest sea turtle stuff I've seen in a while. If you have time, not money, you can volunteer to be a docent at the Lincoln Park Zoo. Finally, the Organization for the Protection of Nevada's Resident Tortoises, Inc. is offering a free bumper sticker which reads "Don't poach me. Adopt, I'm free" to each new member. Annual dues are $15.00. The group offers programs at the Nevada State Museum, a quarterly newsletter, and helps sponsor "Mojave Max, the southern Nevada Spokestortoise."
Snakes in/Navajos out
Snakes are a powerful symbol in Navajo lore, but after a few slithered into the tribal administration building in Window Rock , about 100 employees felt uncomfortable enough to leave. A spokeswoman for the tribe said "We are following the advice of the medicine men. What direction we will take as far as relocation of employees and snake abatement depends largely on what they direct us to do." Navajos are taught to leave snakes alone, not to harm them, nor to associate with them. The tribal cultural specialist said, "There's usually a spiritual and cultural reason why they have been seen inside the building. That's what the prayers and ceremonies are for, to discern the message the snakes bring. Their contact with us should not be ignored." The snakes are non-venomous garter snakes and bull snakes. [The Albuquerque, NM Journal, August 7, 1994 from J.N. Stuart]
Lisa Koester, new editor of the Chicago Turtle Club Amblings newsletter, is seeking original articles, cartoons and letters for that publication. Send to Chicago Turtle Club, c/o CHS. They also use turtle related news clippings and previously published articles (with copyright holders' permission). To receive Amblings, send a check for $5.00 payable to CTC-Chicago Herpetological Society, and send to the address above.
Lizard fishing touted
An article by David Grimes in the Leesburg, FL Daily Commercial [August 18, 1994 from Bill Burnett] outlines the joys of "lizard fishing." He had heard about it from a fellow writer as a fun kind of thing to do to pass time. To quote Grimes: "In terms of entertainment value alone, the lizards (anoles) are ahead of virtually everything coming out of Hollywood these days, and much of what is on TV. Add to this the fact that lizards eat bugs and have the good manners not to stink much when they die behind the refrigerator, and you're talking about a creature that has more going for it than your average Congressman. So you can imagine how excited I was as I knotted a piece of thread around the end of a stick and baited my paper-clip hook with a small chunk of leftover Hamburger Helper... I would like to say that after an hour of diligent fishing, I had a cooler full of trophy-size anoles. Alas, such was not the case... Lizard fishing is also - how can I say this diplomatically? - boring as hell. even more so that regular fishing, if you can imagine such a thing. Three lizards ran across my lap in the time it took one lizard to sniff my bait, and it wasn't even a keeper."
Contributor's letter published
Dee Fick sent in a copy of a letter to the editor to the Miami Herald which was published in July, 1994: "The July 25 article Suburban sprawl, exotic amphibians endangering frogs misses an alarming issue. South Florida's climate is subtropical. Therefore when some wildlife from the tropics make their way here, they often decide to stay. Cuban tree frogs have replaced the native green tree frog, squirrel tree frog, and smaller native frogs and toads, and pushed them westward, to the Everglades. In addition, the new entrants eat the natives. In the early 1970s, the only major population of Bufo marinus was in the Miami Springs area of the airport. Now these so-called `giant, marine, or poison toads' have spread throughout South Florida. They have, in many areas, completely replaced our native southern toad... Whether purposely introduced or arriving here on their own, foreign species of fish, amphibians, reptiles, and birds have replaced natives. Even the armadillo is a result of an accidental introduction in the Titusville area during the 1930s. ... But the greater issue... is the loss of wetlands... The resultant decline in waterfowl and huge decline in amphibians are symptomatic of this... Don't we owe something to future generations? Alan W. Rigerman"
Thanks to all this month's contributors and to Kathy Bricker, Garrett Kazmierski, Stephen J. Ragsdale, Brian Bankowski, Karen Furnweger, Mark Witwer, Bob Pierson, E.A. Zorn, and J.N. Stuart who sent articles previously used, photos, postcards, and other things I enjoyed reading, but just couldn't summarize. You can contribute, too. Send clippings with date/publication name slug and your name firmly attached with tape (or photocopy the whole mess, or send the whole page) please no staples to me. Every contributor is acknowledged whether the material is used or not. Next month turtle and gator stories galore.
And my critics only write letters...
This story is just too wild to try to summarize, so I quote verbatim: "DHAKA, June 23 - AP With pythons and poisonous cobras coiled around their necks, about 50 Muslim snake charmers marched through Dhaka today demanding death to the author Ms. Taslima Nasreen for insulting the Koran. `We will let loose at least 10,000 snakes in Dhaka unless Taslima Nasreen is arrested and hanged by June 30,' said Shamsul Huq, one of the protesters. The hour-long protest near a mosque was part of a campaign by fundamentalist groups against the controversial author. Vehicles stopped and commuters craned their necks as the snake charmers chanted death to those who insulted the Koran. A truck load of police escorted the protesters, who dispersed peacefully." [The Hindu from Romaine Andrews, Madras Crocodile Bank]
Wrapped Rex remains in custody
Regular readers of this column will recall that a well-preserved tyrannosaur fossil was seized by the Federal Bureau of Investigation after being excavated in 1990 near Faith, SD by a commercial fossil dealer named the Black Hills Institute of Geological Research. Dinosaur researchers said that the fossil, nicknamed "Sue," was one of the most complete and best preserved tyrannosaurs ever found. The FBI stepped in because, even though the excavators paid the land's owner, the latter is a member of a Native American tribe and his land is held in trust by the Federal Government. No permits were applied for and in May 1992, 28 FBI agents, Federal officials and National Guardsmen raided the institute and seized the plaster-wrapped pieces of Sue as well as other fossils and the company's financial records. The case has been in court ever since. According to the New York Times [October 4, 1994 from P.L. Beltz], the U.S. Supreme Court let stand an appeals court decision upholding the actions of the U.S. Government. To further complicate matters, the landowner's land was removed from trust - thus returning the ownership of the fossil to him. He may apply to the U.S. Department of the Interior for permission to sell it. Also, Federal indictments were issued charging officials of the fossil dealers with illegal currency transactions, fraud, money laundering, illegal international commerce and other felonies.
CHS member now charged with felonies
According to the Lincoln, IL Courier [October 6, 1994 from Steve Coogan], charges filed against a CHS member after a traffic stop in late August have been upgraded from misdemeanors to unlawfully possessing protected wildlife with the intent of commercial profit - a class III felony. The police reported that his 1987 Toyota van was stuffed with more than 1,100 turtles and 100 non-venomous snakes when he was pulled over by an Illinois State Police officer after an investigation by the Illinois Department of Conservation. Confiscated animals included several endangered species, specifically the spotted turtle, the western hognose snake, an alligator snapping turtle, and river cooters, according to the Conservation police. The newspaper adds that he is facing similar charges in Cook County and was scheduled to appear in court in Logan County October 25 to answer the new charges. Contributor Steve Coogan wrote: "I spent yesterday with a friend at the LaRue-Pine Hills and adjoining area in the Shawnee National Forest. We wanted to get a first-hand observation of the famous annual snake migration... During our six hour hike we met only one other person who was the DOC Police Officer. We had a long and interesting conversation which centered around the illegal herp trade and his personal involvement and observations... He told us of others he has encountered who are involved in the illegal collection and/or trade of herps and their ruthless collection practices. I had no idea how large and complex this problem actually is."
CHS-member and former Chicagoan, Dee Fick, invites all snowbirds visiting the Florida Keys this winter to stop by a meeting of the new Florida Keys Herpetological Society. Speakers are needed and qualified speakers will be provided overnight accommodations and some truly exciting sightseeing in or on the water.
"Green iguanas are such a pain, they aren't for everyone." CHS President Marcia Rybak has 8 green iguanas, 1 spiny-tailed iguana, 4 desert iguanas, 45 bearded lizards, 82 water dragons, 57 mountain-horned lizards, 27 Rankin's dragons, 22 leopard geckos, 2 chameleons, 2 monkey- tailed skinks, 3 collared lizards, and 19 turtles. [Chicago Tribune, September 23, 1994 from P.L. Beltz]
"I don't doubt the veracity of the people who have reported it, but I would be very surprised if anybody sees it again. Like a lot of tourists from Florida, he won't survive past September." Jim Reil, Minnesota Department of Natural Resources on three sightings of an alligator in a lake in that northern state. [Chicago Tribune, July 6, 1994 from Steven Ragsdale]
"We have friends and family come over, and we have a big fry the weekend of the Bratwurst Festival. I guess we have `turtlewurst.'" Todd Sykes, turtle hunter [Bucyrus, OH Telegraph- Forum, August (?) 6, 1994 from Bill Burnett]
"I'm sick and tired of tree-huggers and Bambi-ites. We need to have the [Daytona] beach open. We've got an economy we've got to take care of here. I like turtles. I used to eat them before they were protected." George Locke, a member of the Volusia County advisory board. [Leesburg, FL, Daily Commercial July 26, 1994 from Bill Burnett]
You can swim but you can't hide
Endangered sea turtles off the east coast of Florida are being tracked by means of radio equipment and orbiting satellites in an effort to find out where turtles actually go after they nest on Florida Beaches. The joint research project includes the State, the University of Central Florida, National Marine Fisheries Service and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Small transmitters attached to the turtles' carapaces beam signals to the satellites whenever the turtles surface. People are "adopting" tagged turtles for a $35 fee. They receive an adoption certificate, mailings, and information about the turtles' movements and other materials. [The Florida Keys Keynoter, August 20, 1994 from Dee Fick]
After a 123-pound alligator snapping turtle was hooked by fishermen in southern Missouri, it was released again by wildlife officials. Tom Johnson, the state's herpetologist, was quoted "So many are being poached, killed for food... You aren't likely to come across an alligator snapper by accident. They are very secretive. They spend most of their time at the bottom of pools in slow-moving streams. They come to the surface only to breathe, and they seldom leave the water except to lay their eggs in sandy banks. They don't reproduce well at all. They don't lay eggs every year, only every other year, and most of their eggs are dug up and eaten by raccoons, other predators, and poachers." On the other hand, if left alone, individuals may live for 100 years. [The Munster, IN Times, August 20, 1994 from Phil Drajeske]
CHS member Mike Redmer was recently featured in the Chicago Tribune [August 1, 1994 from K.S. Mierzwa] for his work with Blanding's turtles for the DuPage Forest Preserve District. An interesting by-product of his research was that most of the turtles he caught were male. He's concerned that females may be more attractive on the illegal reptile market. Ed Moll, a zoology professor at Eastern Illinois University said, "The thing about the Blanding's turtle is that it does OK as long as its habitat is left intact. The problem is that so many of these precious wetlands have been drained that there is a shortage of habitat."
Nearly 700 turtle hatchlings were released on Florida Keys beaches this season. The Save-a- Turtle volunteers relocated seven loggerhead nests from beaches to protected areas, and two nests were left intact as laid. One of the latter was destroyed by salt water intrusion, the second nest hatched September 7. All but one of the moved hatchlings was released. The one had a damaged front flipper and was taken for rehabilitation. [The Keys Advertiser, September 14, 1994 from Dee Fick]
The annual Save-A-Turtle Barbecue and Picnic was held in early September on Pigeon Key, FL. The event funds beach patrols, contributions for research on turtle diseases, and providing information to the public. [Florida Keys Living, September 7, 1994 from Dee Fick] Commercial fishing along part of the Central Florida coast may be banned for five months each year to protect endangered sea turtles. The Marine Fisheries Commission was expected to approve this measure October 5 and forward it to the Governor and his Cabinet for approval in early December. The ban will take effect in January and last until May 31, covering the period during which most green sea turtles are killed. Gill nets will be prohibited within one mile of shore from Ponce Inlet in Volusia County to Jupiter Inlet in Martin County. Voters will choose on November 8 to ban the use of commercial fishing nets in most state waters forever after July 1, 1995. [Orlando, FL Sentinel, August 13, 1994 from Bill Burnett]
Six turtles raised in Chicago's Shedd Aquarium were repatriated to the Atlantic Ocean. Shedd workers drove them from Chicago to a State Park in Florida and released them with the help of the Florida Department of Environmental Protection. The turtles were healthy and weighed between 32 and 56 pounds - a far cry from their weight of 20 to 30 grams when the Shedd received them after an illegal collector left two at the museum. The other four were taken from the man's house by U.S. Fish and Wildlife agents. The 33-year old Chicago resident was sentenced in June to 70 days in federal prison and ordered to pay the Shedd $14,455 in care fees as restitution. [Chicago Tribune, August 11, 1994 from Steven Ragsdale]
Viruses probably cause the tumors which have been killing endangered green sea turtles according to a researcher at the University of Florida vet school. Larry Herbst said, "Between 25 percent and 90 percent of green turtles are affected in some areas." Turtles around Florida and Hawaii are particularly afflicted by the tumors which can grow as large as a small bucket, destroying lungs, and kidneys, causing blindness and death. Herbst received the Best Student Paper Award at the 14th annual Symposium on Sea Turtle Biology at Hilton Head, SC. [The Herald, September 5, 1994 from Dee Fick]
Regulations limiting driving on Daytona Beach have angered some Florida residents. Seems they don't like not being able to drive on the beach from 7 p.m. to 8 a.m. and a group of beachside residents is suing to overturn the restrictions. "What I think is unfortunate is the way this has turned people against the turtle patrols. It's become them vs. us. It shouldn't be that way," said the president of the Volusia County Beach Concessionaires Association. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service threatened to cite the county for violating the federal Endangered Species Act after volunteers provided evidence that cars were driving over hatchlings, smashing eggs, and disrupting nesting turtles. The agency warned the county that the beach might be closed to vehicles from May 1 to October 31 if the county couldn't stop the carnage. [Orlando, FL Sentinel, July 25, 1994 from Bill Burnett]
A 93-pound nearly blind sea turtle picked up off the Virginia coast had its cataracts removed at the National Aquarium. An animal eye doctor and a human eye doctor performed the surgery, which is believed to have been the first of its type in sea turtles. [The Houma, LA Courier, July 18, 1994 from Ernie Liner and The Evening Sun of West Chester, PA from Mark T. Witwer, same date]
Japan declared that sea turtle trade with that country ceased at the end of July, 1994. Japan had been importing about 35 tons of hawksbill turtle parts in defiance of international treaties for the manufacture of tortoise shell "ornaments" and eyeglass frames. It had been claimed that since these crafts were "traditional" they were exempt from treaty obligations. [Memphis, TN Commercial Appeal, July 20, 1994 from Bill Burnett]
Genetic testing has shown that loggerhead sea turtles found in the Mediterranean are those born on Florida beaches. The hatchlings ride the Gulf Stream ending up off the Spanish coast until they reach about 20 years of age. However, increased fishing in the Mediterranean threatens these animals due to the swallowing of bait hooks or turtles becoming tangled in fishing lines and nets. [China Daily, August 4, 1994 from P.L. Beltz and The New York Times, September 13, 1994 from E.A. Zorn - please note the Chinese scoop!]
More help for tortoises
The federal government is selling a chunk of wilderness to Boulder City, NV which plans to use most of the 107,500 acres as a desert tortoise preserve. [The Las Vegas Review-Journal/Sun September 3, 1994] The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service released its recovery plans for the Desert Tortoise in Nevada, Utah, California, and Arizona at a projected cost of $16.7 million. A key feature of the plan is to establish protected desert habitats on public lands. The proposal will be carried out in concert with a 30 year desert conservation plan put forth by Clark County, NV and the Bureau of Land Management plan which is currently in the final states of federal approval. [The Las Vegas Review-Journal, August 3, 1994 - both articles from Bob Pierson]
Gator bits and bytes
A 7.5 foot alligator seized from its family of 24 years has been temporarily reprieved from death. The alligator has been with its owner since he was 9 years old and has had the run of the house since. It sleeps in the bathtub at home and when its owner went to college, she slept in the dormitory bathtub! She was confiscated by the Florida wildlife officials after she wandered into a neighbor's yard. The case of the well-loved alligator is scheduled for a hearing before the Florida Game and Fresh Water Fish Commission January 5, 1995. [Chicago Tribune, September 24, 1994 from Claus R. Sutor]
A Jackson County, MS man is defying county officials by keeping his 12-acre alligator farm open. "I don't care anything about getting a license. I'm tired of messing with those small-town politicians," he said. The man owns about 5,000 alligators and employs three people. Neighbors have complained that the farm didn't have enough parking and stated fears the alligators could escape during flooding. [The Houma, LA Times-Picayune, July 24, 1994 from Ernie Liner]
A three-foot gator sat in the bushes near the doorway of a health project building in Sumterville, FL. Not surprisingly, few people wished to pass the gator on the way to visit a doctor, and the Sheriff was called. Animal control caught the critter and released it in a nearby lake. [Leesburg, FL Daily Commercial from Bill Burnett]
A four-foot alligator led to the closing of a ride called the Wild One at the Wet 'n Wild amusement park in Orlando, FL. Thrill seekers on the Wild One ride are pulled around the lake on inner tubes. The park manager said he didn't feel comfortable with the presence of even a small alligator in his lake. [The Orlando, FL Sentinel, July 2, 1994 from Bill Burnett] "Sammy" the headline grabbing "Cayman alligator" captured from a German lake is the newest feature at the Cologne Zoo. The number of visitors is up by a third, according to zoo officials, and many people are calling to find out if he is on display yet. The animal's escape led to a five day alligator hunt which received world-wide publicity. [The Orlando, FL Sentinel, July 17, 1994 from Bill Burnett]
Thanks to the readers who contributed articles for this month's column and to the others who sent articles before that I'm just now getting to use. In addition, thanks are due to: P.L. Beltz, Dee Fick, Whit Gibbons, Bill Montgomery, and Ernie Liner. I don't know if only three people tried to contribute this month or whether the Chicago Post Office is up to its tricks again. If you've sent anything recently, and haven't seen it yet, please let me know. Contributions are always welcome and, indeed, are the only reason for this column's existence. Please send clippings with the publication name/date slug and your name firmly attached with tape (or photocopied - please, please) to me. Letters only (we have no graphics program, yet) to my email address.
Bad news of the month
In yet another "giant snake attack story," the Associated Press reports "INDIANAPOLIS - A fire department rescue worker chopped the head off of a pet python after the snake wrapped itself around a 4-year-old boy, police said. The boy suffered a bite to his right leg in the Friday night incident but was in Good Condition at Methodist hospital, said a police spokesman. The 13 foot, 30-pound snake apparently escaped from its cage in a house on the city's northeast side. "It got down to the basement [where] the kids were playing. Apparently one of them stepped on it or kicked it, and it started wrapping itself around the 4-year-old," the spokesman said. "Four boys with me tried to unwrap it, but it was too strong. We took some shears, cut his neck, then hit him in the head with an axe," said a fire department officer. [November 6, 1994: Albany, NY Times-Union, from Sue Black; Chicago Tribune from Steve Ragsdale, Orlando, FL Sentinel and November 7, 1994 USA Today from Bill Burnett] Contributor Sue Black wrote: "If the snake was really 30-pounds and 13-feet, I don't blame her for being hungry!
Good news of the month
It's a familiar tale... A long-time pet, a 7.5-foot alligator who was considered charming and friendly by her family decided to go for a solo walk, was grabbed by authorities and was nearly destroyed before her human "family" mustered enough support to try to get her back. In a surprise decision, "Gwendolyn" may be returned home after a new, reinforced back yard cage is approved by a Dade County judge. The enclosure measures 24-foot by 20-foot. The owner says he's happy that he will be getting his friend back, even though authorities found out that "Gwen" is a male. Of course the man's still charged with a second-degree misdemeanor for "letting" the reptile escape in the first place. Preston Robertson, an assistant general counsel for the state- game commission said, "It is a safety issue. We just don't have the mechanism for a person to have an alligator as a personal pet. It's not like having a dog or a cat. It's not a pet. It's a carnivore." [Leesburg, FL Daily Commercial, September 26, October 22 and 26, 1994, Orlando Sentinel, September 26, 1994 from Bill Burnett] Would someone please let that lawyer know that both cats and dogs are carnivores?
Poached eggs and scrambled values
More than 2,000 snakes and 15 people were seized in raids in 11 California counties. After two years of work, and the founding of a "pet shop" which bought reptiles, law enforcement officials believe they have broken up a $100 million-per-year operation. Besides Homo sapiens, rosy boas, rattlesnakes, a Gila monster, snapping turtles, piranhas and other fishes were seized. More than 800 reptiles were seized from one snake breeder. The officer in charge said, "Poaching of native wildlife is a runaway cottage industry in California that threatens our wildlife resources. In this operation, we targeted some of the major players who've made a commercial enterprise out of catching, breeding and selling thousands of reptiles to collectors throughout the country." [Salt Lake City, Deseret News, September 21-22 and The Salt Lake Tribune, September 23, 1994 both from David A. Webb]
Deputies in Seminole County, FL found five live gopher tortoises and equipment to extract same from their dens in the trunk of a car. Three men who claimed to be relocating the tortoises were arrested because deputies suspect they were going to kill and eat the animals. [Orlando, FL Sentinel, November 11, 1994 from Bill Burnett]
The Chicago Herpetological Society Bulletin was mentioned in a front page article from The Wall Street Journal [November 15, 1994 from Don Wheeler and Bill Burnett]. Since the subject of the article concerns a person whose name I will not further dignify by repeating, those interested in the article are referred to their local library.
Almost 400 baby alligator snapping turtles were seized during their shipment from Arkansas to Hong Kong. The remaining 375 were returned to Little Rock, AR by federal game officials. A 100-pound alligator snapper can sell for up to $125 in Arkansas, according to the Commercial Appeal [Memphis, TN, October 23, 1994 from Bill Burnett]. The same article says that by the time the same animal gets to Asia, it could cost $5,000. The turtles are kept as pets overseas, although some may be eaten. The route taken by these turtles was certainly tortured: from Arkansas, to Brooklyn, then to south Florida. Two separate reptile companies were allegedly involved in the transaction according to the article. On a related note, Theron E. Magers sent a copy of the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries regulations which will take effect on January 1, 1995 which limits the commercial taking of alligator snapping turtles. Anyone likely to be taking this species in Louisiana is referred to that department for details. Theron wrote: "I believe Louisiana is the last state to allow collection of these turtles. Arkansas closed collection of the Alligator Snapping Turtles when reports surfaced that 1,000's of pounds of Alligator Snapping Turtle meat were being shipped from Arkansas."
An article in the Memphis, TN Commercial Appeal [September 4, 1994 from Bill Burnett] describes the scene at an exotic animal sale: "Five shallow, lidless rectangular boxes rested on the saw-dusty floor of the Shelby Farms Show Place Area. In each box was a large burlap sack. Each sack was moving. Something was inside, silent, but alive, poking, bulging and wriggling. Written on each sack were these words: `Burmese Python - 10-11 Feet.'" That's a big reptile. And a good investment, according to the dealers at Garrett's Tennessee Classic Exotic Animal Sale... `Now guys, in all seriousness, you talk about an investment opportunity, they'll lay up to 30 to 40 eggs and you sell them at $50 each,' [the] auctioneer... said...`This is a male now,' he announced, as four men unraveled a snake from a sack like Mary Poppins pulling an impossibly long lampstand from her carpetbag. `If you got a female, you need him.'" In addition to reptiles, kangaroos, wallabies, porcupines, hedgehogs, cavies, sugar gliders, emus, rheas, jungle fowl, fallow deer, llamas, and antelope were auctioned.
Navahos are incensed at Oliver Stone for scenes of snakes with Indian actors in the director's recent movie, "Natural Born Killers." A Navaho representative told a gathering of film officials, "I was never told snakes would be used." She added that snakes are regarded as "superstitious" by the Navahos and that a blessing ceremony was held after filming in an attempt to counter the "sacrilege that using the snake for film-making might have caused." [Albuquerque, NM Tribune, October 14, 1994 from J.N. Stuart]
NIMBY-itis strikes again
Local residents of the Chesapeake, VA area may have influenced state officials to halt a 2.5 year study on the endangered canebrake rattlesnakes being conducted by Alan H. Savitzky and other biologists from Old Dominion University. Eleven canebrakes have been captured and outfitted with radio transmitters to permit a study of habitat utilization in the 700 acres of woodland owned by the City of Chesapeake near the Virginia-North Carolina line. Local farmers fear the study will prompt the government to restrict their use of farmland and the movement is gathering political momentum. Local farmers were apparently unaware of the study until three of the transmitting animals were followed by researchers onto local farms. Farmers say the researchers did not ask permission to enter private property. One farmer said, "I've killed many a rattler in my time... if I catch one on my land, I guarantee you he's going to be an endangered species." A local [Republican] political figure is spearheading the opposition to the study which is funded by the wildlife $1 checkoff fund on Virginia's income tax form. [Richmond, VA Times-Dispatch, September 9, 1994 from Mr. Laverne A. Copeland]
In England, they help toads cross roads, in Australia, they bash toads with golf clubs. Both activities are commendable, however. The English toads are native and under pressure from encroaching human uses. In contrast the Australian toads are an alien species introduced in error in an effort to control insects in sugar cane fields. They were fruitful, multiplied and have been munching their way through the local fauna ever since. So Australians have created "family toad-hunting nights." [The Chicago Tribune, November 1, 1994 from Steve Ragsdale]
Last minute shopping ideas
For the dinosaur lover on your list, Skullduggery offers all kinds of reproduction fossils, from dino eggs, to mold kits, to Tyrannosaur skulls.
Odd object of the year is a razor which takes standard Trac-blades in the shape of a leopard frog. Serengeti also offers frog rings, a tree frog light switchplate, sea turtle keychains and earrings, etc.
Those "fish" with legs and the word "Darwin" inside are available from Evolution Design, P.O. Box 26335, Austin, TX 78755.
Avid gardeners may (or may not) appreciate receiving a "turdle" or a "stool toad" made of compressed dung and intended as plant fertilizers. If this is your sort of thing, you can order it from Real Goods. The same company offers a self-driving, robot controlled, solar-powered lawnmower!
For those interested in the images of the southwestern U.S., Earth Care offers recycled copper holiday tree ornaments influenced by Anasazi design.
Kermit addresses Oxford Club
Well-known cultural icon, and very green amphibian Kermit the Frog, recently was the first amphibian to address the famed Oxford Union debating society at Oxford University, England. Kermit received a standing ovation from over 1,000 students after he told them to think green and tidy up their rooms: "If the earth is our home, then on behalf of all the animals in the world, I am asking you to please clean up your room." [Chicago Sun-Times, October 31, 1994] Not addressed by the frog was the burning issue of whether Burt and Ernie are gay as has been rumored in some scandal sheets.
Loose scaly stuff
A Davie, FL man was bitten by a 2-foot rattlesnake at Kmart. Another man killed the snake and the victim was taken to a hospital. The animal was identified as a pygmy rattlesnake which is believed to have gotten into the garden center from a local field. [Leesburg, FL Daily Commercial and USA Today, October 4, 1994, from Bill Burnett]
The Chicago Tribune [August 23, 1994 from Steve Ragsdale] reports on a 6-foot boa constrictor retrieved outside 2008 N. Kenmore in Chicago. The animal reportedly had several deep lesions and was put to sleep by veterinarians.
Four rattlesnakes were added to a jewelry display window to "guard" $4 million of gems and gold. A store spokesperson said, "We're using the snakes in their traditional role from Egyptian times as guardians of treasures. We like to idea of diamondback rattlesnakes guarding diamonds. It adds a bit of mystery." The snakes and the stones are removed from the window and locked up every night. [Orlando, FL Sentinel, October 26, 1994 from Bill Burnett]
A 2-foot rattlesnake found bagged in an overturned car after an accident apparently had nothing to do with the death of the driver who was found near the car. The driver was believed to be under the influence of alcohol when he ran off the road and lost control of his 1989 Toyota near Lake Helen, FL. [Orlando, FL Sentinel, October 25, 1994 from Bill Burnett]
An apparently 4-foot Burmese python was pulled from a Merritt Island, FL resident's bidet October 26, 1994. The snake was named "Draino," and is being held at the Central Brevard Humane Society. The Orlando, FL Sentinel asked "What's all the commode-tion?" [from Bill Burnett]
Jacksonville, FL police are searching for the owner of an 8-foot Burmese python found loose by an amateur snake handler under the home of a local resident after it was run over twice by a van. The catcher said, "That's a big snake. He looks like he's been eating real good" and plopped the reptile into a blue recycling bin. [Leesburg, FL Daily Commercial, September 1, 1994 from Bill Burnett]
"Some Maryland snakes have begun to utilize man-made structures as wintering quarters. Over the past 20 years or so, 28 cases of adult black rat snakes found in basements of residences have come to hand. Most of these were in unheated areas, in the 40-50 degrees range, where the snakes were generally inactive, though not torpid, moving sluggishly when disturbed... In a few cases the snakes were in heated basements and normally active, possibly feeding on field mice that often inhabit such places in winter... some snakes have taken to digging in alongside the foundations of buildings thus receiving some heat passing through the walls... black rat snakes hibernating in wells... as many as 15, including an albino specimen, were counted on one day... Frank Groves" [News and Views, the Autumn newsletter of the Natural History Society of Maryland, Issue 24, Fall 1994 from Kathy Bricker]
Something to consider
A 69-year-old Hillside, NJ gardener was charged with animal cruelty after he killed a rat that had been eating his tomato plants. The Associated Humane Societies issued the man two summonses, each carrying penalties of up to six months in jail and $1,250 in fines after the man called the Humane Society to pick up the rat corpse. [Chicago Sun-Times, August 11, 1994 from Steve Ragsdale]
News of CHS members
No, it's not mine - but I'll use it... In an article by Henry Christner of the Richmond, VA Times- Dispatch [November 6, 1994 from Mr. Laverne A. Copeland of Springfield, MO], CHS-member Joseph C. Mitchell is identified in a photo with his milk snake as "Your faithful serpent." The article describes Joe's longstanding involvement with snakes of all kinds, and was probably prompted by his recent publication through Smithsonian Press of a book on the reptiles of Virginia.
Bill Montgomery sent a clipping from the Dallas Morning News [August 12, 1994] which says "Barry Allen is the one to call when a snake must be rescued... arriving at the scene in his green pickup truck and brandishing his snake stick... Mr. Allen relishes the prospect of capturing the venomous creature [a copperhead] which has startled his client... clad in blue jeans and protective black boots, the red-headed Mr. Allen is fearless as he forges onto the densely wooded property..." The North Texas Herpetological Society's reptile rescue crew was - for a long time - just Barry and his brother Steve as well as Terry Hall. Now, another half dozen reptile fans help in the removals, from snakes to alligators. Mr. Laverne Copeland sent a clipping from the Springfield, MO News-Leader [November 3, 1994] which describes Dennis and Maryann Harter's reptile shop "Snakes Alive." They have nearly 150 different kinds of reptiles on display including two crocodiles. Both Harters became interested in reptiles as children, growing up catching snakes and lizards around their home. Their common interest drew them together in college; after several years of marriage, they decided to open their own shop.
In addition to the contributors thanked above - Mark T. Witwer, J.N. Stuart, L.W. Reed, Steven J. Ragsdale, P.L. Beltz, Jim Zimmerman, and Bill Montgomery sent pieces which I enjoyed reading, but couldn't use this month. You can contribute to this column, too! Send your clipping with the date/publication slug and your name firmly attached with tape (or photocopy the whole thing please) to me. Next month with be the ninth January in which this column has appeared in the Bulletin. Without the help of determined clippers - it wouldn't have lasted six months! Bill Burnett and P.L. Beltz deserve mention as clippers who have stuck with Her-pet-pourri from then to now!