Box turtles imperiled by trade Several related items this month show that box turtle declines are being recognized and reported in the world press. The first item is from Reuters wire [Patricia Walsh, The Miami Herald, November 18, 1994 from Allen Salzberg]: "For some Europeans, a garden just isn't a garden without a turtle. Meeting this quaint demand is the American box turtle - packed into crates and shipped by the thousands from places like South Florida. Exporters say the long-lived turtles are plentiful and make the trip just fine. Environmentalists disagree. `The crush each other under their own weight ... It's estimated up to 75 percent die in transit,' said Michael Klemens, a herpetologist with the New York-based Wildlife Conservation Society. Klemens scored a victory for the turtles this week at the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, or CITES... delegates meeting in Fort Lauderdale tentatively agreed to list the turtles on Appendix II, a designation that will restrict the export trade. The proposal is expected to pass at the last full CITES session today. Under the CITES action, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service can monitor shipping conditions and the number of turtles being exported. It can also try to ensure turtles aren't being exported from any state that forbids it. `We're trying to do preventative medicine,' Klemens said..., `So much attention usually comes at the last stage, when it's extremely expensive to bring a species back from the brink. If we can identify those species at risk and take preventative measures, it's a much more cost-effective approach to conservation.' But Michael Van Nostrand, a box turtle exporter and owner of Strictly Reptiles pet store in Davie, opposed the CITES restrictions. He said the six-inch-long turtles, often caught in Texas and Arkansas, are too numerous to be threatened by exportation and he laughed at Klemens' estimate that 75 percent die in transit. "I must have shipped out 15,000 this season," Van Nostrand said, adding 5,000 to 7,000 were shipped overseas and the rest domestically. Klemens said the yen for turtles is a `traditional thing' in Europe, where they keep `land turtles in back yards as pets... Most of them die and they renew them every year.' Klemens said when the Mediterranean land tortoise was nearly `decimated' by the European trade, the European Economic Community banned their importation. Enter the American box turtle. From 1988 to 1993, some 55,000 were exported - mostly to Europe and Japan."
Jim Hardin sent parts of the "Analyses of Proposals to Amend the CITES Appendices" dated August 1994 which deal with the box turtle trade. It presents a table on the US exports of Terrapene ornata and T. carolina, from 1990-1993 and gives its source as U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service data. However, the data for the years 1990 and 1991 is considered incomplete. The report mentioned that the "varying levels of protection" provided box turtles by the different states, "provide loopholes that complicate interstate law enforcement and may facilitate illegal trade." Needless to say, trade in box turtles will continue regardless of any laws passed to prevent it; the CITES regulation merely "regulates" trade in the species. The simple solution to this problem would seem to educate Europeans to stop regarding the garden pets as disposable. I know plenty of people (myself included) who keep box turtles alive and well for years on end. How any moral person could just let their tortoise die in the winter is simply beyond me.
Cos-sstly encounter of the snake kind A couple from the state of Virginia stopped in Pikesville, PA overnight at the Comfort Inn. In the middle of the night, the 49-year old man stepped on a 10-foot "boa constrictor." The experience put both he and his wife of 25 years into therapy. In addition, she began smoking cigarettes again after quitting for 14 years. The couple filed a federal lawsuit seeking damages of $500,000 and $1 million. They allege negligence and intentional infliction of emotional distress against the Comfort Inn's parent corporations. No one knows where the snake came from according to the Baltimore, MD Evening Sun [November 23, 1994 from Mark T. Witwer].
All the newts that's fit to print The New York Times, a paper which never used to run any sort of "animal stories," seems to have swung the other way lately; although with the incoming speaker of the house being named for a variety of amphibian, perhaps journalists can-newt resist the impulse to pun. First was William Safire (that curmurdgeonly keeper of the purity of the English Language), who wrote: "A newt is a small lizard related to the salamander and sometimes confused with a spotted eft" [December 4, 1994 from P.L. Beltz]. In response came a letter from an attorney in Chicago's famed Monadnock Building [sent by Beatrice Briggs - Wild Onion Alliance]: "Dear Mr. Safire: "Your title [`Newtonian Linguistics'] held out promise of scientific deftness. The concordance correctly got you to `Eye of newt' in `Macbeth." But then you put newt in the wrong class, calling it a lizard. A lizard, of course, is a reptile. A newt is an amphibian, a class whose living members have a well-defined aquatic, larval stage. You remember tadpoles! They also have moist, glandular skin. Reptiles, such as lizards, have dry, scaly skin. Back to your bailiwick, amphibians can be divided into the order, Urodela, those tailed throughout life, and Anura, those without tails as adults. Newts, as well as salamanders, belong to the former, and frogs and toads to the latter. The rich language of biological classification is underexposed in your columns. May I suggest a taxonomic table to supplement your concordance? For scientific literacy, Edwin R. McCullough. P.S. Enclosed is a photocopy of a description of the Eastern Newt, Notophthalmus viridescens." As if confusing lizards and salamanders was not bad enough, the December 25, 1994 New York Times Magazine has a cute photo of Notophthalmus viridescens (Eastern Newt), and a short article which reads: "The latest unscientific Sunday poll, designed to put Newt jokes to rest once and for all," asked various people to define just what "Newt" means to them. The answers ranged from "Like little lizards - they go in the fish tank." to "an eft. That's a three-letter word for newt, as every crossword puzzle devotee knows." Then, to compound the error-laden tradition of The New York Times interpretation of newts, the final paragraph reads, "If you said, `It's any of several small semiaquatic salamanders of the genus Triturus and related genera; it has four legs and scaleless skin and, while lizardlike, it's an amphibian, not a reptile,' you may renew your contract with America." Folks, the genus Triturus was sunk several years ago for any North American species; the name survives only as a generic for European animals. In eastern North America, the genus is Notophthalmus; for western North America, the generic name is Taricha. I guess after so many years of refusing to run "animal stories," the famed NY Times Stylebook just doesn't cover critters.
Robo-lizard? A student at Cornell University has discovered the mechanism by which the Solomon Islands skinks can wrap its tail around branches. The tail contains a group of cone-shaped muscles stacked on top of the other. These are then bound to a group of collagen fibers which permit the tail to bend in any direction while some parts remain rigid. The student suggests that this design may be of help to robot engineers. [Science, Volume 265, 26 August, 1994; The Chicago Tribune, November 27, 1994 from Steve Ragsdale; and The Scientist, September 19, 1994 from Joan Moore]
Sea Turtle NewsSix sea turtles, including four Kemp's ridley turtles, were washed up on the shore of Cape Cod, MA in early December. The New England Aquarium provided assistance to the animals which were nearly insensible due to the cold water. The turtles were very small, about six inches long and from four to five pounds each. The Aquarium plans to ship the survivors back to Florida. [The Chicago Tribune, December 3, 1994 from Steve Ragsdale, Claus Sutor and P.L. Beltz; Reuters wire from Allen Salzberg]
The Associated Press reports: "Federal officials say they may have to consider shutting down Texas' shrimp season if fishermen do not heed requirements for sparing turtles from drowning in shrimp nets." A spokesman for the National Marine Fisheries Service said "We're at the point now where we're deadly serious about getting tough with shrimpers who kill turtles." This year, 57 turtles were reported dead in the first week the shrimp season was open. The resulting flurry of activity by state and federal agency workers apparently reduced the number of dead turtles, but did not eliminate the carnage. The spokesman said, "It seems to us there's a direct relationship with how tough we get with enforcement and a low number of turtle strandings." The Earth Island Institute claimed that more than 500 dead turtles were found on or off the Texas-Louisiana coast this year, including more than 270 Kemp's Ridley turtles. They report decapitated or mutilated turtles as well. Officers boarded 188 shrimp vessels in late July, 24 violators were cited and seven shrimp catches were confiscated. The Texas Shrimp Association president blames the turtle deaths on pollution and removal of abandoned oil rigs by means of explosives. The organization is offering a reward to information on anyone mutilating turtles. They say that closing the shrimp season would eliminate $600 million from the state economy and that 30,000 workers would be affected. Texas fishermen landed 8.5 million pounds of shrimp in July this year, and 7.2 million pounds in July of 1993. [The Baton Rouge, LA Sunday Advocate, September 4, 1994 from Ernie Liner]
Workers at the Kemp's ridley nesting beach in Rancho Nuevo, Mexico are pleased with the results of their efforts to dig up and sequester eggs. This permits more baby turtles to hatch, by protecting them from animal and human predation. They report that the number of nesting females has doubled since the low point in 1985. [Houma, LA Courier, November 29, 1994 from Ernie Liner]According to Todd Steiner, director of the Earth Island Institute, Mexicans kill endangered sea turtles "for their skin, which is made into exotic leather purses and shoes, and their shells are ripped off their bodies to make cigarette lighters and shoehorns." In addition, stores reportedly sell sea turtle cream for skin blemishes. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service seized $567,247 representing 9,350 separate turtle products at borders from 1988 to 1993. It is estimated that this is only about 10 percent of the actual number of items imported. The Mexican government closed a factory slaughterhouse that killed more endangered animals than any other single operation in the world in 1990, but left a legal loophole through which sea turtle products are still slipping: they permitted the sale of items in inventory before 1990. Environmental activists hope to get the U.S. government to investigate their claims. Under the 1978 Pelly Amendment, the Interior and Commerce Departments are required to investigate claims of lax enforcement of endangered species laws in other countries. [Houma, LA Courier, November 1, 1994 from Ernie Liner]
A television ad in support of a ban on commercial fishing nets in Florida is apparently not what it purports to be. Critics claim that the sea turtle and dead fish shown in the ad were netted by a marine research project, not commercial fishermen. The film was shot during testing of various turtle excluder devices. All the turtles were released unharmed. [Orlando, FL Sentinel, November 4, 1994 from Bill Burnett]
Florida voters overwhelmingly approved a ban on net fishing beginning July 1. All gill and entangling nets, as well as nets larger than 500 square feet are banned within three miles of the state's Gulf of Mexico coast, and one mile of the Atlantic Ocean coastline. Supporters claim the law will protect the state's declining fisheries and marine wildlife; opponents say it's the end of the industry. [The Leesburg, FL Daily Commercial, November 30, 1994 from Bill Burnett]
Officials at a Costa Rican wildlife refuge have curtailed the illegal trade in turtle eggs by taking over the business! They remove only eggs they consider "doomed;" those laid early in a mass nesting which will likely be destroyed by later females, and those laid in the dry season which would probably desiccate. The official egg sellers have undercut the illegals by pricing their eggs lower than chicken eggs, and have provided a new source of income for local people who now benefit by managing the turtle egg resource instead of blindly exploiting it. [ZooGoer, November-December 1994 from Mark T. Witwer]
Record numbers of sea turtle eggs were laid on Brevard and Volusia county (Florida) beaches this year according to an article in the Orlando Sentinel [November 26, 1994 from Bill Burnett]. Loggerheads laid 14,730 nests along a 13 mile stretch of beach and green sea turtles laid 1,107 nests in the same area. Lighting problems and beach driving, however, still take their toll on the hatchlings.
A report came through an Internet subscription service yesterday that 15 albino sea turtles have hatched. The writer wanted to know if there were any other reports of albino sea turtles. So folks, are there?
Thanks to everyone who contributed this month including those listed above and Ray Boldt, Marty Marcus, J.N. Stuart, Ilene B. Sievert (please write more Frog City!), Steven Ragsdale, Mr. Laverne Copeland, Bill Montgomery, and Kathy Bricker. Extra special thanks to...Brian Bankowski for photos of his recent trip to Costa Rica; Super-contributors Bill Burnett and David Webb for their photo cards; Ernie Liner, Steven Ragsdale, and Bill Burnett for sending only photocopies; Allen Salzberg for being the only contributor to do so via Internet; and to my regular readers, writers, and clippers everywhere! Start 1995 with a bang! Send clippings, cards, letters and photos to me or e-mail text only.
Accidental tourists? Postal workers in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil were astonished to find a 5-foot boa constrictor which had slid out of a package in transit 17 days with their agency. It seems "Clotilde" belongs to an army sergeant who was transferred from one post to another over 2,500 miles away. His buddies slipped the snake into a box while they were "helping" him pack. The recipient was quoted as saying "It was a real bad joke." [Chicago Tribune, January 6, 1995]
U.S. Customs inspectors removed 14 baby boas from a 20-year old's luggage at Miami International Airport. The boas, which ranged from 1.5 to 2.5-feet in length, were in cloth bags hidden in the legs of a pair of pants. Also found were 300 poison-arrow frogs in three horse shampoo bottles, and 200 baby tarantulas in bags. The man was charged with a violation of the federal Endangered Species act and faces up to 5 years in jail and $250,000 in fines if convicted. The smuggler said he was paid less than $100 to bring the animals across the border according to Assistant U.S. Attorney Lauren Priegues. [Chicago Tribune, January 1, 1994 from Ray Boldt and Claus Sutor; Akron, OH Beacon Journal from Jim Zimmerman]
The New York Times Magazine [November 13, 1994] cover story is titled "Invasion of the Nature Snatchers, Will the brown tree snake, having infested Guam, ravage Hawaii? How alien species are flattening the world." Written by Alan Burdick, the article (which is a long one) deals with the various "super-tramp" species which are traveling along with humans around the world. Readers are encouraged to see this article at their local public or university libraries since it is impossible to do it justice in a paragraph. The cover photo is of the infamous brown tree snake (Boiga irregularis).
Snakes, the final frontier...
CHS member Mike Zelenski was featured in a colorful cover story of the November 28, 1994 Racine, WI Journal Times. "People [who are afraid of snakes]...would be well-advised to buck up their courage a bit before visiting Mike Zelenski's home. He and his sons, Bill, 18 and Paul, 16, have a hobby many people would find both mesmerizing and repellent. They collect, trade, raise and breed snakes... don't stick your hand into any aquariums..." wrote Michael Burke. The article talks about how the animals are fed and housed, bred and shown at schools and other educational venues. All in all a very positive piece after the first few negative remarks! Good media work, Mike!
J.N. Stuart sent in a couple of articles about Bob Myers and the Albuquerque International Rattlesnake Museum in Old Town Albuquerque, NM. Stuart wrote: "This is the kind of `grass roots' program that local herp societies could get involved in. And it's practical." What Bob Myers is doing is teaching local people how to handle snakes safely with a snake stick. Apparently there's so many rattlesnakes around the Sandia National Laboratory that workers wanted to learn how to deal with them (other than the time-honored technique of beheading). Bob's trainees were so happy with the course they "sponsored" a rattlesnake at the museum. [Sandia Lab News, August 19, 1994] The other article points out that human/rattlesnake interactions are increasing as human habitat expands into areas which were formerly wild. In 1993 the New Mexico Poison Center recorded 27 rattlesnake bites with no mortalities. [Albuquerque Journal, August 31, 1994]
A new anti-clotting agent for human blood has been developed from the venom of a Malayan pit viper. This drug is superior to others currently available since it does not increase the risk of major bleeding complications as do the others. [The Richmond Times Dispatch, September 24, 1994 from Mr. Laverne A. Copeland]
"Seven times the taipan struck, shooting murderous doses of poison into its victim's bloodstream" wrote Jim Hutchison in an article titled "Snake Attack" in the December 1994 Reader's Digest. I don't know about the Reader's Digest stylebook, but my dictionary defines murder as "the unlawful killing of a human being... to kill or slaughter inhumanly or barbarously..." and poison is when you eat it not when it's trying to eat you. Contributor Mark Witwer wrote: "It's a bit sensational... I especially like the part about a 6-foot snake striking and knocking a 160-pound man off his feet. I don't think so. Note that the man was `frantically' trying to jump out of the way. I might have been, too! And that had more to do with falling than the force of impact of the strike, I'll warrant. Also, note the first aid - a compression bandage. I've read about this in Australia." P.S. The victim survived.
A Country Club Hills police sergeant has become the de facto "snake wrangler" for several south suburban Chicago area police departments according to the Daily Southtown [Midlothian, IL December 11, 1994 from Steven Ragsdale]. Sgt. Peter Comanda has loved snakes since he was 7-years old even though his mother and his wife disapprove. The article says he has three king snakes he caught on a recent snake-hunting trip to Southern Illinois. His most recent capture was a 6-foot boa that was loose in a house. He said, "After a while you can start thinking like them and you know where they'd like to go. I found it in about 20 minutes under the kick plates on the kitchen counter."
A 12-year-old boy was hospitalized after being struck by a freight train while he was looking for snakes on the tracks near Batavia, NY. [The New York Times, November 13, 1994 from Steven Ragsdale] The Orlando Sentinel [November 27, 1994 from Bill Burnett] had a feature about unusual pets kept in businesses including "Stanleyetta," an 8-foot, 250-pound python that roams free in an export company's office. "Humorous" incidents reported in the article include the time that Stanleyetta got loose and went for a swim in a nearby lake. She was AWOL for several days and was found in a truck parked at a neighboring gas station. They also use her to play practical "jokes" on neighbors; stuffing the snake in the car to flip out passerby, putting her in other people's offices, taking her hunting in the back of a pickup truck. What a sense of humor these guys have, huh?
A 13-year old Baton Rouge boy was bitten by a 3-foot snake when he stuck his hand into his aunt's goldfish pond to clean it out. He was released from the hospital after two days of treatment; the first few hours, he was in intensive care. [The Baton-Rouge, LA Advocate, July 31, 1994 from Ernie Liner]
A venomous snake on the 16th hole at the Nashua, South Africa Wild Coast Challenge golf course may have cost U.S. Open champion Ernie Els his chance of winning the tournament. An encounter with a 3-foot night adder just off the tee may have lead to Els shooting (or whatever it is they do in golf) his ball into a water trap. He said, "The snake shook me up, but it's no excuse. This is Africa..." [Chicago Tribune, November 29 from Steve Ragsdale and Reuters wire November 28, 1994 from Allen Salzberg via Internet]
A hunter in Valentine, LA was out hunting rabbits and shot another who was doing the same. Unfortunately, the other hunter was an 11-foot, 9-inch (looks like a python to me) snake which was loose near some railroad tracks. The man had a hard time convincing deputies and dispatchers at the parish Sheriff's Office that he had killed a snake nearly 12-fee long. He said, "They kept telling me that snakes don't get that big around here... Nobody has ever seen a snake like that around here." The hunter hung the snake in an oak tree in his front yard for people to see as the drove by. He said a few stopped for a look, but that some wouldn't get out of their cars. He said, "Everybody told me, `You should have caught it...' Yea, how you gonna catch something that big? And I'm deathly scared of snakes." [Houma, LA Courier, November 29, 1994 from Ernie Liner]
Whit Gibbons, a senior researcher at the Savannah River Ecology Lab, regularly publishes a newspaper column which is picked up by several southern papers including the Leesburg, FL Daily Commercial. In his September 11, 1994 column, Whit muses on the theme "Support for snakes gauge public's [sic] animal attitude." He wrote: "Educated people appreciate the key environmental role herpetofauna play as critical links in the food chain in which all organisms are a part. The environmentally informed realize that these animals are as important to natural ecosystems as those species perceived as directly useful to humans. And most view intentional destruction of these animals as inexcusable... Today's greatest threat to most herpetofauna, indeed to all wildlife, is habitat destruction. Wetlands degradation, destructive lumbering, atmospheric and stream pollution and the overuse and abuse of herbicides and pesticides continue to threaten the existence of countless wildlife species." [from Bill Burnett]
Erle G. Kauffman, a visiting professor of geology at Pennsylvania State University told the December meeting of the American Geophysical Union, "We can see from the fossil record that we are in an early and highly accelerated stage of a biodiversity crisis and we will shortly reach mass extinction levels. If this extinction behaves like others in the geological record, we won't experience ecosystem recovery for one to 10 million years, especially in the tropics." [Chicago Tribune, January 1, 1995 from Claus Sutor]
Close encounters of the commercial kind Snake hunting and snake hunters were featured in a bunch of articles recently, climaxing in the Time Magazine August 22, 1994 piece "Killing Fields" mentioned in a previous column. Ernie Liner sent in a delightful article that describes the sunrise search for snakes in abandoned lots in the eastern part of town. Christopher Rose wrote: "The hunters pick through the debris left by dozens of unscrupulous businesses - small-time tire dealers, carpenters, roofers and carpet installers who have found no better place to unload old shingles, radials and remnants. Born of this melange is a massive population of snakes, many of them deadly, though the hunters seek less menacing breeds that can be captured and sold in America's pet stores. It's just another way of putting Louisiana on the map. We got some snakes... Joe Road looks like the set of a Mad Max movie, some sort of bad future place... Joe Road is snake city... [the hunters] are snake cowboys on a reptile rodeo... The rattler [they found] seems perplexed... It was only trying to catch a few Z's and duck the heat of the day. It slithers away... [The hunters] get three bucks a foot for king snakes $2.50 for a garter and so on. On slow days they'll grab loose skinks and geckos that they sell as snake food for about 25 cents a pop... Turning a corner... [one hunter] lets loose another string of epithets at the sight of freshly cleared woods. Here in front of us, he says, was once a beautiful stretch of hunting grounds, full of old sofas and refrigerator boxes. But a city earthmover is parked here now and all the trash is gone." All in all this piece is one of the most well-written newspaper feature stories it has ever been my pleasure to read. Your local library can order you up a copy. It was the cover story on the Living Section, New Orleans Times-Picayune, August 21, 1994. The Austin American-Statesman paper ran a three piece article on the hunting of grey-banded kingsnakes and other ophidians in Texas [June 13 - June 15 from the patient Bill Montgomery]. Apparently, snake hunters who were featured in these articles got some heat from regulatory agencies. Galon LeCoy Holmes reports in the AFH Vivarium [6:4 from AFH] "on the legislative front: Nightmare in Texas." He describes a recent National Park Service sting operation named "Operation Rockcut" which was intended to stop what the NPS called a "multimillion dollar snake poaching ring" which was taking snakes in and around the Big Bend National Park and on National Park land in Arizona. Holmes writes: "An investigation was initiated by AFH Legislative Representatives and it became apparent early on that the story, as published by Time magazine, was less than accurate. It should be noted that the article was based on the news release from the NPS." Holmes states that the so-called "kingpin" of the "multimillion dollar poaching ring" who was carrying a gun and who "gave up without a fight" (all quotes from Time) was really an occasional snake hunter with no previous police record who works in a restaurant. He was jailed on some misdemeanors which are not considered jailable offenses in the state of Texas, and a well-known herpetologist was mailed a citation months after being stopped with only cameras in his car inside the National Park.
We asked, they answered The most recent Herpetological Review (24:4, 1994) contains an article titled "Rotenone Hazards to Amphibians and Reptiles" by Lance W. Fontenot, Gayle P. Noblet and Steven G. Platt from Clemson University in South Carolina. They reviewed the literature, described the chemical and previous fish studies, then discussed previous work with herps. In a nutshell, adult frogs are less sensitive to rotenone than are larvae although at least one study remarked on "considerable non-target amphibian mortality if an effective fish kill occurs." They suggest that Amphiuma and Siren, both salamanders, and Apalone - the softshell turtle - "may be susceptible to rotenone." Apparently only ten actual studies have been performed; the oldest is from 1931, the most recent was in 1987, but was on Xenopus laevis as opposed to any native species. I highly recommend this article to agencies, consultants, researchers, and citizens interested in the toxic effects of this widely-used piscicide.
What a lot of research! CHS member (and turtle-lover) Allen Salzberg recently sent me a draft copy of his "Preliminary report: Live freshwater turtle and tortoise trade in the United States" to be published by the Humane Society of the United States and the Humane Society International. The chapter headings include: Turtles as pets, the size of the market, where do they come from (wild, ranched, bred, farmed), how many turtles are traded and how reliable are these numbers, the treatment of turtles in trade, turtle survival rates in captivity, human health and conservation implications, a summary of the laws governing the humane treatment of turtles and a discussion of whether the laws work, and a conclusion with suggestions. References and an appendix are provided. The 39-page report is single-spaced, double-sided and not a quick read. But it is the most informative and fact-oriented piece I have ever read on the entire turtle and tortoise issue. You can get your name on the list for a final copy (I think), and comment on your own experiences in the turtle and tortoise world by contacting Allen in care of the New York Turtle and Tortoise Society, 163 Amsterdam Avenue, Suite 365, New York, NY 10023 (send a self- addressed, stamped #10 envelope).
Thanks to everyone who contributed to this column! And thanks to Marty Marcus for his 1995 herp calendar featuring art by children at the Sybil N. Crookham School in Winton, CA. You can contribute, too! Simply send articles with date/publication slug and your name firmly attached (with tape, not staples) to me. Whole pages are preferred to origami-style or stapled clippings!
Salmonella implicated in baby's death Allen Salzberg sent in a New York State Department of Health Press release which read, "The recent death of an upstate New York newborn [human] from salmonellosis associated with exposure to an iguana has prompted [our department] to re-issue an advisory reminding pet owners to thoroughly wash their hands after handling these exotic pets and similar reptiles, as well as their cages. The latest case involved a pregnant woman with fever an diarrhea who went into preterm labor and subsequently delivered a baby who died 12 hours later on January 1 . Blood tests from mother and child have since tested positive for Salmonella poona, an uncommon strain of the bacteria associated with reptiles. Follow-up samples of the family's pet iguana also were positive for this strain of Salmonella. In the past year, [the department] has received reports of 10 laboratory-confirmed and several dozen additional suspected cases of salmonellosis linked to pet iguanas. .. The Acting State Health Commissioner ... noted that more than half of the reptile-associated cases reported to the Health Department in the last several years have occurred in infants less than one year old and more than a dozen of the infected children required hospitalization. He added that reptiles have had an increasing popularity as pets in recent years... it is estimated that between 35 and 77 percent of the lizard family... harbor the salmonella bacteria in their intestinal tracts. [Also received as a news story from the Middletown, NY Times Herald Record, January 20, 1995 from Denise and Frank Andreotti.]
Ohioans warned of salmonella in reptiles A story in the Cincinnati Enquirer [December 11, 1994 from Al Winstel] reports that 18 cases of reptile-related salmonellosis were reported in 1994 by the Ohio Health Department. Thirteen suspected cases were reported, and no one in that state has died from the condition. One of the confirmed cases was that of a 10-month old girl. The Ohio Department of Health recommended, "confining reptiles in cages or aquariums, avoiding eating or drinking near a cage, minimizing reptile handling, especially for children, washing hands thoroughly, and avoiding washing food and water bowls in kitchen or bathroom sinks." Symptoms of salmonellosis include headaches, stomach pains, diarrhea, nausea and perhaps vomiting.
Two tales of tiny turtles A downstate Circuit Court Judge, Gerald Dehner, accepted a motion to dismiss charges against a CHS member, who had been arrested in August with 1,100 turtles and 100 non-venomous snakes in a van on Interstate 55. Public Defender Tom Funk argued "tat the reptiles were only protected by the Fish and Aquatic Life Code [of Illinois] if the state could prove the cold-blooded pets were indigenous to Illinois," according to the January 24, 1995 Lincoln and Logan County Courier [from Steven Coogan]. The Courier describes the initial encounter: "[the man who operates] an aquatic wildlife sales business in Chicago, was arrested after Department of Conservation [DOC] police trailed him from an aquatic sale in St. Louis. [DOC Field Supervisor Sgt. Tim] Sickmeyer said [the] reptile trade as demand and prices continue to skyrocket. `It's a widespread, multi-million [dollar] industry... The majority of it is legal trade, but there are those who will circumvent the law.' Sickmeyer said the same man was arrested last year in Cook County for unlawful sale of aquatic life, but was found not guilty."
The Seattle Times [January 4, 1995 from Lee W. Roof] reports that a pet store owner was served with a lawsuit by the Snohomish Health District. The suit orders the man to stop selling baby turtles and to turn over his sales records to the Health District. The man said, "We have to fight it. I can't plead guilty to this because I'm not breaking the law." He reportedly said that he sells the tiny chelonians only to adults who have signed a form indicating that the animals will only be used for educational or research purposes. He points out that most egg-bearing animals have some form of salmonella bacteria and added "The next thing, they will be banning baby iguanas... If [the Health District] wants to raise hell with somebody, why not the chicken ranches or the supermarkets?"
Giant tortoise imperiled Last year, Science reported that scientists on the Galapagos had discovered the carapaces of several giant tortoises that had been killed and eaten by humans. Now comes a report that sea cucumber fisherman, angered by the Ecuadorian government's ban on overfishing near the Galapagos, have threatened to harm "Lonesome George" the only known living member of his species on earth. In early January, masked fishermen "blocked a road, sank a vessel, and took over Ecuadorian national park facilities for a short time, according to the U.S. spokeswoman for the Charles Darwin Foundation, which has a research facility on the islands" [Leesburg, FL Daily Commercial, January 17, 1995]. Fortunately, the fishermen's threats to harm the animals on display were not carried out. [Also, same date Orlando, FL Sentinel, both from Bill Burnett.]
"Busted!" Swedish customs officials discovered 65 baby snakes in the bra of a 42-year old woman who had intended to set up a reptile farm with the smuggled animals. A Customs official said he noticed something odd about the woman's chest, and suggested a further investigation. [Just about every paper on Earth: the first one here was from Bill Burnett the Memphis, TN Commercial Appeal January 20, 1995] Incidentally, there were six lizards running around under her blouse, too!
A four-foot water monitor was called the "pit bull of lizards" by a reporter from the Orlando, FL Sentinel [January 4, 1995 from Bill Burnett] who described its capture by police. A police captain said the excitement started when "someone called in and said they had a dinosaur in their back yard." The lizard escaped the first officers sent to capture it, but was caught by Officer Alicia Douglass with a long-handled snare.
Two Floridians were charged with possession of gopher tortoises when authorities discovered ten Gopherus polyphemus in the trunk of their car. One of the men has been arrested three times in four years for the same offense. [Leesburg, FL Daily Commercial, December 23, 1994 from Bill Burnett]
A man was arrested with 300 poison dart frogs, 14 boa constrictors, 200 bird-eating spiders and a bunch of spider egg sacs at Miami's International Airport. He was charged with smuggling and released on a $100,000 bond. A U.S. Fish and Wildlife Agent described the reaction of the Customs agent when she found the critters, "[She] really went off like a rocket when she found this guy had let her go digging around in his suitcase with poisonous frogs in there." The Agent estimates that only 10 to 20 percent of animals smuggled illegally are ever discovered. [The Leesburg, FL Daily Commercial, December 21, 1994 from Bill Burnett]
A man and two children were admonished and the man ticketed after they killed a mangrove water snake by stoning it to death at the "Ding" Darling National Wildlife Refuge. The man will be fined $250 if he is found guilty. The Sanibel, Captiva Islander, January 3, 1995 reports "The man said he did not know it was illegal to kill snakes in a wildlife refuge." Contributor R.M. Bertoni wrote "... while we herpers have done a good job of educating ourselves, we've got a long way to go with the public!"
A four-foot 20-year old African dwarf crocodile was taken away from her owner by Arizona state game officials because the owner did not have a permit to own an endangered species. Their Game and Fish Department's chief law enforcement officer was quoted "A crocodile can get loose and live for years in the waters around here. That's why we have a concern about crocodiles. We've found several in canals, rivers and lakes." The pet was discovered after a storm set off the burglar alarm in the home where she was living peacefully in a $10,000 habitat. The police found the croc and a Gila monster when they responded to the alarm. The owner pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor, paid a $500 fine and applied for a permit. The game officials recommended the application be denied, citing the man's new criminal record, but CHS member Tom Taylor noted that the permit was issued after all! [Phoenix, AZ Gazette, January 27, 1995 from Tom Taylor]
A Mongolian air passenger bound fro Tokyo was arrested at Beijing International Airport after guards discovered three fossilized dinosaur eggs in his luggage. China has decided to get tough with fossil smugglers after having large quantities of good scientific material stolen and taken out of the country. [China Daily, January 16, 1995 from P.L. Beltz]
Caveat emptor Chinese Health Protection Food Association officials launched an investigation into wildlife products used in China as health remedies. They report that in one coastal county in Jiangsu Province, one dealer "turned the extract squeezed from 1 kilogram of soft-shelled turtles into 110,000 phials of expensive turtle essence" according to the December 30, 1994 China Daily [from P.L. Beltz]. Unfortunately, China has no standards for health care products, no national health or food and drug department, although new medicines are to be approved by the State Pharmaceutical Administration "after several years of clinical observation."
$5,000 Reward Three injured sea turtles were removed from holding tanks at the Marathon, FL Turtle Hospital after someone broke into the facility. It is believed that the turtles were thrown into the ocean by the person(s) who burglarized the center over the New Year's weekend. One of the turtles was spotted behind a motel and it was recovered by the Hospital. If found, the person(s) responsible may be charged under federal statute since the turtles were being held at the hospital under permit from the National Marine Fisheries Commission. One of the hospital's founders said, "This is tragic. If it was someone who thinks turtles should be free, we want them to know that we want turtles to be free too, but not before we fix them so they can survive in the open ocean." Money that had been set aside for new X-ray equipment will now be spent on an alarm system. The two missing turtles may pose an infection risk to other sea turtles. Anyone with information in the case is urged to call 305-743-5376. All callers may remain anonymous. [The Florida Keys Keynoter, January 4 and 11, 1995 from Dee Fick, Florida Keys Herpetological Society]
$100,000 Sought A 44-year old woman has "filed notice of intent to sue the Burnet Park Zoo in Syracuse, NY, for $100,000, claiming she suffers post-traumatic stress disorder because curator Roger Clawitter chased her with a 10-foot boa constrictor. Clawitter says he was merely carrying the snake when [the woman] became irrational and ran away" USA Today, January 13, 1995 from David A. Webb.
Market fest features reptiles America's "hottest pet item" according the Pet Industry Christmas Trade Show is reptiles. The CEO of an animal product company was quoted "It's amazing; it's a category that is exploding in sales... We had found reptiles was a category [sic] that was slowly developing. Reptiles don't make noise and are low maintenance." [Chicago Tribune November 27, 1994 from Steve Ragsdale.] Canned diets intended to "replicate the mouse," terrarium lighting , little hats for iguanas, reptile watering devices, "Pawrier" bottled pet water, and other items were available. A pet store with a mission Tucked into a commercial area of New York City at 155 East Second Street, is a pet shop called Lizard Breath 2000. Run by life-time herp enthusiast Dominique Nadel, the store puts "the pet's well-being before the owner's" by requiring potential owners to show what they've learned from background reading and other sources according to the New York Times [January 15, 1995]. Mr. Nadel said, "It's common for someone to purchase an animal on the spur of the moment out of a fetish or a kick. I once had some coke dealers come in and offer me $5,000 for a lizard... I declined because I knew it would end up dead."
Frog TV, II A researcher at the Mercer University School of Medicine in Macon, GA has been receiving a lot of press lately after getting two students to video Rana pipiens eating earthworms and meal worms. Their results are aimed at an understanding of how vertebrates mobilize joints and muscles when they're in a hurry. [Science News, 146, December 24 and 31, 1994 from Mark T. Witwer.]
Usually we use "bondo" Jim Harding sent a copy of his state's new Turtles of Michigan poster with the note "use for patching plaster, etc." The poster has lovely photos (by Jim) of the Common snapping turtle, the Common must turtle, the Spotted turtle, the Wood turtle, the Blanding's turtle, the Red-eared slider, the Painted turtle, the Common map turtle, the Spiny soft-shell turtle, and the Eastern box turtle top and bottom. You can order a copy of this lovely full color approximately 18 x 24 inch poster by sending $1.00 to Department of Natural Resources, Nongame Wildlife Fund, Wildlife Division, P.O. Box 30180, Dept. TU, Lansing, MI 48909-7680. As with all these types of things, it is advisable to send a 3 x 5 card with your name and address typed (or use a printed return label) along with the name of the poster you are ordering. This will make it easier for the people on the other end and you'll be more likely to get your stuff quickly.
Turtle Recovery Program 1994 Highlights Michael W. Klemens, the director of the New York Zoological Society's Turtle Recovery Program recently sent a copy of their Project Highlights. It includes descriptions of what they've done to help turtles and tortoises worldwide. For instance, they worked with Mexican institutions and societies to protect the 45,000 acre Rancho Sombreretillo by working with local landowners in developing and implementing a voluntary land management protection effort. The resulting land improvements are intended to aid recovery of the Bolson Tortoise (Gopherus flavomarginatus). I cannot begin to do justice to all the fine programs listed in this seven page report. I urge all CHS members interested in the recovery and conservation of turtles world- wide to contribute to this project. All amount are welcome, of course, the more the better. Please make checks payable to the "WCS - Turtle Recovery Program" and send to Dr. Klemens, Wildlife Conservation Society, 185th Street and Southern Boulevard, Bronx, NY 10460. Incidentally, my husband and I spent a rainy January day at the Bronx Zoo and found it to be one of the most marvelous institutions of its type we've ever been to. Displays are set up on ecosystem lines, not one critter per box divided by family. We found we were seeing a lot more herps than the average zoo visitor, although how everybody else failed to see the giant constrictor in the "fallen log" over a set of stairs, I never will know! We waited and waited to hear somebody scream, a la John Behler's tale, but no one even saw it that day. Oh well, there's always a next time.
Gwendolyn restored Regular readers of the column may recall that a Miami pet owner was slapped with criminal charges after his pet alligator strolled away from an outdoor enclosure last September. In late December, Judge Loree Schwartz-Filer threw out the criminal charges. Prosecutor Howard Marbury was accompanied by four other prosecutors in the courtroom (has he got O.J. fever, or what?) and said the state plans an appeal of the ruling. Over one thousand people signed a petition asking that Gwendolyn be returned, and when she was brought back, she was welcomed by cheering crowds and a welcome banner. [Leesburg, FL Daily Commercial and the Orlando, FL Sentinel both December 31, 1994 from Bill Burnett]
One gator, one egg? Xinhua news agency reports "Artificial breeding has been so successful in saving the once- endangered Chinese alligator from extinction that now there are too many of them. The number of artificially bred alligators rose to 4,000 in 1993 from a mere 500 a decade ago." The breeding center was established in the early 1980s in Anhui Province. It now has 10 ponds, each of which produces 100 or more new alligators a year. It costs about $400 to keep each adult every year, and the center can no longer afford to let the alligators reproduce freely. [China Daily, January 15, 1995 from P.L. Beltz]
Maybe it was looking for a job? CHS member and U.S. Postal Service carrier Joe Taffis sent a clipping from the November, 1994 issue of Focus, the newsletter of the U.S.P.S. It read, "A four-foot king snake recently toured the Duncan, OK Post Office. [The] Postmaster... met up with the snake as [it] was slithering across the floor... [A] Window Clerk ... captured the snake in a #3 sack and escorted it from the premises... [The Postmaster concluded] `We don't have anything against the snake personally, it's just that we are supposed to be a snake-free facility.'"
Thanks to everyone who contributed this month and to Ernie Liner, F. Calogero, Mark T. Witwer, Steve Ragsdale, Bill Burnett, Manny Rubio, Jim Zimmerman, John Christianson, Kathy Bricker, and Lee W. Roof, too. You can contribute... just send the clipping with date/publication slug and your name firmly attached (tape preferred) or the whole page(s) from the paper to me. Letters and referred files can be sent by e-mail.
Member's request "I am planning to build an exhibit hall for reptiles later this year and will be offering a special section for children and their reptile pets. I would appreciate anyone sending in their photos of children of any age handling, playing, feeding, or whatever with their reptile friends. I often bring groups in from various schools and this would help to alleviate any fears about children having pet reptiles... The photos can depict children with any size reptiles under any circumstances... the name, age, and home of each [will be displayed]. Those wishing to participate may feel free to send the photos or call me day or night. Gary Durkovitz."
Sa-fire salamanders? Columnist William Safire apparently received a lot of mail on his misunderstanding of the differences between newts and lizards. In the January 29, New York Times Magazine he quoted his correspondents. I'm only including the sound bites. "giving you a forked-tongue lashing for your definition of newt...the metaphorical appeal of a political named after a reptile is obvious...as a bona fide amphibian, the newt is slippery skinned and abandons its young... newts secrete the neurotoxin tetrodotoxin, structurally the same as the toxin found in the pufferfish." [from Steven Ragsdale]
Amphibian briefs A Nature Conservancy preserve in Southern Arizona is home to an unusual leopard frog which calls under water. It was discovered breeding in an artificial pond. [The Arizona Republic, February 19, 1995 from Tom Taylor]
The Australian Golden Bell toad is much in the news these days. It seems that one of the reasons Sydney got the 2000 Olympics instead of Beijing was the Australian government's pledge to preserve the environment. Well, right in the middle of the area which is likely to be bulldozed for the games lives this little protected species. An environmental project manager for the games said, "We have already done research to create the perfect frog ponds somewhere else on the site. We have a team of frog experts and advisers and we have a building license from the National Parks and Wildlife Service with the condition that we implement a long-term management strategy for the frog." The frogs are apparently victims of "biological control." Their eggs are eaten by imported mosquito fish; as a result the adults have become rare. [Chicago Tribune, February 26, 1995 from Lori King-Nava and Steven Ragsdale]
Nature Conservancy Magazine [March/April 1995 from J.N. Stuart] reports that ranchers in southeastern Arizona have been hauling water to frog ponds by truck in an effort to help the Chiricahua leopard frog. The ponds are actually isolated stock ponds and constitute a "bull-frog free zone" where the smaller species has a hope of survival.
Texas Parks & Wildlife Magazine [March 1995 from Mark T. Witwer] describes the case of a new resident in Tyler, Texas who kept hearing a "surprisingly loud series of musical chirps followed by a trill." Puzzled for three years, he finally caught the culprit - a Rio Grande chirping frog (Syrrhophus cystignathoides). This inch-long musician is apparently doing well in smaller rural areas in Texas, laying eggs in the humus-filled leaf bases of domesticated or ornamental plants. They may have arrived at their new homes by riding along with potted plants from Rio Grande Valley plant nurseries.
Female Malaysian tree frogs tap their toes to attract mates according to a presentation at the Acoustical Society of America in Austin, Texas. He said, "All of a sudden males from the same vegetational mat (would) jump on her... We believe it's the (vibrations), not the sound." [Science, Volume 266, December 16, 1994 from Bill Burnett] Sounds like a Bee Gees song to me.
Cannibalistic toad tadpoles spit out close relatives according to researchers. This preferential dining on one's distant kin has also been documented in cannibalistic morphs of the tiger salamander. (National Wildlife, February/March 1995 from Mark Witwer] Is this a case of Sic gorgiamus alles subjectatus nunc, or what?
From the Chicago Reader "The City File," February 17, 1995 by Harold Henderson [clipping from Steve Ragsdale] "Come here often? I SAID, COME HERE OFTEN? ` In other experiments, anurans living near highway noise could not determine the direction of sound sources as well as those living in quieter places,' reports Ronald Larkin in Illinois Natural History Survey Reports (January/February). `The males near highways altered their calling and spaced themselves differently when attempting to attract females. We obtained similar results by playing recorded highway noise from loudspeakers,' thus verifying `that it was the noise generated by the highway traffic and not other kinds of pollution or indirect causes that affected the anurans.'"
If you would like to be on the email address list for the North American Amphibian Program, email Sam Droege at email@example.com. [From Froglog, December 1994, number 11] New herpetological conservation newsletter available for both amateur and professionals interested in amphibian and reptile conservation: contact Amphibian and Reptile Conservation, 2255 North University parkway, Suite 15, Provo, UT 84604-7506.
"Hello my honey, hello my baby" hello my new t.v. network? Michigan J. Frog, a "song-and- dance amphibian" who starred in a 1956 Chuck Jones cartoon called "One Froggy Evening" is the spokes-frog for the new Warner Brothers television network. His creator said, "I only made the one cartoon with him, and it was probably the best-known single cartoon that I ever made. I've ended up spending the last 30 or 40 years trying to figure out how to make another one. But we are making it, calling it `Another Froggy Evening.' It will be Michigan J. Frog through history, his effect on history. Eventually it will go on television, but it's not designed for that purpose. All of our cartoons, from the time I started as a director in 1937 until the present were made for theaters." [Chicago Tribune, January 19, 1995 from Steven Ragsdale]
A bookstore owner in Lake Zurich has gathered some really old cookbooks in reprint. One recipe is for baking frogs live in a pie. The book titled "The Accomplisht Cook" written in 1685 by Robert May says that when the pie is opened, the frogs will leap out and "make the ladies to skip and shreek." [Chicago Tribune, January 19, 1995 from Steven Ragsdale]
The well-known rock group Pearl Jam is putting some muscle into the anti-frog dissection/vivisection movement. They're paying for an 800 number for students who wish to get information on how to stop dissection in their schools. The first 50 students to return completed student petitions will be eligible for Pearl Jam stuff like t-shirts, posters, or autographed albums. [Chicago Tribune, January 31, 1995 from Steven Ragsdale, and February 21, 1995: The Memphis, TN Commercial Appeal from Bill Burnett and the Indiana Post-Tribune from Jack Schoenfelder]
The Houston Chronicle [March 12, 1995 no contributor's name] reports that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service says it will delay its decision on whether to list the Barton Springs salamander under the endangered species act after receiving a request from Texas Governor George W. Bush to delay any decision for six months. Governor Bush said the state needed time to develop a plan to protect water quality in the Barton Creek watershed.
Frogs with six legs were found in the radiation zone around Chernobyl by a Russian research biologist who died recently of leukemia. Alexei Gostyev studied the area around the Chernobyl "ghost zone" which has been uninhabited since the number 4 reactor at the power station exploded and covered the surrounding area with radioactive debris in the spring of 1986. [Chicago Tribune, November 25, 1994 from Steven Ragsdale]
Snake, rattle and droll
Ohio bikers, conservationists, and state officials are going head to head over an issue that appeared to be a "no-brainer" when originally proposed; building an 11-mile bike trail on an abandoned railroad bed in southwestern Ohio. Work on the $1.3 million federally funded project has been halted until the state can find a way to protect the eastern massasaugas which are fond of basking on the abandoned rail line. Now mountain bike nuts are mad that "their" project may be delayed. [The Akron, OH Beacon Journal, January 23, February 15, and 23, 1995 all from Jim Zimmerman]
The Boscobel, Wisconsin Dial reports that two "classic outdoorsmen" passed away in early February: 'Whether leading television and newspaper crews on rattlesnake hunting expeditions, or showing off immense beaver pelts and ginseng roots, both ... led exciting lives intertwined with the great outdoors... he was probably best known for his uncanny ability to locate and capture elusive timber rattlesnakes.... One year alone he captured 5,700 scouring the rocky bluffs of Crawford County." [February 9, 1995 from Maggie H. Jones]
"Actress Bo Derek vividly remembers the day her main squeeze almost killed her. It wasn't [her] devoted hubby... but a giant boa constrictor that nearly wrapped up her career." While filming Tarzan, "the snake is supposed to drop out of a tree onto me and start to coil around me while I scream and struggle to get free," she said, "At first, this snake was frightened... I would scream and shout and then take a deep breath. What I didn't realize was that each time I breathed in, the boa constrictor was imperceptibly tightening around me, and every breath was getting shallower and shallower." [The Star, January 10, 1995 from Steven Ragsdale]
"Pardon me madam, but did you know your clothes were crawling?" Headline writers worldwide had a great time with the poor Swedish woman who tried to smuggle a bunch of baby snakes into her country to start a reptile farm. The Memphis Business Journal [February 6-10, 1995 from Bill Burnett] reports: "No comment appeared in the news item about the size of the snakes or the size of the garment, so we are left to wonder whether this was indeed a wonder bra. other salient details not reported... are the fate of the reptiles, the manufacturer or the garment... and whether any international lingerie rights groups are planning to become involved on the accused's behalf."
Strict new laws in Thailand were enacted which may prevent indigenous snake hunters from collecting king cobras and other snakes to sell for food. The village chief, who has won government awards for his model administration and income-generating schemes, said that snakes were the main source of income for his community. A king cobra brings $12 from restauranteurs. [Memphis, TN Commercial Appeal, February 21, 1995 from Bill Burnett]
The Sweetwater Jaycees are apparently trying to justify their rattlesnake roundups based on research. The article in the Abilene, TX Reporter-News [March 12, 1995] went on to say that a study by Texas A and M University showed that "roundups have a negligible effect on the rattlesnake population." Ken Higdon, the president and CEO of the Temple Chamber of Commerce 200 miles from Sweetwater, said that no roundup will ever rid an area of snakes which is why the protesters quit coming a few years ago. By midafternoon Saturday, 1,500 pounds of snakes had been turned in. Even Higdon admitted "our poundage is down," but he blamed it on aberrant winter weather. CHS member Bob Sears wrote a letter to the editor of that paper responding to their article: "The Jaycees promote their roundup as `educational.' According to `Texas Rattlesnake Roundups,' a study by ... A and M University, 1991... `Educational programs conducted at all five of the roundups [including Sweetwater] had negligible affects on knowledge change among spectators.' Even their safety advice to children is highly suspect... The Sweetwater Rattlesnake Roundup is a promotional money-making carnival and sideshow that uses rattlesnakes as the come-on gimmick. For the Sweetwater Jaycees to claim that they educate and do research on reptiles does a great disservice to the herpetologists, biologists, and teachers of the world that actually do."
A lawsuit was filed in Lackawanna County Court seeking more than $250,000 in damages against a local pet shop, the owner thereof, and an insurance company. The brief alleges "suddenly, the menacing creature (a python) sprang from the hands of the salesman and dug its fangs into the nose of the 2-year-old child..." The 1992 experience reported left the child so "emotionally and psychologically" upset that she "intentionally burned down her family residence after her mother attempted to place her in her own bed," according to attorney Roger Mattes Jr. [The Carbondale, PA News, March 8, 1995 from Gary Durkovitz]
A new book, titled "Salvation on Sand Mountain: Snake handling and redemption in Southern Appalachia" was put out by Addison-Wesley Publishers. The book was written by Dennis Covington, a southern Appalachian native who covered the trial of the snake-handling preacher who was accused of trying to murder his wife by snakebite. The preacher was found guilty and sentenced to 99 years in jail. Covington felt there was more to the snake handling sects than had been brought forward at the trial and so began to work on the book. [Houston Chronicle, March 12, 1995 from Gary Durkovitz]
Recent flooding in California has washed up all kinds of odd debris including snakes on California beaches. Twenty-six snakes, mostly venomous, were removed from Del Mar Beach and four others from Solana Beach. Both are near San Diego. Snakes are not rare sunbathers in southern California, but they are usually relocated by "lifeguards" more accustomed to hauling other types of vertebrates. [The Las Vegas Review-Journal and Las Vegas Sun, March 11, 1995 from Bob Pierson and Houston Chronicle, March 12, 1995 from Gary Durkovitz]
Next month... Lizards, turtles, and crocodiles in the news! Thanks to everyone who contributed to this column and to Garrett Kazmierski, J.N. Stuart, and Gary Durkovitz for stuff I didn't use. You can contribute, too! Send clippings with date/publication slug and your name (address label) firmly attached with tape to me. Letters and comments (no images) can be emailed.
What, no kiss? According to an article from New York Newsday [March 8, 1995, unnamed contributor]: "...when Sports Illustrated cover girl Daniela Pestova returned from her Australian swimsuit shoot and opened up her suitcase, she had a shock. An enormous white frog leapt out from among her dainties... Daniela shrieked in horror, but when her two Jack Russell terriers began to chase the frog around the room, she opened a window and allowed it to escape onto the streets of New York City and down a sewer. Now, Daniela thinks she may have spawned a generation of albino frogs, a species made even larger and uglier by living in the sewers - with all those alligators..."
Here's looking at you A Reuters release from London describes the work of two doctors at the University Eye Hospital in Tuebingen, Germany who have discovered why chameleons' eyesight is so acute. As reported in the journal Nature, the lizard's eyes are like telephoto camera lenses, except that theirs are both positive and negative (magnifying and reducing). It is the first known instance of eye lenses with a negative power in vertebrates. The lenses are concave and have the thinnest part in the middle. Curiously, the negative lenses provide an image which does not move when the eye is rotated. [Chicago Tribune, February 23, 1995 from Stephen Ragsdale]
Galapagos tortoises killed, ecosystem imperiled Science [February 3, 1995 from Bill Burnett] reports on the ongoing tragedy of the sea cucumber fishermen versus the ecology of the Galapagos Islands. The fishermen declared that "if they did not get what they wanted, blood would flow," after they captured the Darwin Research Station on the island of Santa Cruz and held researchers and their families hostage on January 3rd. Troops arrived, hostages were released and the war of words began. The background to this story is that early in 1994, biologists began finding slaughtered tortoises. Some had been hung from trees. Local people blamed the sea cucumber fishermen who were trying to get the government of Ecuador to harvest rich sea beds off the Galapagos in the national park. The government yielded, opened the Galapagos waters to harvesting on October 15 and set a three- month trial period with a limit of 550,000 sea cucumbers. No enforcement mechanism was in place. The Darwin Station estimates that the fishermen took about 6 million sea cucumbers in the first two months. After the Ecuadorian press began publishing their concerns, public criticism began, and the government closed the sea cucumber season on December 15. This was one month short of the original trial season. Three weeks later, armed fishermen stormed the park service office and the research station. The hostages were taken and released as described at the top of this story, and the government reopened the waters to fishing. Under international pressure and fearing the loss of tourism, the government reversed its decision on January 12 and closed the season until October 1995. Ecuador's National Fisheries Institute and the Darwin Foundation are surveying the sea cucumber beds to see what the overall effect of the harvest has been. In the meantime, locals fear that the sea cucumber fishermen have accidentally released rats and other pests on some Galapagos islands. The final decision of whether to open, reopen, maintain or close the beds to commercial fishing will be made by the Ecuadorian President, Sixto Duran Ballen. Incidentally, the sea cucumbers are shipped to Japan where they are considered a delicacy.
Annual alligator hunt bags stories CHS member Ernie Liner lives in a great place for alligator stories: Houma, Louisiana. Ernie and super contributors Bill Burnett and Steven Ragsdale have just about filled the mailbox with alligator and crocodile clippings. Our members are identified by their initials following the publication/date acknowledgment in this section, not because we're not grateful - but to save a few trees! Incidentally, it's my fault some of these stories go back to last year. I've been getting ready to paint the house and have found a few things that had gotten buried over the years.
The Daily Commercial, Leesburg, FL, January 27, 1995 BB: The 1994 legal gator hunt produced 47 percent more harvested alligators (2,302) than the 1993 hunt (1,571). Officials suggest that greater hunter effort in 1994 was prompted by an increase in the price of hides. In 1994, hides sold for $35 a foot. Alligators were one of the earliest animals protected by the Endangered Species Act and ought to be considered the "poster child" of the recovery effort; their rebound has sometimes been too successful.
The Courier, Houma, LA, December 16, 1995 EL: Hunters killed around 26,500 alligators in the 1994 legal season which had begun on September 3 according to officials at that state's Department of Wildlife and Fisheries. Seventeen hundred eighty-one hunters received 27,665 alligator tags for the 30-day season. In previous years, the numbers taken were similar. Officials have noted an increase of 10 percent per year in the number of nests since 1970. Nests are counted by aerial survey. The state had banned alligator hunting in 1962 after a population decline, but the ban was lifted in 1972 under stricter regulations. The 1994 wild harvest program generated about $9.75 million from the sales of alligator products.
|1970||-----||-----||no data|| 150,000||------||10 per 20 miles|
|1975||-----||-----||no data||------|| 500,000||------|
|1990|| no data||25,000||$57||------|| ------|| ------|
|1991|| 23,870||25,000||no data||------|| ------|| ------|
|1993|| 23,500||25,000||$23 ||------||------||------|
|1994|| 26,500||27,800||$35|| 750,000|| 1,000,000||100 per 20 miles|
|Sources: Articles cited in this section.|
Chicago Sun-Times, February 16, 1995, SR: "Russia's oldest crocodile, Kolya, whose life began in the era of the czars, has died of old age in Yekaterinburg [Sebastopol for those of us with old atlases]..." He arrived in that city "between 1913 and 1915 when he was part of a touring animal show. He already was full-grown, which made him 110 to 115 years old when he died."
Woman's World, November 15, 1994, SR: "Alice" the alligator taken from her loving Illinois home whose case was overturned by Governor Jim Edgar remains at the Strictly Animals Snake Farm in Texas. It appears her owners, Pearl and Mel Pederson of McHenry County, feel that she is enjoying her new freedom at the attraction and have decided to let her live their permanently. The septuagenarian couple feel they've now provided for their 42-year old gator as best they can. Pearl said, "She's been through so much trauma. Maybe it's best she just stay in Texas. Alligators have feelings, too."
The Daily Commercial, September 3, 1994, BB: Residents around Lake Griffin are in favor of having their alligators and eating them too. They want small alligators for the "wildlife value," but prefer to let legal hunters take the large ones. Hunters prefer larger alligators because big skins are worth more money.
The Commercial Appeal, Memphis, TN, September 11, 1994, BB: Tom Charlier writing from Sandhill, Mississippi "Somewhere in its prehistoric, thumb-sized brain an alarm sounded, and with a swipe of its knobby tail and a flurry of bubbles, the 6-foot alligator was gone... Loitering in warm, silty water that fairly boils with schooling fish, alligators have become as much a part of the scenery in Ross Barnett Reservoir as the mats of American lotus and water hyacinths that pinch the channel and the herons and egrets guarding the shore. The reptiles here are more than just kingpins of the food chain. They're sentinels of a dramatic statewide recovery from the not- too-distant times when their populations were plummeting. But prosperity has brought new troubles to Mississippi's alligators. As their numbers rise and as more subdivisions sprout near water, the animals have increasingly come into conflict with humans." The result is that Mississippi state officials are considering instituting a legal hunt of their own. According to the chief of game for the state Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks, alligators were "basically gone" by the 1950s. In the 1960s, an amendment to the Lacey Act controlling interstate trading in endangered species, helped to slow the slaughter. In 1973, the animal was added to the Endangered Species Act and officials moved to protect their few remaining gators. Alligator populations are increasing not just by natural means, but also by means of a program which introduced thousands of gators from Louisiana into the state. The program was an attempt to control beavers. The beavers are still going strong. The state has been taking from 80-100 alligators a year after they have been adjudged nuisances. At first, they relocated the animals, but the press of population is now so severe that they are considering a legal hunt as a control measure.
The Times-Picayune, New Orleans, LA, September 16, 1994, EL: At present it is illegal to kill alligators in Mississippi. Conviction brings a $1,000 fine and jail time. A wildlife officer said, "The bottom line is that alligators are really not bothering anything. In fact, they do more good than harm. Alligators get rid of snakes and turtles and also alleviate a lot of beaver problems."
The Sentinel, Orlando, FL September 8, 1994, BB: Population estimates of gators per acre in Lake Griffin, FL range from .4 to .6 gators per acre. The raw numbers are from 4,000 to 6,000 gators in a 9,200-acre lake.
The Daily Commercial, September 6, 1994, BB: Alligators living in the Arthur R. Marshall Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge are exempt from hunting. About 25,000 gators live in the refuge where there's a smorgasbord of prime gator chow also protected from humans: softshell and water turtles, birds, fish, raccoons, deer and hogs. "In the refuge, there's no such thing as a `nuisance gator' - if someone has a problem with the reptile, it's the person who leaves, not the gator," Associated Press.
The Sentinel, September 8 and 19, 1994, BB: An 8-foot gator dropped dead on the shores of an upscale lakefront home and it took three days for the owner to find anyone who would take the corpse away. It was, as one wag wrote, a "grave matter but nobody seems to dig it." The female resident of the house said, "Hey, I'm 5 feet 2, and I can't lug around an 8-foot dead alligator. We saw him Monday evening, but it was a holiday, so I knew I couldn't get anybody [to help]. My husband was scheduled to go on a business trip Tuesday morning, and I said I'd take care of it. The answers I've gotten are hilarious. I was told at one office to poke a stick at it and drag it into the lake. Another told me to tie a concrete block around it and sink it in the middle of the lake. You'd think there would be someone who takes care of this kind of thing, but there isn't." Finally (after several tongue in cheek newspaper articles from all over the state) Florida Game and Fresh Water Fish Commission officers towed the carcass into the middle of the lake and sank it. Hopefully, it will become turtle chow.
The Daily Commercial, September 6, 1994, BB: Road work which will expand 20 miles of U.S. 1 from two to four lanes will disturb about 150 acres of wetlands along the corridor between Florida City and southern Key Largo. However, biologists expect that project mitigation will restore about 200 acres of crocodile habitat. The American crocodiles are an endangered species which has not recovered as explosively as the American alligator. There are from 75 to 125 that lay about 30 to 35 nests a year in the Crocodile Lake National Wildlife Refuge near Key Largo. Others live in unprotected areas in the Keys.
The Daily Commercial, December 9, 1994, BB: In a story which seems to contradict those previous, it was reported that a Bushnell, FL alligator farmer destroyed his breeding gators because of a "three-year drought in the alligator market." Scrammy Hunt said that he has only reduced his herd one other time in the last 30 years.
The Times-Picayune, September 6, 1994, EL: O.K., now I'm really confused! This paper reports, "There's nothing sweeter than a brand new baby. Unless maybe it's 1,520 of them. That's how many newly hatched alligators John Price has at his farm near Abita Springs." The farm's owner says he likes country living and that "raising alligators is as easy as pie." Perhaps there's some other factor in Mr. Hunt's decision to destroy his animals. If anyone knows the rest of the story, I'd be glad to run it.
The Advocate, Baton Rouge, LA, November 24, 1994, EL: A new white alligator was caught near Venice on the eastern edge of the state. This is more than 90 miles east of where the first white gators were found. A New Orleans' Audubon Zoo spokesperson said this discovery may indicate that the rare coloring wasn't caused by a mutation in the first clutch of eggs and is not restricted to the swamp near Houma where the first white gators were found. The baby gator has blue eyes and a little bit of color on its head. Although it can't be sexed for another few months, zoo officials are already debating whether to rethink their decision not to breed the leucistic gators. The first batch of 18 white gators are now 7 feet long; two are on outdoor display at Audubon Zoo, one is in the Aquarium of the Americas near the French Quarter, one is on display (or will be on display) at the Shedd Aquarium in Chicago, and the rest are at an alligator farm run by the company that owns the land where they were found. The spokesperson said that the company has been trying to breed them, but that not fertile eggs have been obtained. [Also in The Courier and The Times-Picayune, same date - good press agent!]
The Courier, September 1, 1994, EL: Trappers taking legal gators in Louisiana are checking for back foot webbing tags which will identify where the animal was originally tagged. If found, the tag and accompanying data are to be returned to the state. The trappers are made aware of the mark-recapture program when they pick up their hunting permits at Wildlife and Fisheries around the state. The program started on a small-scale in 1988 and went statewide in 1990. Fascinating data has been collected including statistics on one gator which grew four feet in a four-year period. Biologists capture 50 to 100 wild gators a night, tag and release them in the same place.
The Daily Commercial, November 23, 1994, BB: A well-loved 11-foot-long resident of Blue Hole, a lagoon in National Key Deer Refuge on Big Pine Key, FL is mourned by residents who held a touching, public memorial service for the marshmallow-eating gator known as "Grandpa" to locals. Unfortunately, last year Grandpa also ate a Rottweiler. Wildlife managers feared he was working his way through the vertebrates and might take a child someday, so they snared him and sent him to a state park north of Tampa. Other alligators in the pen attacked Grandpa and he died on November 11.
The Daily Commercial, December 11, 1994, BB: Well, it was the Bay of Pigs, now its the bay of rare black-and-yellow crocodiles. Perran Ross, a native of Australia and colleagues from the University of Florida are studying the Cuban Crocodile which is also known as Lagarto Criollo. The Zapato Swamp is the only place in the world where the species exists. The Cuban government has been authorized by CITES to trade in the skin of the rare animal since their conservation efforts have been successful. The skins are coming from captive-bred animals. American crocodiles and small caimans from South America were introduced into Cuba many years ago and may have driven the Cuban crocodile from areas of historic occupation. Ross recommended that another population be founded to prevent the loss of the species to a single, stochastic event such as disease or a hurricane.
Cheap trills Call me weird but I've always found toads breeding to be a rather darling event. Now I know I'm not alone. Terry Jaworski, the site manager of the Cedar Bog nature preserve in west-central Ohio just got some great press for good old Bufo americanus, the American Toad. He said, "They set up this trill which attracts other toads. The whole community focuses on the pond. It's a very melodic thing; sometimes it can be spooky... [When the breeding urge is over] there's just no chemistry. They just go out and eat bugs." [The Beacon Journal, Akron, OH, April 19, 1995 from Jim Zimmerman]
A horrid sound of silence Once numbering in the thousands in Oasis Valley near Beatty, Nevada, the Amargosa toad now nears extinction. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced that biologists are reviewing the toad populations there in an effort to determine if they should try to get an emergency listing for the species. Only 30 toads were counted last year at this remote site near the Amargosa River and springs about 115 miles northwest of Las Vegas. Other species of pond-breeding frogs and toads are in decline in that area as well. The Bureau of Land Management has set aside 490 acres of spring and river habitats as an area of critical environmental concern, but obviously that will do little if acid precipitation, increased ultraviolet radiation, use of fish toxicants, drought, airborne pollution, pesticides, or natural population fluctuations are the cause of the apparent decline. [Las Vegas Review-Journal, March 29, 1995 from Bob Pierson]
Sex and the single snake! So screams a press-release headline from Earthwatch. The rest reads, "Come investigate one of the true wonders of the natural world: the amazing mating ritual of the red-sided garter snake. Each spring in central Manitoba, some 50,000 garter snakes emerge after an incredible eight months of hibernation to begin their search for a mate. As many as 100 male snakes could be fighting for the attention of one female. This is one of the largest congregations of animals anywhere on the planet, and certainly the most spectacular mating scenario on earth. Award- winning scientist Dr. Robert Mason needs your help on this important study... Join one of three teams... Your tax-deductible contribution of $995 supports the research and covers food and lodging expenses... call Earthwatch, a nonprofit organization supporting field sciences since 1972, at 800-776-0188, extension 189." [From Jim and Kathy Bricker]
And now for a word from the author... Thanks to all the contributors listed above and to Jack Schoenfelder, Mark T. Witwer, Craig R. Donavin, Allen Salzberg, Steven Coogan, Mark T. Witwer, and P.L. Beltz. Next month: rattlesnake roundups, chemical frogs, space frogs, desert tortoises, and more. The file folder bulges, but don't stop sending! And please, please, please put the date/source of publication and your name on or attached to each clipping. I've gotten some great stuff lately that I can't use because I don't know where or when it was published. Also, I've been getting some help opening articles lately. If the source and date and contributors name are not attached to each clipping what can happen includes us not noticing the slug stuffed down in the envelope or the missing name and just filing it with all the other stuff. A month or so later when I sit down to write, I have no recollection whatsoever of who sent it or where it came from. Perhaps it's incipient senility or the effects of overwork! In any case, I appreciate each and every one of my contributors and I assure them that my readers do too. Incidentally, my postman really liked the Namibian postcard sent by Julian Bentley of the British Herpetological Society. So did I. Keep the cards and letters coming, or e-mail text only to me. So far, I can respond immediately to all my e-mail.
Another book for Bartlett? Grab your 486/586, plug in your modem and enter the Internet in search of reptiles and amphibians. Some helpful hints to get you started. Herp-Net is perhaps the best starting place for a `net neo, contact Mark Miller by fax or get brave and have your machine dial his machine (300-2400 bps 8-N-1) or (9600 bps and 14.4 kbs) 24 hours a day. You don't need "Internet Access" to get on Herp-Net. If you do have an Internet account (or are on America Online/Compuserve, etc.), you can read the "sci.bio.herp" newsgroup with any newsreading program available on your account. Sometimes these are listed as "usenet newsgroups." If you have Mosaic, or can access the world wide web, you can visit the Herpetology World Wide Web at Harvard - http://xta1200.harvard.edu:8000/herp - or by using a gopher program. There are also subscription mailing-lists which are really good at filling your e- mailbox. These include: herpetology, declining amphibians, dinosaurs, sea turtles, cites, envirolaw, and many others. Happy hunting!
Cretaceous Park A Beijing University professor announced that gene fragments have been successfully taken from a 65 to 80 million year old dinosaur egg. The egg was found in central China in an area of Henan Province where thousands of dino eggs have been found since 1993. The egg was accidentally broken in September 1993, revealing gray-brown contents. The inner surface of the shell was covered with calcite crystals. [Beijing Review, April 3-16, 1995 from P.L. Beltz] An unsourced recent story says that International Airport authorities seized four fossilized dinosaur eggs in the luggage of a Japanese passenger bound for Nagoya. The passenger stated that she bought the eggs for $468. Chinese law bans fossil egg export by individuals.
Best posting on dinosaur newsgroup: "Did dinosaurs have fleshy ears?" A museum Ph.D. examined fossil skulls and current dog skulls and replied "Maybe." A large meat-eating dinosaur was unearthed near Albuquerque, NM after being found by an amateur paleontologist. The fossil is estimated to be 150 million years old. [Albuquerque Journal, November 3, 1994 from J.N. Stuart]
Did you know that less than 20 Tyrannosaurs rex skeletons have been found? [via Internet]
Chinese fossil eggs have been examined by industrial computed tomography. This process permits researchers to make models and drawings of the embryos at a fantastic level of detail [China Daily, January 25, 1995 from P.L. Beltz]
Silent spring, 1995 The Associated Press reported "Pesticides are the new prime suspect in the worldwide disappearance of frogs and other amphibians. For the first time, scientists have shown how a pesticide can disrupt reproduction in frogs. The finding was reported Saturday at the American Society of Zoology meeting...The finding is part of a growing body of evidence that extremely small amounts of pesticides can trigger major heath problems in animals, including humans... tiny amounts of the pesticide DDT injected into frogs and turtles disrupted the animals' hormone systems..."
No comment Fortune Magazine [May 1, 1995 from K.S. Mierzwa] reports that a group of chemical producing companies have adopted an Ecuadorian treefrog to represent their products. Apparently the amphibian, Epipedobates tricolor, produces a chlorine compound called epibatidine which is reportedly 1,000 times stronger than morphine and non-addictive. Therefore, the companies are using a photo of an individual of this species - nicknamed "Chlement" - on a poster touting the wonders of the new chemical.
An Associated Press report from Dhaka, Bangladesh quoted local news reports that tribespeople in southeast corner of the country consider pythons a delicacy. Recently they ate an endangered python and fried 12 of the eggs before a scientist rescued some for incubation at the Dhaka zoo. [Chicago Tribune, April 23, 1995 from Steven Ragsdale]
"Rise in Turtle Deaths May Be Good Sign - or a Bad One" [Los Angeles Times, December 25, 1994 from Bob Pierson] reports that 500 dead sea turtles washed ashore in 1994. This is more than any year in the last ten years, and some feel that it may be an indication of previous conservation successes. Others feel it was an indication of non-compliance with U.S. Department of Commerce rules on the use of turtle excluder devices (TEDs) in offshore waters. "More than 253 Kemp's ridleys, including 27 of the roughly 580 adult females known to exist, were among those washed ashore [in Texas] this year... Another 120 or so Kemp's ridleys have washed up in Louisiana this year."
The Daily Commercial reprinted a New York Times story which stated that the number of Kemp's ridley nests at Rancho Nuevo, Mexico have increased to 1,430. John R. Luoma wrote: "thanks to an aggressive international effort to dig up and sequester eggs in guarded corals on the turtles' nesting beach, combined with ... a requirement in both [U.S.] and Mexican waters for ... TEDs... the Kemp's ridley population appears to be rebounding... gains could quickly be wiped out by... lax enforcement by federal agencies of regulations to maintain TEDs in the nets of shrimp trawlers in the Gulf of Mexico... The National Marine Fisheries Service, which is responsible for enforcing the regulations, confirmed `unprecedented numbers of dead sea turtles, stranded along the coast of Texas' last year that coincided with `heavy near-shore shrimp trawling.'"
Another possible cause of sea turtle decline, hopper dredging, is controlled along the Atlantic coast of Florida, during the winter turtle migration season. Officials are considering extending the regulations to the Gulf of Mexico. According to the March 9, 1995 Baton Rouge, LA Advocate [from Ernie Liner]: "on-board observers confirmed that the [dredging] vessel sucked up three turtles, including the Kemp's ridley, after it had installed an experimental deflector designed to allow turtles to escape its vacuum." A spokesperson for the Texas Shrimp Association, said, "Our feeling is we have done everything we can." She added that other factors may have caused the strandings, including oil spills, habitat reduction, marine predators, and eating plastic debris.
Let's all go Results of a 1992 space shuttle experiment are finally in, analyzed and published in the March 14 Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The data indicate that Xenopus frog embryo development can occur without gravity. In another giant leap for mankind, the amphibians involved provide evidence that humans could colonize areas of different gravity, or even no gravity. [Memphis, TN Commercial Appeal, March 14, 1995 from Bill Burnett]
To the "toad-o-dome" Herpetologists at Toledo Zoo reported breeding 100 tadpoles of the endangered Wyoming toad, Bufo hemiophrys baxteri, according to the Cleveland, OH Plain Dealer [May 7, 1995 from Jim Zimmerman]. Only 58 Wyoming toads are known to exist in U.S. zoos and the species is believed to be extinct in the wild. The toads who (happily, we believe) produced the tadpoles were kept in conditions designed to replicate natural breeding. The ten parent toads were 11 months old which was a shorter age to breeding condition than had been expected.
Or out in the wild Xhongguo Quingnian Bao writing in China Youth News: "A great number of frogs gather in the Hengshan Mountain area in Hunan Province for a week at the beginning of spring (around February 4) every year to mate, some traveling from several kilometers away. Because of the area's forested and mountainous environment, frogs arriving here are not able to jump so groups of them can be seen crawling hurriedly towards a paddy field in front of the Fangguang Temple. Here the land is flat and with its warm weather is an ideal place for frogs to mate. As there are more male frogs than females a lot of males often pile up on one female, forming what is known as a `frog tower.' Sometimes the tower collapses because it is too high, and all the frogs fall to the ground. But they quickly pile up again. [March 23, 1995, reprinted in Beijing Review, May 1-7, 1995]
Doin' the tube snake boogie... A man in Brooklyn Heights, OH was arrested on charges including speeding and driving with a reportedly false license. After the man couldn't make bail, he was put in the local hokey. While changing into jail clothes, officers discovered a 1.5 foot boa constrictor in his underwear. [April 11, 1995 Latrobe, PA Bulletin from Kathy Bricker; and Leesburg, FL Daily Commercial, April 12, 1995 from Bill Burnett]
Through the halls of academe. All three pre-Columbian gold artifacts that were taken from the National Geographic Society in Washington, D.C. have been recovered. The story as reported by the Chicago Tribune has its odder elements, too. An artifact, a gold miniature frog clutching a snake in its mouth, was reportedly recovered via a long and involved tale for $20. The man is being held by police after he contacted the Society about the $20,000 reward being offered for the piece. [March 27, 1995 from Steve Ragsdale] If anybody hears how this comes out, please send the clipping. Send a copy to "News of the Weird" while you're at it!
Barney, meet William Gibson A film by New Zealand puppeteer Peter Jackson, which ran for a week at Facets Multimedia is reported to be a prankish send-up of the Muppets. There's "Heidi the Hippo, a 400-pound torch singer... How could sweet little Kermit the Frog obliterate the memory of the Feebles' frantic froggie Wynyard, a Vietnam vet and heroin addict who needs a fix before his nightly knife throwing act... But somehow it never feels callous. Having puppets fall victim to the travails of modern life - and especially the ways those problems are kitchified in movies - is a savage dig at the world around us." [Chicago Tribune, May 5, 1995 from Steve Ragsdale]
New Zealand considers new legislation Full legal protection may be granted to all New Zealand common lizard species according to a recent issue of a Wellington (?) local paper from down under. The Department of Conservation's protected species unit spokesperson, Ian Govey, said that about 400 common lizards had been properly permitted and exported. The department fears that sales at pet stores and other commercial uses will escalate. The tuataras and all of New Zealand's frog species have been protected since 1981. The Society for Research on Amphibians and Reptiles in New Zealand, and the Royal Forest and Bird Protection Society favor the legislation although some herpetologists view total protection "as unnecessary at this stage, but would like to see restrictions on trade." Adding the lizards to the existing rule is legislatively easier than writing whole new animal protection acts, so the legislation going to Parliament is for full protection. A member of New Zealand's CITES task force was quoted as saying "There has... been one attempt to post a tuatara." Current keepers will have to apply for permits during a phasing-in time. Trade in captive-borns is still permitted. Govey added that there have been no prosecutions under the 1981 act, although some lizards have been taken back. He said, "We think it's much better to seek the public's cooperation than to get too heavy handed." [from James W. Hatfield, III]
This situation must have been changing rapidly since Edwin Hlavka sent in the February 17, 1995 New Zealand Herald, headlined "Two arrests after reptiles seized. Christchurch
Two men have been arrested in Waimate in connection with an attempt to smuggle Australian reptiles into New Zealand. Customs officers seized the reptiles, probably destined for the international black market, at Auckland Airport last week. They found the 42 lizards and skinks and a snake- necked turtle concealed in the false bottom of a wooden crate containing garden ornaments. Eighteen of the lizards had died in transit. The surviving reptiles were without food and water and had started to eat each other... The reptiles would be worth between $US500 and $US1000 each from wealthy buyers..."
And closer to home A news release from Jim Hahn, the Los Angeles City Attorney dated March 7, 1995 read: "The operator of a Canoga Park seafood company was sentenced to 60 days in jail and 30 days on a Caltrans work crew after he pled no contest today to criminal charges growing out of the discovery of the corpses of more than 700 turtles which died due to the conditions under which he kept them at a storage warehouse and in a parked van...one count each of cruelty to animals... possession of a prohibited species." The latter, snapping turtles, are prohibited in California because they "pose a serious threat to native wildlife." If convicted, the man will have to pay the bill for the veterinary expenses of the Los Angeles Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals/Southern California Humane Society, about $27,000. The Los Angeles Times, March 8, 1995 continued the story: "After an unprecedented prosecution by the Los Angeles city attorney's office, a seafood company operator found with thousands of dead and dying turtles was sentenced... to two months in jail." There were other turtles involved besides snappers, including red-eared turtles, sliders, diamond-backed terrapins, cooters, and eastern painted turtles. The vet fees will be decided at another hearing. [from Allen Salzberg]
More EarthWatch projects Study the Nile Crocodile in Natal, the herpetofauna of the Kirghiz Republic with Dr. Leo Borkin of the Russian Academy of Sciences, predators on Baja Island, or sex and the single snake in Manitoba, Canada. EarthWatch has supported worldwide field research since 1972. The non-profit organization also supports projects in archaeology, art, anthropology, public health, rainforest ecology, volcanology, marine mammalogy, and coral reef studies. [via fax from EarthWatch]
It's turtles, all the way `round Researchers at the University of Florida, Gainesville found that the 10,000 or so juvenile loggerhead sea turtles found in and around Baja California are swimming in across the Pacific. The distance is 10,000 kilometers (6214 miles) among the longest marine migrations known. As impossible as this may seem, mitochondrial DNA samples from nesting turtles in Japan and Australia indicate that 95 percent of the juveniles tested come from the east Asian nesting grounds. [April 25, 1995 Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences and Science News, April 29, 1995 147(17):263 from Mark T. Witwer] Regular readers of this column will recall that similar testing indicates that turtles in the Atlantic follow the current gyres as juveniles; nestlings from America found in Europe, and so forth. The January 27, 1995 Daily Commercial reports that "scientists want to identify the feeding grounds where the air-breathing reptiles spend most of their lives." They've outfitted three adult green sea turtles with satellite transmitters. Data is downloaded in Paris, decoded and passed to researchers in Florida. So where were the turtles? In the Bahamas, Nicaragua, Honduras, and the Caribbean Islands. [From Bill Burnett] The September 18, 1994 New Orleans, LA Times-Picayune reports: "that 57 percent of the juvenile loggerheads living in the rich waters of the Mediterranean hatched on U.S. beaches.... They feed about 20 years in the Mediterranean before ... return[ing] to the beaches where they hatched... [They'll be] three feet in length and weigh 360 pounds... The estimates of loggerhead mortality due to Mediterranean fishing range from 20,000 to 50,000 a year... help explain why turtle populations on U.S. nesting beaches have been declining for decades."
Care-in-captivity, journalists Congratulations to the East Texas Herpetological Society for getting great press in the Northeast News [June 7, 1994 from Gary Durkowitz]. ETHS was hosting a meeting about Australian reptiles and amphibians at the Houston Zoological Gardens Educational Building. Their regular meetings are the third Friday of even numbered months at 7:30 at the Zoo in Hermann Park.
Thanks to everyone who contributed this month and to Brian Bankowski, Ray Boldt, J.N. Stuart, Ilene B. Sievert, Tom Taylor, Ernie Liner, Steven Ragsdale, MaryAnn Harter, Mark T. Witwer, Allen Salzberg, Jack Schoenfelder, Bryan Elwood, and Kathy Bricker. Special thanks to Edwin J. Klavka who sent a copy of the inflight magazine from Ansett NewZealand Southern Skies. It even has a reptile story. Tune in next month.
You can can contribute, too. Send original clippings with date/publication slug firmly attached. The whole page can be mailed if you prefer. Please put your name on every clipping or use a return address label or stamp. One of these days I'm going to have to get a metal detector to get all the staples and paper clips out of my dining room rug, so please put stuff together with tape.
Dear Readers: After offering my e-mail address for the last few issues, only a couple of CHS members have been sending me things for my column. However, I've gotten lots of interesting tidbits from other people; the sea turtle group is quite active. I thought you might like to see what the Internet has to offer herpers - so far. It seems as though more and more is available every single day. The following items have been edited, some severely. Next month, we go back to regular format, so please keep sending cards, letters, photos and clippings (date and publication a must) to me.
Please note that the URL/address for FROGLOG on WWW has changed: Old address: - http://acs-info.open.ac.uk/info/other/FROGLOG-11.html -New address: - http://acs-info.open.ac.uk/info/other/FROGLOG.html -. John Baker, DAPTF, Department of Biology, Open University, Walton Hall, Milton Keynes, MK7 6AA, UK. 19 May 1995
The Houston Post [3/9/95] reports that a "record number of sea turtles washed up dead on the Texas coast last year... 526 stranded... a total roughly equal to the three previous years combined. About half were endangered Kemp's ridley sea turtles." 14 Mar 1995 Michael Coyne
[At]... Ostional beach in Guanacaste, Costa Rica... tourist investors have targeted arribada beaches in the pursuit of their economical interests. My brother recently sent me a copy of an article from a Costa Rican newspaper (La Nacion, February 19, 1995) in which [the community of] Ostional publicly stated its concern about the development of an ambitious tourist project... [They plan] to sell 56 parcels of land from 1000 to 16,000 square meters just after the 200 meters from the mean high tide that constitute the upper limit of the National Wildlife Refuge of Ostional... At this point it is uncertain which government agency is going to approve the construction permits and which regulations are going to be applied. A project of this type can not only affect the turtle population but also one of the few social oriented and successful wildlife management projects in the world. 15 Mar 1995 Mario Alvarado
Paying volunteers are sought for the 40th annual green turtle tagging project at Tortuguero, Costa Rica, July 15-September 2, 1995... contact: Caroline Reiners, Tortuguero Coordinator, Caribbean Conservation Corporation, P. O. Box 2866, Gainesville, Florida 32602, USA. 6 Apr 1995
The beaches of Playa Grande and Playa Langosta in Costa Rica are on their way to being saved... the Minister of Natural Resources Energy and Mines has agreed to recommendations to save and consolidate Las Baulas de Guanacaste National Park so as to protect these beaches... the Ministry will now request that the Costa Rican Congress immediately pass a law to make Las Baulas a permanent Park by law. The number of guards will be increased to 12 during the nesting season, a plan for consolidation will be developed, land purchased for an administrative center and 2 guards placed on Playa Langosta throughout the year. 20 April 95 Jim Spotila
I've just returned from a long field stint in Ostional looking at the potential for ecotourism as a developmental resource.. The tourism project mentioned in La Nacion isn't a tourist project so much as the private sale of individual lots for individual homes. Presumably most buyers will be foreign. The German who owns the farm (yes it is the same one the association tried to buy) is making an effort to ensure the development will be turtle sensitive...There are legal precedents restricting the rights of developers inside wildlife refuges and within certain distance of the coast. The problem is these are rarely enforced before development, but rather fines are tacked on afterwards. As far as I know, current developments fall outside of wildlife law jurisdiction, but the efforts of the Ostional development association to expand its planning and regulation power for land outside the refuge through an integral management plan may help rectify the situation. The problem is the plan has been on the boards for several years and nothing is happening very quickly. Also of note. Current tourism projects run by locals are not all exactly legal, and current regulation enforcement would only hurt local businesses. Also increased regulatory power to the association may not improve the situation. An new association executive has just been elected and they are fairly pro-tourism. I am holding my breath. 28 Apr 1995 L.M. Campbell
A Reuter's report by Jane Sutton reads: "Florida's Jupiter Island residents vote next Tuesday on a $12 million bond issue for a beach rebuilding project that could ultimately help save or be stalled by giant sea turtles, the mayor said Tuesday...Proceeds would be used to dredge offshore and pump sand back onto the beachfront, replenishing a 4.5-mile strip that has already eroded to 15 feet across in some spots. The island's shrinking beachfront is a prime nesting spot for loggerheads, leatherbacks and green sea turtles, all of which enjoy state and federal protection. If the beach erodes much more, ``It will remove one of the favorite, if not the favorite, nesting spots in the United States,'' said Mayor Russell Simpson... If the referendum passes, the town would have to get state and federal permits to do the work during the May to October nesting season. It would also have to move the nests away from the work area... Jupiter Island has 488 homes and only one commercial property, a golf course, with a total appraised value of $680 million. 11 Apr 1995 Allen Salzberg
On Apr. 26, 1995, NMFS officials reported 11 endangered sea turtles had been found dead on Corpus Christi, TX, area beaches in the last ten days; four turtles appeared to have human-inflicted mutilation. On Apr. 27, 1995, the Coast Guard announced that it will begin enforcing more stringent NMFS regulations on shrimp trawlers the following week due to increased turtle mortality. NMFS reported 74 dead sea turtles thus far in April (including 47 Kemp's ridley turtles) and 116 since January on Texas beaches. Associated Press, 28 Apr 1995 Alan B. Bolten
The Sea Turtle Stranding Tragedy of 1994 is occurring again. Strandings are 30 percent higher this year despite NMFS' Emergency Response Plan (ERP)... [In 1994, there were 55 strandings from January 1-April 16; in 1995 71 turtles including 19 Kemp's ridleys have washed up.] 27 Apr 1995 Earth Island Institute, Todd Steiner 300 Broadway, # 28, San Francisco, CA 94133, 415-788-3666, fax 415-788-7324
From MTV Text (MTV Europe): "Illegal construction on the Ionian island of Zakynthos threatens the nesting grounds of endangered sea turtles, weeks before they begin laying eggs in the sandy beaches, environmentalists said on Friday. An illegal road to unblemished Sekania beach, where about 60 percent of the Caretta caretta marine turtles nest, has opened the way for tourist, tavernas and beach umbrellas, officials from the WWFN said. `Sekania is the most important breeding ground for turtles in Zakynthos and the Mediterranean.' " 7 May 1995 Jan Winters
The sea turtle license plate ran out of time... The Florida State legislature did have time to pass the summer beach renourishment bill
which now goes to the governor for signing....By the way, ...just before the senate voted on the summer beach renourishment bill, the US Fish and Wildlife Service (Regional Director Noreen Clough) faxed a letter to the President of the Senate and Florida's Governor informing them that even if Florida passed this law, the Service "intends to continue to issue Section 7 biological opinions that require nourishment projects in the six county region (where nesting is most dense) to take place outside the peak nesting period." The letter also warned that permitting for nest relocation would no longer be within the jurisdiction of the state because DEP would no longer be in compliance with the Section 6 Cooperative Agreement. 8 May 1995 David Godfrey, Sea Turtle Survival League, Caribbean Conservation Corporation.
A bill written by industry lobbyists attempting to remove protection for sea turtles provided under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) was released on May 9 by Senator Slade Gorton (R-WA) and cosponsored by Richard Shelby (R-AL) and Bennett Johnston (D-LA). The bill introduced in the Senate (S. 768) is yet another attempt to turn back the clock on important environmental protection and weaken the ESA. This is expected to be the primary ESA bill in the Senate this year....Sea turtles have survived since prehistoric times, but they may not survive the Gorton bill. The bill (at Section 403) expressly targets sea turtles, marine mammals and other marine species (except fish) by exempting them from ESA protection against being "taken" or killed during fishing and other activities in marine waters. According to the National Academy of Sciences, as many as 55,000 sea turtles were killed annually by shrimp fishing alone before regulations protecting sea turtles were implemented under the ESA in 1989. The regulations require that shrimp nets contain turtle excluder devices (TEDs) to eject sea turtles through trap doors, while allowing shrimp to pass into the nets. Since the adoption of the TED regulations, many fishermen have successfully reduced sea turtle mortalities, while also reducing damage to their catch, fuel costs, and sorting time. The Gorton bill would repeal the TED regulations that protect sea turtles. Five endangered and threatened sea turtle species inhabit U.S. waters: the hawksbill, green, loggerhead, leatherback and Kemp's ridley sea turtles. Of the five, the Kemp's ridley is the most endangered. Populations of adult nesting female turtles have declined from over 40,000 in 1947, to less than 2,000 today. 16 May 1995 Center for Marine Conservation 202-429-5609
On Sunday, May 28th, sea turtles were declared cool on the World Wide Web. Glenn Davis selected Turtle Trax, a page devoted to marine turtles, as the Cool Site of the Day. This resulted in visits from over 40 countries. There were over 700 requests for the Turtle Trax page containing information on Senate Bill S-768. We are also in the process of writing a letter to each of the 100 U.S. senators opposing this bill. We are encouraging the Internet community to write their own letters as well. Something else really neat is happening. Other homepages and servers have requested permission to link with Turtle Trax. That too, is really rewarding. Ironic too, that just at a time when sea turtles are threatened by a man named Gorton, another has declared these flippered wonders reallllllly cool. http://www.io.org/~bunrab 29 May 1995 Ursula Keuper-Bennett
Jack Markham, a Navy natural resource specialist stationed in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and would like to spread the word of sea turtle conservation in Cuba. He would like to receive any and all educational materials on sea turtles, especially conservation, which he can pass along in Cuba (eg. posters, flyers, etc.). He is especially interested in receiving info in Spanish (is the Spanish version of "sea turtles of the world" poster still available? Any help would be greatly appreciated. 1 Jun 1995 John A. Keinath
The Sea Turtle Protection Society of Greece (STPS) is a non-profit organization founded in 1983 to study and protect sea turtles and their nesting habitats in Greece and also to inform the authorities and the public. It is a member of the European Environmental Bureau (E.E.B.) and the European Union for Coastal Conservation (E.U.C.C.). The STPS conducts programs in cooperation with the E.U., central and local authorities, universities and other organizations... It functions in cooperation with the Port Police Authorities throughout Greece. A Sea Turtle Hospital is planned by the STPS in cooperation with the Municipality of Glyfada. The STPS revenues originate from private donations, membership fees, STPS publications, the "Adopt a Sea Turtle " scheme etc. Also some of the above programs receive financial assistance from the E.U. and W.W.F. Greece. The STPS programs are labor intensive and depend largely on volunteers. A contingent of more than 300 Greek and foreign volunteers work on the STPS programs every summer. 9 Jun 1995 Sea Turtle Protection Society of Greece Solomou 35, 106.82, Athens, Greece, 301-3844146
Concerning the bill on coastal armoring (HB 251) now awaiting the signature of the Governor of Florida..., if this bill becomes law, it will be as detrimental to the Western Atlantic loggerhead population as a repeal of the TED regulations... [it] passes control of armoring from the state to local governments. There will be few county commissions or city councils that will be able to resist the impassioned pleas of beach front property owners whose homes or businesses are threatened by erosion. There is, as you know, considerable evidence that suggests the sea level is rising. This bill would make the piecemeal armoring of Florida's coastline virtually inevitable... where armoring has already occurred, it has usually resulted in the loss of the dry backshore required for nesting. Within the Archie Carr Refuge area there are now several homes and motels that are currently perched on the edge of the dune scarp and are prime candidates for seawalls. As David pointed out, this bill would allow those property owners to petition the Brevard County Commission for permission to armor. It is my understanding, admittedly third hand, that at this time the Governor intends to sign this bill. Please call Governor Lawton Chiles at (904) 488-4441 or fax him at (904) 487-0801 urging him to veto this bill. Ask your friends, relatives, and colleagues to do the same ASAP. Thanks, Bill Redfoot 2 Jun 1995
I recently spent some time in the North China Sea off the northern coast of Palawan on the small island of Malapacao. Thereon is a property owned and maintained by an Australian who has lived on Malapacao for the past nine years. Her resources and technology have been quite limited with almost zero communications, but she runs a small resort to finance her turtle preservation efforts. She is an intense defender of sea turtles in the entire region, and would like to receive information or newsletter from your organization. I promised I would relay the message to you upon my return to the U.S. She has no telephone or online access of her own. Jun 10 1995 M. Clarke
We were recently trapping mice in Southeast Missouri with snap traps. While we were checking them we discovered a Three-toed box turtle feeding on a mouse carcass in one of the traps. I was really amazed to see that box turtles scavenge. Has anybody else seen this behavior before? In addition to the mammals we caught several herps. These included a black rat snake, box turtles, and gray treefrogs. We were using a mixture of oats and peanut butter. This mixture attracted a lot of ants, which I feel may have been responsible for capturing the frogs and turtles. The snake probably wandered in by accident. Has anybody else had similar experiences while mammal trapping? Wed, 31 May 95 Richard L. Essner:
There is still some room in our summer green turtle program at Tortuguero.... For more information about becoming a Green Turtle Program volunteer or to "adopt" a Tortuguero turtle from Caribbean Conservation's Sea Turtle Survival League, call 1-800-678-7853. 15 Jun 1995 David Godfrey
[A] new webpage... [provides] emergency first aid and medical consultant services in the event of a venomous snakebite by a North American species... We have also provided a link to the excellent ww database of venomous snakes, antivenom sources, toxicologist directory and poison control center listings. This is put up by Professor Gopalakrishnakone in Singapore and was suggested by Blaise Druz in Switzerland. An additional link to the TOC of the book "Medical Herpetology" is currently under construction but appears on the page although not functional at this moment. Thank you all for your input, in the past and in the future. North American Snakebite Emergency WebPage URL: - http://www.xmission.com/~gastown/herpmed/snbite.rev -. 10 May 1995 Steve Grenard
Reuters reports from Shanghai, China that: "Snakes are being sneaked into Shanghai schools, diverting children from their studies and frightening the faint-hearted... The small snakes, teeth removed, are sold by dealers to students at breaktime, it said. In some schools, there are students in every grade who play with snakes hidden in tins or pencil-boxes during class, with up to seven in one class, it said. In one case, a teacher was going to the toilet in the afternoon when he spotted a snake and ran out in terror. In another case, a teacher who had confiscated a snake and left it for dead in a box, opened it to find it was alive. The snake slipped out, causing panic among staff. The paper called for strict measures to prevent dealers selling snakes to students and to stop children playing with snakes at school. " 7 Jun 1995 Allen Salzberg
Reuters reports: "Windsurfers on a British lake were told Monday to watch out for an errant crocodile. Experts believe the crocodile, first spotted by a startled couple visiting the lake, was originally imported as a pet and then freed when it became too big to handle. Crocodiles are not indigenous to Britain. ``It doesn't surprise me at all that someone would do this,'' said Chester Zoo's reptile curator Keith Brown. ``It is the goldfish down the toilet syndrome.'' Warning signs have been put up at Astbury Water Park near the northern English town of Congleton and visitors were told not to feed the croc." 7 Jun 1995 Allen Salzberg
2MB of pain In what was headlined "the worst snake bite in U.S. history," 51-year-old George VanHorn of the Reptile World Serpentarium in St. Cloud, FL was envenomated by a 12-foot cobra during a snake handling exhibition while 30 children from a day-care field trip watched. The day-care owner said, "[VanHorn] was getting... ready for the next snake... [the cobra] popped its head up, looked around the room... fanned out its little head... and struck about eight feet parallel across the room... " He added that at first the children had no idea that the strike was not part of the show, but later became concerned and frightened when the severity of the event became apparent. VanHorn reportedly stayed cool. He walked into the next room and injected himself with epinephrine, a substance similar to adrenaline, which was to counteract some of the immediate effects of the envenomation. Then he, and Bonnie Watkins went to the hospital. Watkins has worked at the serpentarium since 1972 and was present when the bite occurred. They took a multidose vial of tigersnake antivenin (the closest they had to cobra) to the hospital where VanHorn was listed in very critical condition. Antivenin from many sources began arriving in Florida quickly. VanHorn is well known and respected; his serpentarium supplies venom for medical research and the production of antivenin. Three days after the bite, he was conscious and speaking to reporters. "I didn't feel any fear," VanHorn said, "but I didn't think I was going to live. I really wasn't ready to die." He recalled the event: "The box opened, and he just came out like an arrow. It just came straight across. He saw my hand as a food item, and he just grabbed it as fast as he could." VanHorn plans to return to his serpentarium as soon as the doctors permit it. Watkins, incidentally, returned to Reptile World while VanHorn was still unconscious, captured the cobra which was loose in the hot room, and returned it to its cage by herself. [Orlando, FL Sentinel, June 22, 23, 24, 25, and 26 from Bill Burnett]
An 8-year-old boy was bitten by a rattlesnake at home on the couch in his living room in Brownwood, TX - 120 miles southwest of Fort Worth. The family home has been plagued by scorpions and the family was just bedding down for the night in the living room since all the bedrooms had been insecticided that day. The boy felt a bite, but couldn't find the scorpion. A rattlesnake was found rolled up in a blanket on the floor by the boy's mother. The father killed the snake and the family called for help. Then they drove to the highway to meet the ambulance (which is a good tip if you're ever far from the main road) and the boy was taken to a hospital and listed in fair condition. [Albuquerque, NM Tribune, June 23, 1995 from J.N. Stuart]
More on the Internet
Herpetological Review is now on-line: A pre-publication listing of the contents of each issue of HR is now available from several on line sources... Herp-Net (300-2400 bps 8- N-1) or (9600, 14.4 kbs) 24 hours. Selection "Herp.Review" menu item... Usenet newsgroup "sci.bio.herp"... Herpetology World Wide Web at Harvard " - http://xta1200.harvard.edu:8000/herp - ... CompuServe Animal Forum [Go Petstwo] reptile/amphibian library section 6. Search for keyword "SSAR" ... America Online, under "pet" section, search reptile files. This service is made possible by mark Miller and the Herpetology On-Line Network. SSAR also has a World Wide Web Page " - http://falcon.cc.ukans.edu/~gpisani/SSAR.html -". [from Bob Hansen]
For dino nuts, there is a series of marvelous graphics on the Royal Tyrrell Museum website - http://www.cuug.ab.ca:8001/VT/tyrrell/ -.
The Utah Association of Herpetologists can be reached online. They are having meetings at the University of Utah. Miriam Benabib spoke on the life history and ecology of Sceloporus variabilis at the July meeting.
Frank Hensley of the Department of Zoology, Duke University posted a request for information: "I read in the newspaper that Kurds in northern Iraq are suffering a `plague of yellow vipers' and that several people have been killed. Does anyone know any details about this? What species are they talking about? Supposedly this `plague' is due to a mild winter."
"The editor of the Journal of the Northern Ohio Association of Herpetologists would like to make a formal call for papers. J. NOAH is published twice per year and contains papers on a wide variety of topics within herpetology and herpetoculture. Papers can be based upon original data or summary of other works. Field notes are acceptable, as are husbandry notes on a specific species or group. Topics need not be limited to herps found in Ohio, or the U.S. International authors are encouraged to submit manuscripts. Anyone interested in submitting a manuscript to J NOAH can contact the editor for complete author guidelines and more information. Gregary J. Watkins-Colwell."
"I am working on a project in Puerto Rico and need to address the likelihood of the presence of the Puerto Rican Boa in an area about 15 miles southwest of San Juan. I have some very general info on teh habitat requirements and life history of this snake but would like some more comprehensive information. can someone either send me, or direct me to some information that mya be helpful to me? Thank you much! Dane Gavin Pehrman, Project Manager/Ecologist Black and Veatch Waste Science Inc. The Curtis Center #705, 601 Walnut Street, Philadelphia, PA 19106."
"The 22nd Annual meeting of the Kansas Herpetological Society will be 4 - 5 November, 1995 at the Natural History Museum, University of Kansas, Lawrence, KS. All interested persons are welcome to attend and/or submit proposals for presenting papers at the meeting.
Herp-travel The Pantanal of Brazil was featured in the June, 1995 Chicago Life. This area of Brazil is "one of the rare laces in the wold that remains unsullied by man... a freshwater wetland that covers 54,000 square miles... home to 600 species of birds, 90 different mammals, 50 species of reptiles, and 280 species of fish... rumors abound about the anaconda that ate a whole caiman... The Caiman Ecological Reserve consists of five lodges, each miles apart... knowledgeable guides... casual yet sumptuous dinners are prepared by families from the area... one of the area's massive cattle ranches has incorporated high-end ecotourism into the operation with reportedly profitable results.
Upper Michigan's famed Isle Royale is home to only a few species including the chorus frog which was featured in the April, 1993 issue of Natural History. My husband and I recently visited Copper Harbor, the gateway to Isle Royale. While the number of species is far less than in a tropical paradise like Brazil, the seclusion of the area and its remove from the cares and troubles of "civilization" make it an excellent destination for natural history lovers either alone or on the way to Isle Royale.
The Mayan pyramid of Kukulcan at Chichen Itza has long been a popular destination for tourists at any time of the year. A recent article in the journal Conscious Choice [May/June 1995] reports that the spring and fall equinoxes reveal a herpetological feature on the pyramid. On that day, the setting sun forms a shadow image of the sacred feathered serpent. The shadow slowly slithers down one of the pyramid's edges and connects with a statue of a serpent's head at the base of the pyramid.
A man in Lanark County (Ontario, Canada) measures spring by snakes, too. According to an article by his wife, he "waits for a clear day when the sun actually feels as if it is getting closer to the earth; when he can walk in the fields and see rocks protruding from the melting circles of snow. On this precise day, he always finds a clack snake curled up on top of a big, flat, smooth rock soaking in the warmth of the sun. Apparently the first time he saw a black snake doing this, it looked so appealing he found his own boulder to sit on and decided that the snake was really on to something. The next spring he decided boulder-sitting went better with a beer and a new rite of spring was born." [Kingston Whig-Standard, March 30, 1995 from Herp Haven] I'm not sure you could get a travel agent to book you a rock in that field, but this does sound rather a nice way to pass an afternoon.
A snake restaurant in Hanoi, Vietnam was featured in a clipping from the Albuquerque, NM Journal, February 26, 1995 sent by J.N. Stuart. The reporter was traveling with a group of Vietnam veterans and was taken to the small restaurant by a local resident. "The restaurant owner... lifts a square lid... sticks his arm down into a hole and comes up with a 5-foot cobra... very alive... [he puts that one back and] fishes around a bit more, and this time produces a cobra that - honest to God - is 12 feet if it's an inch... [After being told of the 16 different methods of cooking snake they] have six of them - minced and grilled, steamed in a light oil with veggies, shaved snake in rice soup, barbecued snake, snake spring rolls... and finally, stuffed barbecued snake skin... On the table are several bottles of a cloudy, colorless liquid. In the bottom of each, a pile of gray, flesh material is staked two or three inches. Hoang Cong Thuy pulls the cork from a bottle and pours a small glass. `What is that?' I ask. `Snake wine,' he says. `What's that piled up in the bottom of the bottle?' I ask. `Reproductive organs... very good for you. You should try some.'" Another writer published a similar story in the Christian Science Monitor, March 30, 1995. He reports that about 40 snake restaurants are clustered in a few villages around Hanoi. The one he visited has been in business for four generations. The owner's motorcycle has a sticker reading "Snake is our tradition." [from Jim and Kathy Bricker]
The Panyu Snake Park in Guangzhou, China known as the Flying Dragon World Amusement Park bills itself as the first super amusement park in the world based on a snake theme. After 29 months of preparation at a cost of $107 million, the snake park opened to the public early this year. It is expected to bring in $355 million from overseas tourism alone in 1995 and more than $1.2 billion by the end of 1996. The Snake Garden features "28 million snakes in 256 species." The restaurant offers an "All-Snake Feast... a comprehensive example of traditional snake meals of the Guangdong [Province]." [South China Business Weekly, March 13, 1995 from P.L. Beltz]
Closer to home, "Environmental Ed-Ventures" are available through a Carbondale outfit known as Touch of Nature. Their guides lead biweekly excursions through the swamps and bayous of the Cache River, a cypress-tupelo swamp located in far southern Illinois. [Chicago Tribune, May 7, 1995 from Steve Ragsdale]
Herps and the law Congratulations to long-term CHS member (and former board member) John Levell who has just published "A Field Guide to Reptiles and the Law." The flyer for it reads: "At last, a comprehensive listing of laws, rules and regulations by the Federal Government at all 50 states regarding both reptiles and amphibians. An essential reference for researchers, pet shops, hobbyists, collectors animal dealers and law enforcement personnel. C.I.T.E.S. and the U.S. Endangered Species Act explained. 50 state listings of endangered, threatened and protected species... collecting and possession regulations, rules regarding exotic species, permit application and more! Ask John for a personally autographed copy! 240 pages, perfect bound 8.5 by 11 inches $29.95." It's available from Zoo Book Sales 612-470-8733, fax 612-470-5013.
The Durham, NC Herald Sun reports that a boa constrictor stolen from a local nature center was recovered about two weeks later by Sanford, NC detectives. Their chief said, "A concerned citizen provided us with some information. Acting on that, detectives went to a residence... and found the snake." The park ranger said that when the snake was found it was in an aquarium full of ice water and added "They just didn't know what they were doing with her." This is the second time this snake has been stolen. The first time she was recovered at a pet shop in a nearby town. [May 30, 1995 from Joseph Zawandowski]
A woman who was convicted in 1988 for illegal possession of six cobras, 10 rattlesnakes, and four boa constrictors has been charged with three more charges of possessing exotic animals without a permit. California Fish and Game wardens responded to a call from a Ventura police detective and removed a six-foot cobra from the home. The police had been in the process of a heroin arrest at the premises when the cobra and 19 other snakes were discovered. [Ventura County Star, May 15, 1995 from Harold DeLisle]
Oh, boa - more weird snake tales The Edmonton Sun, April 8, 1995 reports: "An apartment building caretaker had a slithery surprise yesterday when a pet python reappeared after going missing about three months ago... firefighters used a pillowcase to nab the 1.5-meter-long `Bert'... [they] kept Bert under a heat lamp and unsuccessfully tried to feed him a hard-boiled egg... [from Roger Syriste]
"Snake attack!" screams the headline of The Edmonton Sun [May 22, 1995] and is followed by a photo of a man lying on a stretcher being "wheeled away by medical personnel after being bitten in the left hand by his pet python." A follow-up story on May 23 reported that the man was "doing OK" after being bitten by his 18-foot pet Burmese python. He was bitten while trying to take the animal out of his cage. The snake belongs to the man's mother who was away on vacation. The man was planning to clean the cage when the bite occurred. [both articles from Roger Syriste]
A Chicago-area pet store owner was quoted in the Chicago Tribune [May 14, 1995 from Steve Ragsdale] "We had a guy in here last night who wanted to buy a snake to keep in his toolbox. That is not the appropriate environment for a snake."
The Orlando, FL Sentinel printed a piece written by a woman who discovered a snake in her house first thing one morning: "There I stood - no caffeine in my system yet - guarding the intruder that began uncurling itself to its full four feet before my widening eyes. It started toward the foyer. I had to act! I was in charge of our fate! Bravely, I took a swipe at it but only grazed the top of its head. Enraged, it turned toward me, its mouth wide open. I jumped back in horror... the snake slid into the darkness beneath my refrigerator..." She had wrenched her back when she jumped. Then her husband came in from the garage with a box and pulled out the appliance. "Once uncovered, the snake headed straight toward me. Screaming in pain and terror, I pinned it between the baseboard and floor with the broom until my hero could get around the refrigerator that separated us..." The rat snake was released unharmed by the husband who swears he found a molted skin under the refrigerator. [by Patricia H. LaFleur, May 24, 1995 sent by Bill Burnett]
A man went into a tavern in Hammond, LA to use the restroom about 3 a.m. one Monday and left his car running with his 9-foot python "Zeus" inside. When he came out, he noticed the car was in a different place, and a man was running away from it. The car had been damaged by being driven over a curb, but the snake was unharmed. [Star-Ledger, June 1, 1995 from Robert C. Danley]
Residents in a group of condo complexes in Alameda, CA complained to authorities that a nearby vacant lot was infested with mice, spiders, mosquitos and snakes. They described the snakes as green or brown in color and said that they came slithering up the sidewalks from the empty lot. [Hayward, CA Daily Review, May 14, 1995 from Mike Kilby]
A 24-year-old man was killed after he lost control of his pickup truck on a New Mexico road. His truck landed upside-down and he was thrown from the vehicle. When authorities arrived, the man's pet snake was "wrapped around his neck but `had nothing to do with the accident'" according to a police spokesperson. The man may have been fleeing from another accident scene when the crash occurred. [Albuquerque, NM Journal, May 1, 1995 from J.N. Stuart]
Herb Caen, a well-known columnist for a San Francisco newspaper, reported on a publicity stunt staged in March. "The Academy of Sciences' annual corned beef spread, picketed by the academy's herpetologists carrying signs reading, `St. Patrick was a fink.' 'Bring back the snakes!'" [from Isadorra Jarr and Jack Fertig via internet]
Writing in the April 14, 1995 Sun-Times, Chicago columnist (Ms.) Michael Sneed: "Just when you thought it was safe to go back into the water, Columbia Pics is making the river adventure `Anaconda,' which has been called `Jaws on the Amazon.' In it, a group of tourist schoolteachers are [sic] stalked by a killer snake." [from Steve Ragsdale]
Thanks to everyone who contributed this month and to Marty Marcus, P.L. Beltz, Stephen Ragsdale, Bob Pierson, Gary R. Durkovitz, Ernie Liner, Mark T. Witwer, Ray Boldt, Steve Coogan, Rob Carmichael, and J.H. Schoenfelder for clippings sent and filed. Congratulations to Lori King-Nava who was the first to send a clipping about the CHS Herp Expo at Triton College. Special thanks to Mark Witwer for the March-April, 1995 issue of International Wildlife which features some spectacular herp photography. You can contribute, too. Send newspaper or magazine articles with the date/publication slug and your name to me. Cards, photos and letters are also greatly appreciated even though the press of writing my thesis does not leave me much time for individual replies.
Dear readers I'd like to thank all the contributors who sent cards, clippings, letters, photos and cartoons including those listed after each entry and to Bill Burnett, Steve Ragsdale, Mark T. Witwer, Jack, Schoenfelder, and P.L. Beltz. Keep the stuff coming! It's a lot easier to write a column with a surplus of goodies than to have to stretch each paragraph to fill the page. Congratulations to Mark Witwer for his upcoming article in Herpetological Review on corn snakes! You can contribute, too. To be used, each article must have the date/publication slug and your name firmly attached. Do not use staples. To see why, staple newspaper then try to take it apart! I can't tell you how much stuff I get that has to be flattened, prodded, unfolded, deciphered, ironed etc. and it still hasn't got the CHS member's name on it. This gets important because I'm getting so much mail for this and other columns that I've got volunteers helping to sort it out. We try to keep names with clippings, but you will get credit for sure if you put your name on each one. Some suggestions: 1.) send the whole page or pages, newsprint doesn't weigh much; 2.) photocopy the article using a 64% reduction and you can get half page of newspaper on one 8.5 by 11 inch sheet; 3.) use your return address stamp or stickers on each clipping. Mail your contributions to me.
Sea turtle update I haven't gotten an article on this yet, but the news from the Gulf is that a judge has ordered the shrimping industry to use very specific kinds of TEDs as well as defined trawling practices in an effort to reduce sea turtle mortality. [via Internet]
The Florida net-ban law went into effect in July in an effort to protect sea turtles. Commercial fishermen are prohibited from setting nets at night and are now limited to one gill net per vessel. [Leesburg, FL Daily Commercial, December 28, 1994] On the other hand, despite warnings of mortality to hatchling sea turtles, the Florida legislature passed a bill which would permit beach "nourishment" at any time of the year. This means that workers could bury turtle nests under hundreds of pounds of "new" sand, possibly preventing the babies from reaching the surface. The problem is that unrestricted coastal development has changed sand flow patterns, resulting in erosional losses to the beaches of some communities formerly famed for sand beaches. Tourism is bucks in Florida, tourists expect to see beaches. [Orlando, FL Sentinel, April 18, 1995] Beach residents take a dim view of limits on their outdoor lighting, but research has shown that the first light babies see sets their internal compasses. If the light is the glow from the Atlantic, all well and good. If the light is from a tennis court or highway, the hatchling goes the wrong way and may even be at a life-long disadvantage from the incorrect initial setting. Regardless of the effects of their electric lights on this ancient species, beach-front residents have fought any restriction of their outdoor lighting tooth and claw. Authorities are recommending motion-sensor lighting for security purposes and shielding or redirecting lights which shine over the beaches. [Orlando Sentinel, April 30, 1995 all from Bill Burnett]
A new threat faced by sea turtles is that fire ants are attacking turtle nests, killing and eating baby turtles in all stages of development. Fire ants were introduced from Brazil in the 1940s and have marched across the southeastern U.S. establishing colonies ever since. They have a nasty bite and some kind of venom which this author personally experienced on a recent trip to Alabama. One researcher quoted in the article said that the ants "will eat the rubber off circuits." He speculates that they are actually eating the turtle eggs since in the lab they prefer liquid food like chicken eggs. Another researcher said, "You open up a clutch cavity, and bang - they're covered with fire ants. Not every egg, but a lot of eggs, they're just cleaned out. You can see these breach holes where they've gotten in there. [When hatchlings are attacked] they were just swarmed over. They would eat the eyes of the young. We can see the bite marks on the body, but it's not like the eyes. They seem to go for the soft tissues." [Leesburg, FL Daily Commercial, July 3, 1995 from Bill Burnett] Incidentally, insecticides are out. The turtle nests are in a wildlife refuge and Fish and Wildlife has no plans to intervene in these "natural" events.
Kemp's ridley sea turtles nested on the Padre Island National Seashore this year. The first nest to hatch received national press coverage. The first article received here was from CHS member Waiva Worthley from the Corpus Christi, TX Caller Times, July 15, 1995: "Roughly the size of a silver dollar, tiny specimens of the world's most critically endangered sea turtle have begun hatching... 79 of 88 eggs found... had begun hatching and were expected to be released into the ocean within hours... four Kemp's ridley sea turtle nests... were located this spring... The increased number of nests could indicate the future success of a 10-year effort, begun in the late 1970s, to establish a Kemp's ridley sea turtle nesting area locally..." The effort referred to is the "imprinting" of baby turtles effected by letting them run over the beach sands on Padre Island right after hatching, then being taken to Galveston to be "head started," the turtles finally being released off shore from boats at an age of two or three years. This effort was spearheaded by HEART, a volunteer group in Galveston. The head-starting facilities were unfunded by the National Marine Fisheries Service which claimed they provided the turtles no provable advantage. I guess it shows you that you see what you want to see in data as in real life.
Scientists have discovered that loggerhead sea turtles have internal magnetic compasses which help guide them on their oceanic peregrinations. As reported in Science News [July 8, 1995 from Mark T. Witwer] researchers at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill take hatchling sea turtles and put little Lycra harnesses on them. The harnesses are attached to a rotating arm and the movements of the animals are plotted on a data recorder. The first light seen by the turtles sets the east-west variable. (So far, this is old news.) Recently they found that the sea turtle can use its compass to determine latitude by means of their reaction to the inclination angle of a magnetic field. In other words, the closer you go to the poles, the steeper the angle; the closer to the equator, the shallower the angle of the Earth's magnetic field. Somehow, biologically, the turtles are measuring this. The advantage to them is that they can stay out of colder northern waters - or at least that's the speculation of the researchers.
Freshwater turtle tales The Philadelphia Inquirer reports that a live 100-pound turtle was turned over to authorities at the Hainan provincial museum. A member of one of China's endangered species (the article did not say which) it is reported to be 500 years old by the Xinhua news agency. China Daily reported that 16 restaurants in the souther Guangdong province were fined for serving protected animals and fined from $600 to $9,600 each. [July 1, 1995 from Kathy Bricker] The Nature Conservancy has acquired a 1.8 acre bog which contains one of Tennessee's two remaining bog turtle populations. The turtles had it made in the shade until the U.S. government began draining marshes in the 1920s so that people could grow crops, harvest timber, and raise livestock in the area. This reduced the species to isolated populations in Tennessee, North Caroline, Georgia and Virginia. [The Tennessee Conservationist, Jan/Feb 1995 from Bill Burnett]
News of the venomous Recently published figures from the Florida Office of Vital Statistics compare deaths by snakebite versus deaths by lightening strike in that state. Of the five years shown, one person died of snakebite in 1990, and 54 people died after being struck by lightning. [Orlando, FL Sentinel, July 1, 1995 from Bill Burnett]
The 51-year owner of a venomous snake attraction in Florida has survived what is reported to be the deadliest snake bite in the U.S. He was bitten by a 12-foot king cobra, taken to the Orlando Regional Medical Center, pumped full of 48 vials of antivenin, and speaking to reporters a few days later. [Austin, TX American Statesman, June 24, 1995, apologies to sender, but there was no name on the clipping.]
Participants in the eighth annual Rattlesnake Round-up in Otero County, NM were cautioned against collecting on state trust land by the state Land Commissioner. Ray Powell said, "We lease this land for grazing livestock. We do not lease it so that individuals can profit from unregulated and unaccountable harvesting of wildlife, which in turn causes long-term damage to our trust lands..." Rattlesnakes "eat mice, prairie dogs and other animals that carry plague, Hantavirus and other diseases. Those species would proliferate and the potential risk to humans is obvious." [Albuquerque, NM Journal, April 7, 1995 from J.N. Stuart]
The Memphis, TN Commercial Appeal reports that a prison inmate has filed suit against the Texas Department of Corrections alleging "he was bitten by a rattlesnake after guards forced him to catch and kill hundreds of the reptiles using only his hands and a hoe... from the work area at the Dolph Brisco Unit prison. A Texas Department of Corrections spokesman had no comment on the suit, filed in U.S. District Court." The inmate further alleges that he was required to give the "valuable hides" to the guards. [March 10, 1995 from Bill Burnett]
The Hawaiian Electric Company warned its customers to be on the lookout for brown tree snakes following the discovery of one individual of this species at an Hawaiian airport. The provided some fast facts: "One female snake in Hawaii could start a population; Guam's brown tree snake population swelled to a high of 30,000 per square mile, the highest density of snakes in the world; The snake has caused more than 250 power outages in a year in Guam, with estimated utility damages of millions of dollars per year; The snake, which grows as long as 10 feet, is attracted by the scent of blood. Its venom can cause a painful swelling in adults. Infants can be seriously injured, perhaps fatally; It took less than 40 years for the snake to decimate nine out of Guam's 11 native bird species and many native animals; Hawaii has no natural predators for snakes..." [March, 1995 Consumer Lines, a publication of the Hawaiian Electric Company from Alan W. Rigerman]
More timber rattlesnakes than usual have been reported in the Hoosier National Forest. Officials caution that this doesn't indicate a population recovery just that more snakes are being seen by Forest workers on a particular dry ridge top. The timber rattlesnake is listed as a protected species in Indiana and is one of three venomous snakes native to the state. The other two are the copperhead and the cottonmouth. [Post-Tribune, July 15, 1995 from Jack Schoenfelder]
The June 27, 1995 Caymanian Compass carried a Reuters report from Multan, Pakistan about a 17-year-old girl who is "Snake Crazy." Seems the young lady: "drapes a writing bundle of snakes around her neck, letting them wriggle across her face and body... selects two... and pops their heads in her mouth. Then she takes another and encourages it to bite her finger. When the fangs draw blood, she sucks out the poison. Decked in costume jewelry and a red tunic, [the girl] performs her snake show nightly... 250 miles south of Islamabad. She has tamed a collection of 30 snakes, some of which she says are highly poisonous... [she] demonstrates how she feeds a snake by hand, forcing its mouth open with a stick, which she then uses to ram a piece of buffalo stomach far down its throat. She massages the snake's body to help it digest the meal." [from L.W. Reed, D.V.M.]
Biologist Alan H. Savitzky of Old Dominion University has had to abandon a project conducted jointly with Barbara Savitzky of Christopher Newport University since 1992. The study was intended to track the movements of rare canebrake rattlesnakes though Northwest River Park in Chesapeake, VA. Last year, after a public outcry, the state and city axed the study. The Drs. Savitzky were required to remove radio transmitters from all the animals and abandon the study. Local residents claimed that taking venomous animals and then replacing them was like "finding broken glass or a loaded gun and putting it back." They also complained that too much was being spent, ignoring the fact that the study was funded by contributions. [Richmond, VA Times-Dispatch May 27, 1995 from Mr. Laverne A. Copeland]
The exact same article was printed in a bunch of papers around the U.S. about this year's rattlesnake roundup circuit. Herpetologists are aware of the methods and intents of these events; catch as many snakes as you can, drag `em to town, show `em to the tourists, and cut their heads off. This year, Sweetwater, TX reports receiving $1.5 million in tourism revenues in their rattlesnake roundup weekend. Clark Adams, a wildlife biologist at Texas A& M University did a state-commissioned study of the effects of roundups on snake populations in 1991. Adams said that he did not find "any up or down trend" in rattlesnake populations. [Memphis, TN Commercial Appeal, March 12, 1995 from Bill Burnett; March 12 Albuquerque, NM Journal from J.N. Stuart and the Sunday Advocate, Baton Rouge, LA from Ernie Liner]
Tom Taylor sent a piece written by E.J. Montini in the Arizona Republic [March 26, 1995] which has a few great quotes: "Here in the desert, we've been having a problem with rattlesnakes. It's been in all the papers... Greater Phoenix claims the most serious serpent infestation... A man who removes snakes from the many new housing developments in the area told a reporter, `These guys went to sleep last year and then woke up to find their homes dug up. They then end up wandering into people's back yards.' ... It's humans who write the headlines and buy the newspapers, however, so we call it a rattlesnake problem. And why not? We moved to the West in order to live in the West, or so we say, ignoring the fact that a piece of the West must be scraped away to make room for each of us. Record numbers of snakes are turning up in residential areas, the papers report. Which, of course, is a lie. Record numbers of humans are turning up in rattlesnake areas... You could say we also have a cactus problem.. And a creosote problem. An agave problem. All are removed from the landscape by developers who sell a version of the West in which the West is stripped bare and covered with the east. Grass replaces desert marigolds. Walls go up in fields of Mexican poppies... Rattlesnakes are left behind... they never saw the land developers coming." The snake problem was reported in the March 22 Arizona Republic and carried by papers around the country.
This author's "herp-pet-peeve" is writers who insist on calling cobras, rattlers, etc. "poisonous snakes." After all the stories of Asian snake restaurants, surely they could figure out that there aren't any "poisonous snakes." My phrase for remembering this is "poison is when you eat it, venom is what eats you."
Non-venomous snake stories Henrico County, VA animal officers searched round-the-clock for an 11-foot-long African Rock Python reported lost by its owner. Police went door-to-door to warn residents that "a python was on the prowl," according to the June 28, 1995 Richmond Times-Dispatch [sent by Mr. Laverne A. Copeland].
An Amelia County, VA family suffering from repeat Salmonella infections has been informed that the source was their pet boa constrictor. The director of the Piedmont Health District told the Richmond Times-Dispatch [July 8, 1995 from Mr. Laverne A. Copeland] that the case was first reported with the family's 8-month-old infant had a fever, diarrhea and other symptoms of a Salmonella infection. The pediatrician alerted health authorities out of fear that the well water may have been contaminated. Tests of the well, the baby, the parents and the pet indicated that the last was the source of the rare subtype of the bacteria found the baby and the parents.
The July 22, 1995 Orlando, FL Sentinel reports: "At least the suspect wasn't speeding. He was actually kind of lollygagging through the intersection of Grandview Street and 11th Avenue... that's when police apprehended the 3-foot python slithering through downtown." Police hope the owner will come forward. Two people have already offered to adopt the ball python if its owner doesn't show up. The animal was claimed by the sister of its owner who said the snake had been missing for two months and that she didn't know how it got loose. [Leesburg, FL Daily Commercial, June 24, 1995 both from Bill Burnett]
Poisonous amphibians Our dear friend and long-term invasive species champion Bufo marinus (the cane toad) has recently settled in the Orlando, FL area due to a series of mild winters. One was found run over on Fern Creek Avenue, and others have been seen in Hillsborough County. B. marinus was introduced into South Florida in the 1930s in a misguided attempt to control sugar cane beetles. The toads are nocturnal, the beetles are only daylight active. Can we guess the rest? The beetles bred with abandon, the toads bred with abandon. The beetles ate the cane, the toads ate anything they could snarf and both are still a fairly serious problem although insecticides do a fairly good job on the beetles. Dogs and cats that take a bite out of Bufo can become quite ill. [Orlando Sentinel, June 23, 1995 from Bill Burnett]
Reuters reports that "three Filipinos on a drinking bout died of poisoning after eating a frog they saw jumping out of a canal... two other people were in serious condition in a Manila hospital after sharing the same amphibian. The five people, who though it was a delicacy, did not know it belonged to a species of poisonous bullfrog. Filipinos love appetizers when drinking and eat many things with their beers, usually foods believed to be aphrodisiacs - such as dogs, frogs, beetles, snakes, lizards and crickets..." [Memphis, TN Commercial Appeal, July 12, 1995]
Giant tortoises rediscovered! Two large male tortoises kept in a hotel garden in Seychelles were determined to represent a species (Geochelone arnoldi) which had believed to have become extinct in the mid-1800s. Genetic testing and other analysis will be performed to confirm the identification which is based on shell morphology. Up to now, only the Aldabra tortoise (Geochelone gigatea) was known to survive. That species has about 150,000 individuals. [ZooGoer, July/August, 1995 from Karen Furnweger]
It wasn't the roadrunner going "beep-beep" Ok, folks, I've read them all, but this may be the story of the year if not the decade. For the last 20 years, hunting dogs have disappeared in a Florida panhandle state forest. Owners thought there was a dog theft ring at work. So they started putting radio tracking collars on the dogs, some of which are worth thousands of dollars. Four days after the most recent disappearance, a faint signal was received from a couple of missing dogs' collars while the owners were looking around a creek. The trail of the missing dogs had led to a beeping alligator. State contracted gator hunters harpooned a 10-foot, 11-inch alligator whose stomach contained seven collars and tag sets from missing hunting hounds. Estimated to be 50-years-old the gator treated the hunting trails as a private larder; fortunately he ignored a popular human swimming spot less than a quarter of a mile away. [August 29, 1995: Houma, LA Courier and New Orleans Times- Picayune from Ernie Liner; Chicago Tribune from Robert J. Paluch and Ray Boldt]
Range extensions "An unidentified floating object may be alligator in Round Lake" says the headline in the May 19, 1995 Chicago Tribune. It says that while a woman and her three kids were at the lakefront at Round Lake Beach, they saw something odd in the water. They called the police, who put the town under an alligator alert. "At this point, people should be careful around the area," said a police sergeant. [from Steve Ragsdale]
A 3-foot alligator was captured in a lake in Queens, which is a borough of the City of New York. Fishermen had reported seeing it hissing in Kissena Park Lake. A day-camp worker grabbed the gator barehanded and a coworker rubber-banded its mouth shut. Henry Stern, New York Parks Commissioner said they think it was a released pet, adding that the former owner "probably thought it was very cute until it got big." Keeping alligators is illegal in the Big Apple. [Orlando, FL Sentinel, July 28, 1995 from Bill Burnett]
But they make great pets... or do they? From Reuters: Police in the southern state of Johor in Malaysia say a 23-foot-long python attacked at 29-year-old man, squeezed him to death, and then tried to swallow him. The snake's attempt at swallowing the body was interrupted by the arrival of police brought by the man's older brother. Police shot the python to death. A zoologist says the python is one of the biggest he has ever seen in Malasia. He says this is the first time he has heard of a python trying to devour an adult human.... In 1912, a python was shot in Malaysia that measured 32 feet, 9.5 inches long. [September 7, 1995 from Robert Paluch off the wires]
A Wisconsin man was bitten on the nose by a 13-year-old eight-foot-python during a routine tank cleaning at the University of Wisconsin-Madison veterinary school. The man had handled the snake hundreds of times before. The prof said, "Those two to three minutes [while we were trying to get the snake off] weren't fun... [The student] was a good sport. He was as cool as a cucumber." Several snake teeth were found in the man's nose during his hospital exam. [Wisconsin State-Journal, August 26, 1995 from Maggie Jones]
The Des Plaines, IL Times reports that their fire and police departments were called out to help a woman reportedly hysterical after finding a sizable snake in her son's dresser drawer where she was trying to put clean clothes. The snake was stuffed into a pillowcase and taken to an animal hospital where it was identified as a 7.5 foot-long Burmese python. The police chief said that, when questioned, the son admitted buying the snake at a reptile show a couple of months before it scared his mother. He has since taken the snake out of Des Plaines to a friend in De Kalb. The boy figured "if someone was allowed to sell it to him, it must be legal," said the police chief. Possession of pythons over six feet in length is against the dangerous animals act enforced by the Illinois Departments of Agriculture and Animal Welfare. The owner of a Lincolnwood pet shop was quoted, "The department of agriculture forbids us selling larger specimens. They confiscate them. But we get domestically bred hatchlings all the time. Unfortunately, people who are aware that larger snakes are illegal often starve them to keep them undersized." [August 24, 1995 from Claus Sutor]
A man permitted to take a python on board a Continental flight as an "assisted animal" opened the zipper on the gym bag in which it was being transported, and - lo and behold - the snake got out. The snake reportedly got as far as the seat behind where a couple and their five-year-old daughter were sitting. The couple is now suing the airline for "allowing a python to nearly attack their... daughter as she slept in her seat." [Austin, TX American-Statesman August 20, 1995 from William B. Montgomery]
A small menagerie which included a 10-foot Burmese python and an alligator was confiscated by Louisiana wildlife agents and parish animal control workers. Jefferson Parish has a stringent exotic animal law which does not permit keeping exotic animals. The owner said he didn't know the animals were illegal. He found the alligator dodging cars on a nearby highway and the snake was purchased years ago in a pet shop. [New Orleans Times-Picayune, July 28, 1995 from Ernie Liner]
Put the snake hooks away Allen Salzberg of NYTTS sent a copy of a press release from the Commissioner of the New York State Department of Conservation (DEC) dated May 19, 1995: Taking of timber rattlesnakes brings penalties for two men. Concern and quick thinking of witnesses on a Columbia County trail were responsible for the apprehension and subsequent arrest of two men for taking timber rattlesnakes, a New York threatened species, from a natural habitat. Following arrest and a court appearance on May 16, [the] brothers... entered guilty pleas for illegal taking and possession of a threatened species. Staff from the Berkshire Office of The Nature Conservancy were doing field work on timber rattlesnakes in the Mount Alander area. Upon seeing two men carrying snake catching sticks and burlap bags, the staff used a cellular telephone to report the suspicious activity to... police. The officers encountered the men... a search revealed bags containing two timber rattlesnakes and other species of snakes. The two men were placed under arrest and transported to the Taghkanic Town Court and their vehicle was towed... In recent years timber rattlesnake populations have been depleted by the illegal commercial taking of many snakes for the live animal trade. The timber rattlesnake is legally protected in New York State and in other northeastern states (NJ, CT, VT, NJ, MA, OH, IN) as a threatened or endangered species. Under New York's Environmental Conservation Law, taking, possessing, transporting, or selling a timber rattlesnake in New York without an endangered species permit is prohibited. Fore more information about threatened or endangered species in New York State call DEC's Endangered Species Unit at 518-439-7635."
Didn't Canada only use to have a few species? A new reptile exhibit, Windsor Reptile World, has opened in just across the scenic Detroit River from the town of the same name. Run by Blue and June Enright, their mission is to provide an educational experience, share the results of their breeding projects, and encourage an appreciation of the diverse forms of life on our planet. You can contact them at 853 Division Road, PO Box 1089, Windsor, Ontario, Canada N9A 6P4, 519-966-1762.
The second Canadian Herpetological Symposium was held in Alberta in mid-September. Part of the event was held in a Drumheller hotel, the other part at the Tyrell Museum. Speakers included Quentin Bloxam, Richard Ross, Thomas Huff, Jim Murphy, Ziggy Jones, Bob Lloyd, Ernie Cooper ("Take Two Geckoes and call me in the Morning" - a discussion of Asian pharmacology), Lynne Andrews, Dave Bethel, Pat Wise and Greg Bracken. For those with access to the WWW, the Tyrell Museum has a nifty website with dinosaurs.
"Kinky sex is coming to Manitoba... A massive display of serpentine passion... Imagine the pyramid scene from Raiders of the Lost Ark, but on a much grander scale... We're talking 50,000 [snakes] here... Ok, so maybe not the place for a honeymoon." Earthwatch volunteers are counting Manitoba garter snake breeding aggregations! They're getting great press and writers trip over themselves to cover the story with as many allegories an puns as is humanely possible. [USA Today, July 21, 1995 from Bill Burnett] MIKE "HUMANELY POSSIBLE" IS JOKE
Ophidia, ophidia Graham's crayfish snakes were sighted in West Chicago's DuPage County for the first time in 1966. CHS member Michael Redmer, an animal ecology specialist with the Forest Preserve District was at the site when the snake was found and confirmed the identification. He said, "This is an exciting find." They photographed the animal and released it immediately. [Chicago Tribune May 26, 1995 from Steve Rasdale]
An Indian man's lifelong dream of having his photo taken with a cobra around his neck put short to life itself, according to a clipping from the Indian Express (July 11, 1995 from Rom Whittaker). Seems the cobra was patient all the way from the forest to the photographer, but then bit the man who died in moments.
Rom's letter said that the Centre for Herpetology of the Madras Crocodile Bank Trust are planning on radio tracking king cobras to study life history and habitat utilization of that species. However, they need to raise money for telemetry equipment which will be purchased in the U.S. Are there any scaley-godmothers out there? (The furry ones are welcome, too. Naja naja only eats snakes.) You can write the trust at Post Bag No. 4, Mamallapuram-603 104, Tamil Nadu, South India or Fax: 091-044-491 9 10, 4918747 for more information about contributing to their project.
A third resident of Prince William County was bitten by a pet cobra and taken to hospital where he was saved by prompt injection of antivenin. The first two incidents were in the late summer of 1993 after which the county passed stringent laws limiting exotic pets. The law may have nearly cost the newest bitee his life. Seems he hesitated to seek treatment for fear of losing his snake collection. [Richmond, VA Times-Dispatch, July 20, 1995] The man was subsequently charged with two counts of possessing exotic animals including seven tarantulas and two monocled cobras. "Police said [the man] would be charged as soon as he is able to leave Fairfax Hospital. He was listed in fair condition..." [same paper, July 23, 1995 both from Mr. Laverne A. Copeland]
A second person was bitten by a venomous snake in Central Florida. The Fire Chief of Winter Park had been raising snakes for 40 years with no problems, but was bitten by an Australian black snake while he was changing the water for his 80 snakes before leaving on a trip. He did not require antivenin treatment. [The Orlando, FL Sentinel, July 17, 1995 from Bill Burnett]
Mr. Van Horn's treatment continues. He underwent nearly 12 hours of surgery for complications arising from his near-fatal king cobra bite. He's been in treatment ever since June. The most recent procedure was a muscle transplant from his back into his left arm which had become infected from the bite. Dead tissue has been removed several times and that had left tendons exposed. A trust fund for his treatment has been established. His bills are about $100,000 so far and still climbing. Van Horn only had a "bare-bones" medical insurance policy. The bite wasn't covered. [Orlando, FL Sentinel July 18, 1995 from Bill Burnett/Keynoter, July 28, 1995 from Dee Fick, Florida Keys Herp. Society]
Relatives of a woman who died while handling a four-foot-long timber rattlesnake as part of a worship ceremony were upset that charges may be filed against the minister who said, "It's just a misdemeanor. It wouldn't bother me none if it was a felony. It's still the Word." A 1942 Kentucky law makes it illegal to handle or display snakes during services; violations are punishable by $50 - 100 fines. The 28-year-old mother of five was the 76th person to die since the church was founded in 1900. The dead woman was married to a widely known snake- handling evangelist and her father-in-law has a church in another town. She refused medical treatment for two days after the bite even though her husband pleaded with her to go to hospital. [Cleveland, OH Plain Dealer August 12, 1995 from Jim Zimmerman/ Memphis, TN Commercial Appeal, August 11, 1995 from Bill Burnett]
The Arizona Diamondbacks baseball team inspired a local resident to use rattlesnake skins to make baseballs. Under current state law, four diamondbacks a day may be removed by individuals. The species is not listed as endangered or threatened. Major League Baseball will not license the diamondback ball manufacturer, as products must be made for all teams before a license will be granted. The team spokesperson also said they had no intention of endorsing products made with real rattlesnakes. [Arizona Republic, July 30, 1995 from Tom Taylor]
Rich Seigel, professor of ecology at Southeast Louisiana University, is studying massasauga rattlesnakes in a Missouri National Wildlife Refuge. He's tracking snakes in an effort to see if the reduction of their populations to isolated outposts will reduce genetic variability. If animals become too inbred, reproduction rate and survival of offspring may go down. He said, "The good news is that massasaugas here are doing well, particularly in light of the flood of 1993, which drastically hurt the food supply for the adults. But there's a lot we still don't know... we need to ensure that it is protected now, before we lost more populations and get into a crisis..."
A 50-year-old woman was being treated for a snakebite on her left foot after being bitten while picking up a newspaper outside her home in Mount Dora, FL. The woman said the snake had a brown and white pattern and a diamond-shaped head. [Leesburg, FL Daily Commercial, July 24, 1995 from Bill Burnett]
The August/September 1995 National Wildlife has an article titled "The private lives of pit vipers" which is about the life and times of blacktailed rattlesnakes as studied by Harry Greene of the University of California-Berkeley. [Mark Witwer]
A two-headed rattlesnake was found in Lawrence County, Alabama by a man who had just shot its mother and was killing its siblings. He keeps it in an old aquarium and feeds it grasshoppers and other insects. Both heads are reportedly functional. They sleep in shifts with one head always remaining alert. [Montgomery, AL Advertiser, September 9, 1995 from Rick Dowling]
A three-year-old white rattlesnake is on display at Audubon Zoo in New Orleans. It was caught in the wild by a local couple with a three-year-old daughter who visited it recently and were photographed smiling at it in its cage. [New Orleans Times-Picayune, July 8, 1995 from Ernie Liner]
Seven snakes, including an amphiuma-eater, were stolen from the Louisiana Nature and Science Center from a children's display in December 30, 1993. "We want them all back," growled the curator, but they especially wanted Moe, the mud snake, because he could die if he didn't get an amphiuma a week. Police were stumped until a call came in; then they found a sack behind a public library. In the sack were five snakes and a note "Here's your snakes. Two died. Sorry." In a "newsmakers revisited" story, we're told that Moe got fed and went back to work for six months and then was released back into wet-lands surrounding the center. They've found him three or four times since. "The kids can look at him as he swims in his own environment," said the curator. The thief's not been caught. [New Orleans Times-Picayune June 19, 1995]
Internet idea For those interested in herpetology via internet open your url to http://www.uic.edu and go down to "World/search the world by..." and pick a thing called the "world wide worm." This lets you put in keywords and a limit of sites you are willing to get information about (fifty is a nice number). I haven't tried herps, snakes, frogs, etcetera having only gotten the program yesterday - but it's the kind of thing that looks like fun for a rainy day.
Thanks to everyone who contributed this month and to J.N. Stuart, Steve Ragsdale, Ernie Liner, "Caro," Marty Marcus, Bob Pierson, David Johnson, and Lori King-Nava. Send clippings with your name and the date/publication slug on each one to me.
November 1995 No column this month.
Back again! See, I wasn't kidding. It was only a one month hiatus caused by my presentation of research at the Geological Society of America Meeting and the defense of my thesis. Both events occurred in a two-week span. Thanks to Lori King-Nava and Marty Marcus for their warm wishes on my defense and to all CHS members for their patience, most particularly our editor. Happy holidays to all CHS members and most particularly to Capt. Wes von Papinešu who was, when last heard from, being sent to Bosnia as part of the Canadian peace-keeping force.
Read my toxic lips, no more salamanders The son of former president Bush, George W. Bush, is currently governor of Texas. He went on record in the Austin-American Statesman (July 26) as "Bush opposes salamander protection." This article generated a response by five scientists: two zoologists, two hydrologists and an engineer. They wrote: The evidence is clear: The [Barton Springs] salamander is endangered and needs further protection... [it] is our `canary in the coal mine,' and there are clear signs that both the salamander and Barton Springs are at great risk... The salamander has no escape from the decline in water quality caused by increasing urbanization... Human-made toxins have been found in Barton Springs... These chemicals do not occur naturally in the Edwards Aquifer... [which] is experiencing unprecedented siltation. Just three miles from Barton Springs, wells are showing dramatic increases in siltation. Some wells have filled with more than 100 feet of sediment, burning out pumps and causing previously clean water to run milky-white... sediments [found at the Springs] bury the rock cobble habitat in which the salamander lives... The scientific evidence is clear that the salamander is endangered, yet Bush has reached the opposite conclusion. The governor relied on a recent recommendation by the Texas Natural Resource and Conservation Commission that the salamander not be listed due to `no demonstrated material decline in the water quality of Barton Springs.' This remarkable finding ignores the siltation and presence of toxic metals and organic chemicals in Barton Springs and the aquifer, problems which are in fact described in one of the TNRCC's own reports... Protection of the springs for the salamander is also protection of the springs for people." [Austin-American Statesman, August 17, 1995 from William B. Montgomery]
The wild, wild west In May, five commissioners of Nye County, Nevada wrote to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and told that agency's state supervisor to stay off state lands in their county. The letter was dated May 2 and reads in part: "Nye County does not consider the Endangered Species Act to be a valid law because the federal government does not have the constitutionally granted authority to pass such laws. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service does not have the jurisdiction or authority to come onto lands owned by the Sate of Nevada or private lands to Enforce the ESA. You have not been invited by this Board to come into Nye County to continue study and evaluation of the Amargosa Toad." Fish and Wildlife Service responded in writing: "The service can indeed enforce the ESA on state or private lands. To the extent that you are implying that federal public lands actually belong to the state, you are incorrect. No court anywhere, has ever held the ESA to be constitutionally invalid... An invitation does not have to be extended in order for the Fish and Wildlife Service to carry out its congressional mandate." [Albuquerque Journal, June 16, 1995 from J.N. Stuart] I guess the federal precedent is the I.R.S. which doesn't seem to need any invitation at all to crawl into our paychecks!
New cause suggested for amphibian decline Researchers in Queensland, Australia have suggested that a foreign virus may have wiped out 14 species of frogs in northeastern Australian rainforests over the last 15 years. The virus is a highly virulent pathogen spread by the trade in ornamental fish. The Bohle iridovirus has so far only been isolated from one species of frog, the ornate burrowing frog (Limnodynastes ornatus), but a virologist at the Australian Animal Health Lab in Geelong, New South Wales said it was far too early to tell if the virus was the sole cause of any declines. Frogs in Australian declining populations have several factors in common: they live in upland streams in an area of about 1500 kilometers square, and the victims are usually the adults and juveniles rather than eggs or tadpoles. The same species dying in the uplands may survive in warmer lowland areas. Fish implicated in the spread of disease include guppies and carp. In addition, it is found in dwarf gourami and other ornamental fishes. [New Scientist, January, 1995] from K & W Herp Haven.
Commas of hope A Texas blind salamander laid 37 eggs last July 12. Of the 37, 18 have hatched leaving biologists at Aquarena Springs as excited as any new human parents. "The 18 salamander eggs, which resemble apple seed-sized white commas doing somersaults inside a clear yolk sac - are delighting visitors... `This is neat,' [said one] `I've never seen a salamander hatching.' [Captive reproduction] `bodes well for the salamander,' said [the director]. `The more we know about the reproductive process and how they function, the more we can make sure they continue.' [He added] much is unknown about salamander reproduction, since they live inside the Edwards Aquifer. [Austin-American Statesman, July 28, 1995 from William B. Montgomery]
Sonoran salamander proposed for listing The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service solicited comments on a proposal to add the Sonora tiger Salamander (Arizona) to the list of endangered species. A representative of the Arizona Cattlemen's Association said, "The intent of the law has been subverted so badly, they are not doing this for the sake of the species but to control an area." The salamanders currently breed in manmade livestock watering ponds. A biologist with the service said that listing would not prevent cattle from using the ponds, but might limit off-road vehicle use in stream beds and other places. [New Mexico Daily Lobo, University of New Mexico campus newspaper, April 14, 1995 from J.N. Stuart] The habitat at risk here is called a "cienega" and is described as high marshes, found at elevations of three to five thousand feet in high grasslands. Cienegas act as filters for groundwater and are at risk from upland erosion, flooding, water diversion schemes, and groundwater pumping. [Arizona Republic, April 29, 1995 from Tom Taylor]
Chinese herp tales A 1.42-meter long, 35.8-kilo giant salamander (Andrias) has been living in the Hanzhong Hotel in Shaanxi Province for ten years. A hotel worker bought it the market a decade ago and has kept it as a pet ever since. All giant salamanders are listed by the State as protected animals. [China Daily, July 6, 1995 from P.L. Beltz] Incidentally, WP 6.0 spellchecker offers "entrees" for Andrias. Were the programmers Chinese or what?
Three workers in Tianjin captured a 1.2-meter, 11.5 kilo giant salamander at a water control station on the banks of Qinglongwan River in Baodi County. The salamander was sent to a local wild animal protection department. It is considered rare to find giant salamanders this far north in China, according to the report in China Daily [July 13, 1995 from P.L. Beltz]
Two Chinese women just broke a Guinness Book of World Records record on the longest time spent with the most snakes in a single room. Quian Linping and Ni Junfang from Zhejian Province stayed with 666 cobras and 222 non-venomous snakes in a 30-square-meter room for 288 hours. This breaks the previous record of two Malaysian men who stayed with 200 venomous snakes for 10 days (240 hours). [China Daily, November 14, 1995 from P.L. Beltz]
The Wall Street Journal reports that "crowds of affluent Chinese have journeyed by car and bus... to see the P.T. Barnum of the serpent world. His roadshow has become a roadside attraction... Mr. Qian leads a troop of tourists into a snake filled grotto, then claps his hands. Two boys, each with scars from snake bites, come down a water slide with heaps of writhing snakes.... Mr. Qian laughs `Snakes are our friends.' ... [The] Flying Dragon World Fun City... is one of thousands of attractions sprouting along China's thoroughfares. In a way, the rise of the roadside attraction in China recalls the giant concrete prairie dogs and alligator farms that dotted U.S. highways in the rambling 1950s." [September 6, 1995 from K.S. Mierzwa]
Russian border guards captured and kept 10 Chinese poachers along the Russian/Chinese border in the far east. They seized dozens of explosive charges which the poachers had intended to use to catch fish. Last month, a Russian border guard was killed in a shootout with Chinese frog poachers. [The Houma Courier, May 5, 1995 from Ernie Liner]
Ernie corners the market on sea turtle stories Kemp's ridley nests have been found near Corpus Christi, TX. "One of the things that makes this so exciting is that during all of 1994, there was only one confirmed Kemp's ridley nest found on the entire Texas coast, and there was another confirmed nest in 1991. To have three nests within two days is exciting ... and we're not done with the Kemp's ridley nesting period," said a research biologist stationed on the Padre Island National Seashore. The 231 eggs are being incubated at a special facility. On hatching, the babies will be released at their original nest sites. [The Houma Courier, June 2, 1995; Knoxville News-Sentinel August 7, 1995 both from Ernie Liner]
Senator John Breaux (D-La.) wants to start sea turtle farms in an effort to stop conflicts between shrimpers and environmentalists. He points to the success of alligator farming but acknowledges that since turtles take longer than gators to mature, the program will need to be more long term. "If we can raise more sea turtles in captivity, we can take them off the endangered species list, and help Louisiana shrimpers increase their catch and reduce their operating costs," he said. The Senator plans to take a fact-finding mission to the Cayman Islands to study their turtle farms. [The Times Picayune, June 14 and 16, 1995 from Ernie Liner]
Reaction to Breaux's proposal was fast and negative. The Center for Marine Conservation criticized his proposal because it might "raise false hopes among shrimpers." The points raised in the letter include: that turtle farming is an unproven method for increasing turtle populations, headstarting is still experimental and little data exists on survival of captive-reared offspring, the Cayman Islands turtle farms went bankrupt in 1983 and are now subsidized by the British government, that relaxing turtle excluder device requirements would result in catching more turtles - whether wild-bred or captive-reared turtles - would at that point be moot. The letter said, "Proclaiming captive breeding as a panacea for shrimpers and sea turtles is premature at best." According to the article in the Times-Picayune, shrimpers object to TEDs because they are required "to use balky equipment when they often don't see a sea turtle for months or years. They say the devices cause them to lose fish and tangle their nets." [May 24, 1995 from Ernie Liner] Curiously, they're complaining about losing fish. I thought they were fishing for shrimp?
Three guys busted in Fort Lauderdale, FL were found in possession of 371 loggerhead sea turtle eggs. The three, all of Boynton Beach, FL, were arrested and charged with the misdemeanor of possessing sea turtle eggs. One was also charged with possession of a crack cocaine pipe. One of the men, James Bivens, is described as an "old hand at stealing sea turtle eggs, authorities said." In 1990, a Palm Beach County judge fined him $109,300 for taking 1,088 sea turtle eggs from a State Park on Singer Island. The fine was never paid since a federal appeals court ruled the fine was over the legal limit. The egg thief has been arrested 32 times; the charges include burglary, armed robbery and drug possession, according to the Times Picayune. Possession of sea turtle eggs is a violation of the federal Endangered Species Act with fines up to $200,000 and jail terms of up to six month. However, there is still a thriving black market for sea turtle eggs. Some take the eggs as reported aphrodisiacs, others to bake pies, pastries and other "exotic animal" foods. [The Times Picayune, June 1, 1995 from Ernie Liner]
Environmental groups sued the National Marine Fisheries Service in July. They claimed the agency is allowing too many threatened and endangered sea turtles to drown in shrimp nets. The suit was filed by Earth Island Institute, HEART, and the Humane Society of the United States and is represented by the Sierra Club Legal Defense Fund among others. [The Times Picayune, July 7, 1995 from Ernie Liner]
Hurricane Erin damaged human homes along the Florida Panhandle, but it also caused damage to wildlife and habitat. Baby turtles washed up on beaches while volunteers tried moving nests damaged by the storm. The hurricane slammed part of the state's prime nesting corridor, the six-county region from Broward to Brevard counties. The storm arrived just as the first waves of hatchlings were emerging. Pounding surf exposed some nests, swallowed and flooded others or - paradoxically - covered nests with thick layers of sand. [The Times Picayune, August 10, 1995 from Ernie Liner]
A great use for a pink flamingo Keepers at Minnesota Zoo were tearing out their hair. Maureen, their Komodo Dragon, simply refused to feast on white rats and other delectables presented daily at her cage. But they really would have preferred if what happened didn't happen even though they are happy she finally ate something. What she ate was a pink flamingo that made the mistake of landing in her cage. A few feathers and part of a leg were all that remained of the bird. A keeper said, "Normally [the flamingos] don't fly out of the exhibit. Once or twice a year, one will fly out and we know it's time to clip their feathers again. They've never become dinner before." [Chicago Tribune September 13, 1995 from Claus Sutor] Maybe Maureen was just having early exotic Thanksgiving? Meanwhile, Miami's Metrozoo just acquired a 6-year-old Komodo couple, both longer than 6-foot and over 200 pounds. Keepers plant to feed them 50 pounds of rats, rabbits and horse-meat every few days. Their dietary need for pink flamingos was not discussed in the June 16, 1995 issue of the Orlando Sentinel. [from Bill Burnett]
Gila remember next time U.S. Customs agents caught a driver with 10 venomous Gila monsters knotted up in socks in the trunk of a car stopped for inspection. The driver of the car is reported to live in San Diego. He said he paid $40 for each lizard in Mexico and planned to sell them in the U.S. for about $500 apiece. A buyer was waiting for the shipment said the driver. The lizards were turned over to U.S. Fish and Wildlife agents for release or repatriation after the trial. [Phoenix Gazette, August 3, 1995 from Tom Taylor; and Las Vegas Review-Journal, August 4 from Bob Pierson]
Iguana be loved by you The Wall Street Journal reports "The number of iguanas brought into the U.S. for sale surged to 530,000 last year from just 28,000 in 1986, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Mary Hussaker, co-owner of the East Bay Vivarium, a pet shop in Berkeley, CA says iguana enthusiasts are buying the scaly reptiles as fast as they arrive. She expects to sell around 400 iguanas this year, quadruple her iguana sales a decade ago... Most end up several feet long... More alarming, iguanas are the main suspects in recent outbreaks of salmonella related diseases, ranging from mile diarrhea to meningitis... iguanas are this country's pet du jour... The movie Jurassic Park may have spurred the iguana craze... the owner of LA Reptile, a Los Angeles importer says her company is importing nearly 100,000 baby iguanas this year, mostly from El Salvador, where they are hatched and reared on reptile farms... they fetch up to $20 [in U.S. pet shops]... Most of them end up with city dwellers [as apartment pets]." [July 17, 1995 from Lori King-Nava]
Photo op Herpetologically minded visitors to Chicago's refurbished Navy Pier may wish to have their photos taken on the merry-go-round which features hand-painted animal figures including a frog. Three minutes of centrifugal force costs $1.50 for adults, $1.00 for kids. [Chicago Sun-Times, May 15, 1995 from Steve Ragsdale] The carousel will reopen after Chicago's notoriously nasty winter is over.
Animal movers The Memphis Business Journal reports that KLM Cargo has become a major player in the animal shipping business, reportedly the largest handler of air shipments of live animals in the world. "The reptile room was mostly empty when we stopped by, with the exception of a small, brightly striped snake that apparently slithered out of an earlier shipment during a government inspection. KLM employees were looking for one of the animal hotel's three veterinarians to determine whether it was poisonous or not... Boxes of pythons going from Togo to Los Angeles thankfully were sturdier... Each of the 19 snakes had its own box, even though they appeared bound for the same destination." [June 26-30, 1995 from Bill Burnett]
Thanks to all the contributors who made this column as much fun to write as I hope it is for you to read! Also big thanks to J.N. Stuart, Mark T. Witwer, Ray Boldt, Bill Burnett, J.H. Schoenfelder, Steve Ragsdale, Ernie Liner, Bob Pierson, Dee Fick, P.L. Beltz, Lori King-Nava, Bill Burnett's mom, and David E. Johnson for their contributions. You can contribute, too. Send newspaper pages or clipping/date slug with your name on every page to me. Please use tape. Please keep folding to a minimum and use clear tape, NO STAPLES! My family is complaining that the dining room carpet is like a cactus farm! Letters only to my e-mail.