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

1997 HerPET-POURRI Columns by Ellin Beltz


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

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

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

2005 . 2006


This was my 11th year of writing for the Chicago Herpetological Society Bulletin.

January 1997

Internet roundup again

Regular readers of this column know that from time to time I clear out my e-mail inbox and summarize items of herpetological interest from other writers. Every attempt to clearly mark what is quoted (""), what is paraphrased ([ ]), and what is omitted (...) has been made in thefollowing paragraphs. If you have an issue with what someone has written below, please take it up with the original author. Neither the writer of this column, nor the CHS is responsible for any of the actions described below but is merely sharing them with our readers.

Photos wanted

"I am in need of good quality slides of both amphibians and reptiles in a commercial setting, i.e. pictures of tubs of leopard frogs, pens filled with box turtles, etc. I am also looking for a slide of a large garter snake breeding swarm. I will duplicate any slides you contribute and credit you for them ... please mail slides to Robert Hay, Wisconsin Dept. of Natural Resources, P.O. Box 7921, Madison, WI 53707 ... These slides will be used to educate our Governor-appointed Natural Resources Board and legislators about herp commercialization and also for public education. "

Virtual frogs

"Declining Amphibian Populations Task Force web pages. From John Wilkinson, DAPTF International Coordinator. THE DAPTF HOME PAGE: http://www.open.ac.uk/OU/Academic/Biology/J_Baker/JBtxt.htm FROGLOG NEWSLETTER: http://acs-info.open.ac.uk/info/newsletters/FROGLOG.html AMPHIBIANS IN BRITAIN: http://www.open.ac.uk/OU/Academic/Biology/J_Baker/DAPTF.UK.html"

Forest destruction in Michigan

A four part series in a Michigan newspaper details a story which I've not seen in any national press, and certainly wouldn't have expected from a state which relies so heavily on tourism for income. Posted 25 Nov 1996 by Jim Harding , "They really are making a shambles of the great "north woods," I've seen some of it myself!" I'll happily send anybody with an e-mail address a full copy of this, but the gist of the articles by Curt Guyette is: Using taxpayer subsidies, the Michigan gas industry is siphoning minerals from beneath thousands of acres in the north woods, turning pristine wilderness into stripped splotches... What our investigation found: Natural gas drilling up North has wreaked environmental havoc, fragmenting forests and disrupting natural habitat in what one critic calls the "single biggest land disturbance in North America." Tranquil rural areas consisting mostly of farms and forests have been transformed into noisy, congested industrial zones. In the process, property values are being threatened and Michigan's north woods are losing their pristine nature. This development has not been propelled by market forces, but rather by federal tax cuts and a sweetheart deal the [Michigan governor's] administration quietly cut with the state's energy industry. Oil and gas interests have given Gov. John Engler more than $360,000 between 1989 and 1995. In return, the industry has reaped more than $4 million per year in subsidies and an unfettered opportunity to drill wells, cut roads and lay pipe without regard to the overall damage to the ecosystem. Attempts to rein in the industry and limit environmental damage have been fought fiercely by the Engler administration. The department charged with protecting Michigan's environment has suffered large-scale staff cutbacks while watching its workload soar. As a result, regulatory efforts have been decimated. The oil and gas industry has taken the sweetheart deal it cut with the state and imposed it upon private citizens, slashing what little compensation property owners may be entitled to for the rape of their land... "It is hypocrisy at its worst," chides Keith Schneider, co-founder of the Michigan Land Use Institute in Benzonia. "A remarkable landscape has been unnecessarily damaged for a resource whose value has been declining every year, all so the governor could subsidize a small group of private donors to the exclusion of every other concern."... "Take a look at that little trout stream over there," instructs Tom Edison, pointing to a tree-shaded brook meandering off to his right. "Last winter that was crystal clean. You could look down and see the fish swimming in it. Now it's so clouded with this brown haze, you can't see anything. Something's getting into it." The conservationist isn't sure what's mucking up the once-clear waters, but he sure knows how and why. "The state just doesn't have the manpower to control what's going on here," contends the former college professor. Edison's far from alone in fearing the worst. "Any time you disturb the land like it's been disturbed here, you're going to have erosion," explains Gaylord Alexander. Now retired from the DNR, Alexander took part in a study three years ago that estimated that between 30,000 to 300,000 trout would be killed because of erosion from Antrim gas drilling. "The land's all broken up now," he laments. "Every 10 acres has a road on it. Just the fragmentation itself, people are eventually going to realize what a big loss this has been." None of it makes much sense, says Alexander. "I'm not a Sierra Club type," he explains. "But going in and mutilating the land to speed up the extraction of a nonrenewable resource doesn't seem like wise use to me."

Warning: Cascabel powder unsafe

"The powdered flesh of rattlesnakes is routinely used in Central and South America as cures for just about anything. Unfortunately they don't work. In addition because of the way such preparations are made they are often contaminated with salmonella and other pathogens. A few years ago a number of AIDS victims in Los Angeles were convinced to try such a cure and they died from salmonellosis. Having AIDS puts one in a high risk group for the worst effects from this pathogen. References as quoted in Grenard: Medical Herpetology. (see http://www.xmission.com/~gastown/herpmed/medherp.htm) 27 July, 1996, Steve Grenard"

Snake smugglers charged

"A 3-year investigation by Federal agents from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service resulted in an indictment today against six individuals charged with multiple offenses of smuggling rare and endangered snakes and tortoises from Madagascar... The indictment alleges that the individuals engaged in a multi-year conspiracy and smuggled approximately 170 protected reptiles from their native habitat in Madagascar, an island off the southeast coast of Africa. The animals were secretly transported in a variety of ways through Europe, Canada, and the United States where they were sold to wildlife dealers and collectors. According to the indictment, the conspiracy included recruiting and employing couriers who repeatedly concealed snakes and tortoises in personal baggage, failed to obtain the necessary permits, and failed to declare the shipments to customs and wildlife authorities. Payment for the smuggled animals was frequently made by wire transfers of funds from Canada to the U.S. and from the U.S. to Europe. The smuggled reptiles include the Madagascar tree boa, spider tortoise, and radiated tortoise... each protected under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species and Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES)... The radiated tortoise is also ... on the U.S. Endangered Species list... The most recent smuggling attempt occurred at the Orlando International Airport August 13 when Federal officials discovered 61 Madagascar tree boas and 4 spider tortoises concealed in the personal baggage of [a man] who had arrived from Germany. [A second man] was arrested near Orlando 2 days later when he was identified as an alleged participant in the smuggling scheme and the intended recipient of the tree boas and spider tortoises. The reptiles were seized by the Fish and Wildlife Service and are considered evidence in this investigation. They will be cared for until the trial concludes and efforts will be made to either return the reptiles to their native country or place them in a zoological breeding facility in the United States... The United States is the world's largest importer of wildlife and, in recent years, the demand for highly prized live reptiles has increased rapidly. According to the indictment, the individuals involved in the conspiracy smuggled and sold at least 94 Madagascar tree boas, 51 radiated tortoises, and 25 spider tortoises. The prices they recieved for the reptiles varied depending upon the availability of the species as well as the color, quality, and age of the particular animal... An indictment is merely a formal charge that a defendant has committed a violation of Federal criminal law and every defendant is presumed innocent until and unless proven guilty... General comments or observations concerning the content of the information should be directed to Craig Rieben in the Office of Public Affairs." Forwarded by James N. Stuart, 23 August, 1996

Tangled tags

... It was not until mid-season (in the Gulf of California) this year that we learned that the plastic "cow-ear" tags that we use may be contributing to turtle by-catch in gill nets of all mesh sizes. Through interviews with local fishermen, direct observations of turtles in fishing nets, and in-tank observations we have determined that tagged turtles may have a significantly higher probability of being captured in gill nets... We immediately ceased our tagging activities and have begun a tag removal program with recaptured turtles. We are concerned that other turtle conservation programs that use a similar type of tag may be unknowingly contributing to the turtles' incidental capture, particularly in areas where gill nets are common....Wallace J. Nichols, Jeffrey A. Seminoff, Antonio Resendiz and Bety Resendiz. 2 September 1996. Wallace J. Nichols, School of Renewable Natural Resources - Wildlife Ecology, Biological Science East, The University of Arizona, Tucson, Arizona 85721 USA.

Most wood turtles probably illegal

Martin J. Rosenberg, Notes from NOAH, August 26, 1996: "The only way that a wood turtle can be classified as `legal' is if documentation can be provided that the animal was collected legally. The documentation must consist of a permit which was specifically issued for the collection of wood turtles (a general fishing license is not adequate, according to the Law Enforcement Division of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service) as well as a paper trail from the collector to the ultimate buyer. If you obtained the wood turtles prior to the time they were protected, you must have documentation supporting the date and location of purchase. The poaching of wood turtles is receiving a great deal of attention from a variety of individuals and organizations, including law enforcement agencies. Now that Ohio cannot be used by the poachers as the source of their illegally collected animals, it is unlikely that any wood turtles recently collected (that is, subsequent to their being protected in their state of origin) are legal. If you are offered a wood turtle or have an opportunity to purchase one, it would be unwise to purchase it, because you probably were offered an illegally collected turtle. And you would be doing the seller a favor by explaining to him or her why they shouldn't be selling wood turtles. To be on the safe side, and, more importantly, to help the natural populations survive in the wild, do not buy wood turtles." Department of Biology, Case Western Reserve University, Cleveland, OH 44106 Forwarded by A. Salzberg, 3 September 1996

Frogs and toads of the Free State

"A user-friendly field guide to the frogs and toads of the Free State, province of South Africa, has just been released and is now available at a special price. Full details on this book including the cover, specifications, table of contents, colour photos and an order form are available on the web: http://www.uovs.ac.za/natwet/dierk/anura/book Louis du Preez, Anura Study Group, Dept. of Zoology & Entomology, University of the Free State, P.O. Box 339, Bloemfontein, 9300, South Africa. 26 August, 1996"

Feared dead, found alive

From an article in the "Tenerife News" as read on their website http://www.tennews.com (with photograph): "A species of giant lizard that experts believed to have died out some five hundred years ago is alive and well and living in north-west Tenerife... The amazing discovery of Teno's 'living fossils,' direct descendants of the enormous Galliota goliath which once roamed Tenerife and measured one and a half metres in length, was made by chance in one of the most precipitous and inaccessible areas of the island...A search is to be launched to try to track down any similar colonies of reptiles which could have survived in this and other islands in the archipelago." From: Jaap van Wingerde Internet: http://utopia.knoware.nl/users/wingerde/ 26 October, 1996

Virtual vacation

Carrowong Fauna Sanctuary is a privately funded, non-profit making wildlife refuge near Kuranda, North Queensland... webpage http://www.internetnorth.com.au/travel88/crrowong.htm 22 September, 1996. Wendy Stanford

Wodehouse readers fund exhibit

[An exhibit of red-spotted newts is on display at the Franklin Park Zoo in Boston,] ... sponsored by the NEWTS (New England Wodehouse Thingummy Society), aficionados of English author P. G. Wodehouse... perhaps best remembered as the creator of the Bertie Wooster and Jeeves characters, (featured recently on Masterpiece Theater.)... With this exhibit we remember and celebrate one very special Wodehouse character - the renowned newt enthusiast, Augustus Fink-Nottle. 6 Oct 1996 Jean Tillson

The tragic end of 1,000 tortoises

29 October, 1996, Ralph Tramonteno wrote: "The T. horsfieldi incident was certainly a tragic affair. It all started (in Sweden at least) when a fellow named Amro Hassan applied for permission to import 1000 ... [but banned by a European Union (EU) 1988 law] the application was turned down. Hassan never-the-less allowed the tortoises to be shipped to Sweden. According to ... [a] spokesman for the Arlanda Customs office, Hassan had declared the tortoises... and so could not be accused of smuggling. The custom officials did not have the right then to confiscate the animals. It appeared that Hassan's naive strategy was that if the animals showed up somehow he would get them through. This in fact almost happened. The Swedish Board of Agriculture ... has the right to determine what will be done with animals that "get stuck" in the customs zone. They had initially applied for dispensation from the EU rule forbidding the import of T. horsfieldi, but this was denied by Brussels. If this dispensation had been granted the tortoises would still belong to Mr Hassan who would have then sold the survivors. He would have also succeded with `forcing' the animals through customs and opened the flood gates for this kind of exploitation. On the other hand the Swedish Board of Agriculture has the right to regulate the storage of animals under such circumstances, and they could have confiscated the tortoises on the grounds that they were being misstreated. The dispensation would then have allowed the tortoises to stay in Sweden without being forced onto the market. At this point in time I have not been able to find out what their plan was, but they have been asked. In addition to the EU prohibition, the EU rules also state that if the import of CITES-listed animals is not in order the only place the tortoises could have been sent would be back to the source country or the country issuing the export license. Once there it would be up to that country's officials to decide if Hassan would still be allowed to keep them...In the meantime the tortoises were stored in inadequate facilities (SAS's cargo storage space) because adequate ones did not exist at the airport... However, the Swedish Board of Agriculture, as stated, has the right to regulate the storage of animals under such circumstances, and there was nothing stopping them from contacting groups such as the National Swedish Hereptological Society (SHR) for help. We have 250 members within a half hour of Arlanda who could have rapidly arranged suitable quarters for the tortoises. Contrary to what has been circulating on the Internet, the tortoises were inspected by two herpetologists ... (chosen by the herpetological community, not the government) and a veterinarian. I have spoken to both and was told that they did not find the animals to be in very good condition. Many were injured, probably by the way they were stored before they were shipped at least two weeks ago. It appears that these tortoises have been in captivity for as long as 8 months already, waiting for a buyer (according to the Swedish Board of Agriculture they were allegedly involved in a confiscation in Russia as long ago as April, which suggests that sending them back there, from where they were exported last, might not have been the best way to ensure their survival)... Those that I've spoken to at the Swedish Board of Agriculture felt that the animals had already suffered considerably and that their return to the source land was problematic at best. Therefore they decided that the best course of action was to destroy the animals to end their suffering. They have expressed skepticism toward the possibility of repatriating the tortoises back into the wild, assuming that it would never work (although they have virtually no expertise in this field), in part because it was felt that it would be impossible to ascertain exactly where the animals came from. They have also expressed skepticism towards the possibility of anyone being able to find a suitable storage locality either here or in another country in a reasonable amount of time... I do not agree with these objections to making an attempt to save the tortoises. The Swedish Board of Agriculture could have confiscated the tortoises on the grounds that they were being misstreated, eliminating the ownership problems...and then enlisted the help of e.g. SHR to help arrange suitable care for them. The bureaucratic problem of where they would go next would still be here, but at least some of the tortoises would still be alive... " RalphTramontano, Editor for the National Swedish Herpetological Society (SHR), Ecology Institution, Department of Animal Ecology, S-223 62 Lund, SWEDEN

Horned Lizard Subject of Lawsuit

"In an attempt to protect a declining desert reptile species, several groups recently brought legal action against the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service and Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt. The Tucson Herpetological Society, along with Defenders of Wildlife, the Horned Lizard Conservation Society, and a THS member, filed suit in early September over the government's failure to list the flat-tailed horned lizard (Phrynosoma mcallii) as a Threatened or Endangered species under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). The suit is simple: the government is required by the ESA to make a decision on listing within one year of an official proposal to list. On November 29, 1993, they published in the Federal Register a proposal to list the species as Threatened. More than two years later, they have never finalized that listing and the species remains largely unprotected. Beyond that procedural issue is a very real conservation issue. The flat-tailed horned lizard has lost a large part of its habitat throughout its limited range in Arizona and California due to off-road vehicles, agriculture, suburban sprawl, military activities, and other human behavior. Remaining populations have been isolated from each other and the habitat fragmentation continues. According to the Fish & Wildlife Service, about 95 percent of the remaining optimal habitat in California is threatened by one or more factors. Monitoring efforts have documented recent population declines in at least one area of optimal habitat. Without federal protection the species will almost surely continue to decline, perhaps to extinction in this country. The suit asks for a court-ordered listing of the species and for protection of its habitat. Updates and photos can be found on the THS web site: http://www.azstarnet.com/~bsavary/announce.html. Roger A. Repp President, Tucson Herpetological Society"

Georgette?

"For several years now I have been reading about the sad case of `Lonesome George' the last Galapagos tortoise from Pinta Island, the northernmost of the Galapagos Islands. The latest article describes how Edward Louis, a geneticist at the Henry Doorley Zoo in Omaha, Nebraska has spent the last eight years searching zoo collections around the world - so far in vain - for a mate for LG. Unfortunately, from the article, it sounds as though LG is in rather poor condition for mating. I am quite out of my depth in the field of genetic engineering, so I have a few questions that I hope someone can answer. Is it theoretically possible to clone Lonesome George? What would it cost to accomplish this? As I understand it, the zygote from the fertilized egg of a commoner subspecies of Galapagos tortoise could be replaced with a body cell from LG. By incubating a series of these clones at different temperatures Georges and Georgettes should result. Crossing these back with the most closely related Galapagos tortoise subspecies and then releasing the offspring and the clones back on to Pinta Island could save the Pinta subspecies from complete extinction - n'est pas? One would think that the individuals from the original population of Pinta Island tortoises would have likely all been very similar genetically even when they were much more abundant. It seems to me that if some private or governmental agency is going to pursue the development of the technology of cloning, then they may as well focus their research on problems that maximize the benefits from their experimental results... Stan A. Orchard 28 Oct 1996 "

"I would die for you..."

Reuters reports that survivors from a 2,500 exotic animal shipment from Mozambique destined for the U.S. pet trade are being nursed at a south African zoo. The shipment had all its appropriate paperwork and was cleared with CITES permits, but the way the boxes were packed resulted in the deaths of "hundreds of chameleons, snakes, lizards, geckos, tortoises, spiders and scorpions... before they were discovered at Johannesburg's international airport" according to the news agency..."a senior inspector with the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals showed how four adult chameleons had been sardined into a container half the size of a shoe box. The hollow eye sockets of two dead chameleons squashed on top of each other stared out. `There weren't enough airholes, so the one bit its way through the partition, suffocated the other chameleon and then also died because it still couldn't get enough air.' he said... [surviving] chameleons, dehydrated almost to skin and bone, lapped up a fine mist sprayed over plants where they were recovering... Another 2,000 animals had already been flown to the United States, destined for shops in Hollywood, Florida., according to the packaging label... Those that survived may have to repeat the journey. A state quarantine officer allowed the zoo to care for the animals only until Friday , when they must be returned to the owner in Mozambique who packaged them, and can reship them. 7 November 1996 Robert Beale, forwarded by A. Salzberg.

Death toll mounts in Australia

"...Australian scientists have reported that the major cause of loggerhead turtle mortality on Queensland's east coast is incidental capture in fishing apparatus, particularly shrimp trawl nets. International and Australian turtle biologists and population modellers have reported that the "loss of only a few hundred subadult and adult [loggerhead] females each year could lead to extinction of the eastern Australian loggerheads in less than a century" (Heppell et al. 1996. Population Model Analysis for the Loggerhead Sea Turtle, Caretta caretta, in Queensland. Wildlife Research 23:143)... research shows that loggerheads have the highest mortality in the Northern Prawn Fishery (19.2 percent) and a relatively high catch rate (15 percent). The total annual capture reported is about 5,500 animals a year. The Queensland Department of Primary Industries research shows loggerheads have the highest capture rate (50.4 percent) in the East Coast Otter Trawl Fishery. The east coast data do not show turtle mortality to species. The total annual capture reported for this fishery is about 5,300 animals a year... if we use the best available information loggerhead mortality at 19.2 percent of 2,500 turtles/year equals 480 dead Loggerheads a year in northern and eastern Australia. This figure obviously excludes other causes of anthropogenic mortality. If we go back to the statement that "the loss of only a few hundred subadult and adult [loggerhead] females each year could lead to extinction of the eastern Australian loggerheads in less than a century" things are grim for Loggerheads and community and Aboriginal groups are rightly concerned. The Queensland Government is required to have a Turtle Conservation Plan under the Nature Conservation Act. Unfortunately there is no such plan. Similarly, the Australian Government is required to have a Turtle Action Plan under the Endangered Species Protection Act. Unfortunately there is no such plan." 8 Nov 1996. Anne Reynolds, Marine and Coastal Community Network. Ocean Rescue 2000.

Community helps turtles

Although development and ecotourism continue to increase in the communities surrounding the Las Baulas National Park, Guanacaste, Costa Rica, recent efforts have been made by local communities, the Costa Rican government, and international researchers to save the largest leatherback nesting colony in the Pacific Ocean... the nearby tourist town of Tamarindo celebrated the opening of the turtle season with "Dia de las Baulas". The highlight of this event was the painting of the street light shades so that the street lights would shine on the streets and be less visible to adult and hatchling leatherbacks on the nearby beach of Playa Grande... A slide show and discussion on leatherback turtles and the effect of lights on nesting behavior and hatchling orientation ... was presented to the business community to convince them to reduce the lights... Most of these individuals were unaware that their lights could negatively impact the resource upon which their businesses depend. That evening we witnessed a near 50 percent reduction in lights coming from Tamarindo! The Costa Rica National Park Service has committed more resources towards developing Las Baulas NP this year... Lastly, the beer company Guiness PLC has donated $ 18,000... to develop park infrastructure near the beach. A park information center will be built in December of this year at the main entrance to the park. Another information center is planned to be built at the secondary park entrance on the Tamarindo side of the park in 1997/1998. These information centers will provide the thousands of tourists that visit the park weekly with information regarding the biology, ecology, and conservation of leatherback turtles." 16 November 1996, Pamela Plotkin

Top 10 Questions on Turtle Nesting Beach

"And the Answers?? 10. What kind of animal is a poacher? A nasty one, leave it alone. 9. Where are the white sandy beaches? Just down the coast a bit. 8. I'm just using my flashlight to find drift-seeds. The same local also asked: What's the best way to get past the guards down the beach? Keep flashing your light, amigo. 7. Is this a male or a female turtle? I don't know. 6. How do I get out of this place? Just down the beach a bit. 5. Do the turtles like to be tagged? Of course they do, wouldn't you? 4. Do you tag them in the ears? Only in the winter. 3. If I can't take a picture then what's the point? If you don't have a point, why take a picture? 2. Is this species extinct? Yes. And the number one question asked by a tourist at Tortuguero this year: 1. Does the turtle find the holes or do they have to dig them? What do think we do out here all night, you idiot!" Cheers! James Perran Ross, Executive Officer, Crocodile Specialist Group, Florida Museum of Natural History, Museum Rd, Gainesville FL 32611, USA. 8 Nov 1996

New year, same debate

Ralph E. Jackson "... captive propagation and reintroduction will not save any species. Only habitat preservation and a reduction in the ever increasing human population will do that. It is improbable that the money spent by private herpers on their hobby would be spent on habitat preservation, rather they would find another hobby to spend money on. It's equally improbable that cities and zoological societies would close their zoos and divert that money towards habitat preservation. Herpetology and herpeculture are two sides of the same coin, it seems foolish for either group to look down on the other. Herpeculturists gain valuble insight into how to properly care for animals from reading about the natural history, information which has been gathered by field researchers. Herpetologists can learn from husbandry practices developed by the herpeculturists for the animals that they have brought back to their labs. Having seen firsthand the results of husbandry practices by some hepetologists I can verify that at least some of them do have a lot to learn about captive husbandry.

Tess Cook "... there are categories of breeders that need to be considered [in the species survival equation] because these folks are getting more and more offspring as their husbandry improves. Presently the numbers are not so large that we can't find friends and family to take a baby, but one of these days there will many more captive bred herps and these guys are likely to be let go into parks, side of the roads or other unsuitable places. It's being done now to cats and dogs, and herps will suffer the same type of neglect. I think it's as important to stress not breeding pet herps as much as proper diet or housing.

Adam Britton "... On a personal level, many budding herpers start off keeping and breeding reptiles and amphibians. Keeping the animals in a captive situation, seeing their behaviour, trying to create an environment in which they can survive and behave naturally, is a challenge and a learning tool for anyone - assuming they have the right attitude. It should teach a respect for the animals, and for their continued survival. There's a difference here between i) those who keep the animals because they're fascinated by them, ii) those who keep the animals to breed them and make a profit, iii) those who keep the animals because they're `kewl' and iv) those who rescue the animals from those in category (iii). Which of these fall into the herpetoculturalist category anyway? Probably (ii), but are we considering the other categories in this discussion?

I didn't know this one

...Postal Regulation C022.3.2 "Small, harmless, cold-blooded animals (except snakes and turtles) that do not require food or water or attention during handling in the mail and that do not create sanitary problems or obnoxious odors are mailable (e.g. baby alligators and caymans (sic) not more than 20 inches long, bloodworms, earthworms, mealworms, salamanders, leeches, lizards, snails and tadpoles)." Scott Solar, 29 October, 1996

Name withheld to protect the funny

22 August 1996 AP wire "SAN DIEGO - A 2.7-metre Burmese python bit a pregnant woman in her bed in a hotel room yesterday, then wrapped itself around her and her husband before rescuers killed the family pet." Reply: "Why not just saw the heads off of the couple to save the snake. At least that way the Global Average IQ would go up."

To contribute to this column

send newspaper clippings with the date/publication slug and your name firmly attached to each sheet to me. Next month regular format resumes and I'll announce the winners of several nifty little gifts for: 1st receipt of herp stamps (still missing the S.F. garter snake) and random pull from all contributors' names for 1996.

February 1997

Dead snake fan found wrapped in reptile

The death of a 19-year-old Bronx, NY man found in the coils of his 12-foot pet Burmese python outside the door to his apartment appears to have been an accident. His mother said, "I begged him to get rid of it. I even threatened to call police. It's too late now." The man's body was found by a neighbor leaving the adjoining apartment, "His door was open, she said. `I saw him laying on the ground, facedown...' Blood was pouring from his nose and the snake across his body," according to the New York Daily News. The 45-pound python was captured and taken to Bronx Zoo who released it to animal control officers. Other snakes that belonged to the man were left in the apartment which is shared by his mother and two brothers. [October 10, 1996 from Denise and Frank Andreotti]

International reaction to U.S. court ruling

The Indian Express reports that the Indian government has filed an appeal to the "court-induced ban on imports into the U.S. from nations not having a clear policy on turtle conservation." In other words, if other countries don't use Turtle Excluder Devices [TEDs], the U.S. can't let the shrimp into the country. The U.S. market is 15 percent of the Indian export market although no one explains why one of the poorest countries in the world would be exporting protein. Reportedly, most of India's shrimp fleet are "small fishing vessels and kattamarans [which] have no need for the device since they cannot venture fare into the sea where turtles occur. In fact, [TEDs] are not common in India... [although they] cost around 3000 rupees and do not require sophisticated technology to manufacture." [October 25, 1996 from Harry Andrews]

Turtle recovery

Michael Klemens has been a tireless campaigner for turtle conservation and recovery. For the past six years, the Turtle Recovery Program (TRP) he heads at the Wildlife Conservation Society in Bronx, NY has worked to address threats to turtle survival and species recovery worldwide. Over 25 action plan priority projects have happened with support from TRP and all emphasize the importance of involving local people in the plan. In India, a local grad student and tribal people work together to save the Travancore tortoise (Indotestudo forstenii) and the cane turtle (Geoemyda silvatica) by training dogs to sniff the turtles out of the forest. Turtles are then tagged and transmitters installed for a radio-tracking program. There's too much more in the annual report to summarize in a paragraph, so if you'd like to read the rest - or become involved in the TRP - now's the time to sign up as a sponsor. Please make checks payable to "WCS - Turtle Recovery Program" and mail to Michael at the WCS, 185th street and Southern Boulevard, Bronx, NY 10460. Please include your name and address even if your support is "in the name of" someone else. All donors receive recognition in the year-end report. The 1996 list reads like the "Who's who" of turtle lovers in the U.S.

Confiscated tortoises in Canada

At least half of 232 Indian Star tortoises have been very ill since they were confiscated by Customs Canada officials in early December, 1996. They had been shipped in egg cartons from southern India, through Singapore and Hong Kong before arriving in Toronto. One was dead on arrival and nine others died from dehydration after confiscation. Customs officials arrested a British national with the animals as they arrived on a flight from Hong Kong. The tortoises had been in the man's carry-on luggage and are estimated to have a street value of $185,000 Canadian. [The Sunday Sun, Toronto, Ontario, December 1, 1996 from Ted Teachout]

Are they live or Xenopus?

The Bolivian Navy has "... become the main organization doing research on Lake Titicaca. With Jacques Cousteau, the Bolivians discovered in the early 1970s that blind giant pink frogs live in remote parts of the 900-foot-deep lake." [Chicago Tribune, February 21, 1996 from Steve Ragsdale]

Froglog appeal

W. Ronald Heyer, Chair of the Declining Amphibian Task Force, writes "This past year has been another productive year... As you can tell from reading Froglog, there continues to be a lot of activity on many fronts concerning declining amphibian populations. We are planning an ambitious campaign... Help us meet that goal." Please make checks to "Smithsonian/Conservation and Science of Amphibians" and mail to Heyer, NHB mail stop 180, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC 20560 USA. Supporters receive a subscription to the journal although froglovers with web access can see it at http://acs- info.open.ac.uk/info/newsletters/FROGLOG.html.

Banned in Oregon?

The December 1996 issue of the Newsletter of the Oregon Herpetological Society contained a list of soon to be prohibited "exotic" herps including: African Clawed Frog, Brown Tree Snake, Snapping Turtle, Pond Slider (all Pseudemys/Trachemys species), Chinese Pond Turtle, all non- native Clemmys and Chrysemys, all Chicken Turtles, all Map Turtles, all Softshells, and all Mud Turtles. The proposed ban is an effort to halt the invasion of ponds and streams by non-native wildlife and the list also includes mammals, but does not address aquarium fish (including goldfish) and pets including parrots, cats, dogs, rats, mice, ferrets and so on. There is a long list of pet reptiles which would be permitted including pythons, boas, lizards and iguanas, colubrid snakes, cobra species, heloderma lizards and chameleons. These are considered low-risk to native wildlife if they escape. A list of protected native wildlife is made part of the proposed rules, too. Herpetologists planning on attending Conservation Biology or SSAR/HL/ASIH this summer are advised to write the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, Wildlife Integrity Program, P.O. Box 59, Portland, OR 97207 for up-to-the-minute information about wildlife rules, permits and protected species in that state. [John Applegarth]

Twelve dead in Texas

Lowering the water level in a local spring-fed swimming pool apparently resulted in the death of 12 Barton Springs salamanders widely reported in the national news. Texas Governor George W. Bush and other elected officials claim that listing the salamanders as federally endangered is unnecessary and could lead to land-use regulation considered "excessive" by the Texans. An agreement between the state and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife last year traded endangered status for a state promise to conserve the amphibians. [Austin American-Statesman, December 11 and 19, 1996 from William B. Montgomery; New York Times, December 16 from P.L. Beltz]

Sound bites

There is a prejudice about rats. I tell my neighbors, `I've got Norwegian long-tailed hamsters,' and they're fine, but if I say the word that begins with R and ends in T and has an A in the middle, they shriek." London rat fancier [Wall Street Journal and Chicago Tribune, July 23, 1996 from Steve Ragsdale]

"[The Joy of Cooking] is one of the most famous cookbooks in this country, and it looks insensitive to continue publishing recipes for an endangered species. It would be like publishing a recipe for manatee," said a spokesperson for the Sea Turtle Survival League. Letters have been sent to publishers about the "Turtles and Terrapins" section in the book which was first published in the 1970s. [The Gainesville Sun, January 4, 1997 from Ken Dodd]

"If it moves, grab it, but try not to get the end that bites," is advice a journalist from Smithsonian Magazine received from an anaconda researcher in Venezuela. The article is a delight and contains information of interest to herpetoculturists as well as distribution and status biologists. [September 1996 from Bill Burnett]

"Federal authorities say, only drugs surpass exotic wildlife in the dollar value of smuggled goods. Private experts say the illicit wildlife trade around the world exceeds $3 billion annually." Gaylord Shaw Newsday [NW Indiana Post Tribune, January 1, 1997 from Jack Schoenfelder]

Professional courtesy?

Ancient Egyptian legal records were found wrapped around and stuffed inside ancient mummified crocodiles collected from crypts in the last century by University of California aarchaeologists The treasure trove of daily minutae were preserved by being "recycled" as inner- layer wrappings and mummy-stuffing. Significant finds include a page from an unknown play by Sophocles and parts of an early novel about the Trojan War in addition to reams of crop reports and tax records for the period from 300 B.C. to 300 A.D. [The Sacramento Bee, December 9, 1996 from Fredric L. Frye]

Lifestyles of the rich and famous

"According to the Denver Post, media giant Ted Turner is returning native wildlife to his 350,000-acre ranch... in south-central New Mexico. He has already replaced cattle with bison, brought in bighorn sheep, and successfully reintroduced an imperiled subspecies of the black- tailed prairie dog. Turner said, `If rattlesnakes were endangered, we'd be reintroducing them, too. What I'm trying to do with my ranches is restore the natural ecosystem that evolved over millions of years...' [A] former AZ Fish and Game Department biologist [working on the project] said of his new boss, `It's fun going to work for somebody that's more excited about environmental things than you are.'" [Greenlines #259, November 21, 1996]

And of the small and green

The smallest frog known to science will be named as a new species of Eleutherodactylus in the December Copeia. When the new species was found in eastern Cuba, the female was sitting on a single egg in leaf litter at an altitude of 600 meters. Unfortunately, the habitat frequented by this frog is threatened by local peoples' use of the forest wood for cooking fuel. [New York Times, December 3, 1996 from P.L. Beltz; Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, December 5 from Bill Burnett; Science News, December 7 from Mark T. Witwer; New Scientist, December 7 from David Blatchford]

"This is Florida, they live here."

So said Brian Baine of the Florida Game and Fresh Water Fish Commission (FGFWFC) in response to newcomers to the sunshine state, shocked by finding alligators in their new backyard. But the one that wandered into the auto service bay at K-mart did seem to need his oil changed or his fluids topped off but he sure was in a bad mood. It ran across the floor of the service area, accidentally unplugging a computer and trailing electrical wires. One mechanic taped its mouth shut with a roll of electrical tape and a local police officer put the 4-foot gator in his patrol car for a quick ride to a local lake. The officers were quick to intervene in the gator call because of the number of customers and staff who were around the loose animal. Baine said, "Some alligators carry a bacterial infection that is so great that it will kill a patient within 24 hours. It doesn't require oxygen to breed, so it zooms through your system. The wound area looks like leprosy... if you live." [Orlando Sentinel, November 21, 1996 from Bill Burnett]

A gator trapper in Merritt Island, FL said that the 8-footer he removed from a storm drain by some apartments was "a battle-cruiser-size class, a person would not be a match for him, not at all." The gator was first noticed after some children saw it through a street grate and were throwing things at it. This attracted the attention of a resident who called for assistance from the FGFWFC. [Orlando Sentinel, December 3, 1996 from Bill Burnett]

Unwelcome in California

New contributor, Scott Solar sent a clipping from the San Gabriel Valley Tribune which recounts the sad tale of a 30-year-old El Monte man and the alligators he inherited from his mother. She was given the creatures in the 1960s by her parents, and the four had been resident with the family, playing hide-and-seek with the authorities since 1973 when possession of alligators, crocodiles and caimans was banned in California. After all court hearings were exhausted, the man shipped the animals to an alligator expert in Texas and says he's thinking about moving to the lone star state himself. [November 29, 1996]

Only the snakes lose

A 27-year-old "snake enthusiast" stole a "prize breeding python" from the Little Rock, AR Zoo in late December. After police joined the hunt, the man reportedly released it. The snake was found dead two days later. [Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, December 29, 1996 from Bill Burnett]

Bhopal, India: "The inspector-general of police in this zone... has directed all police stations under him to launch a campaign against snakes. He has declared that anybody bringing a snake, dead or alive, to the police station will be rewarded 10 rupees. Villagers, especially snake charmers, carrying snake-baskets have been thronging the police stations. `We will bring at least two snakes every day. This will take care of our daily meal as long as the notice remains in force,' said a snake charmer. [The official's] crusade was triggered by a routine inspection of records which revealed that most of the unnatural deaths in his division were due to snake-bite. But this tirade against snakes has angered wildlife experts here." [The Telegraph, September 22, 1996 from Harry Andrews, Madras]

"I'm going to try and kill every one I see," said the mayor of Folsom in St. Tammany Parish, Louisiana. Seems Mr. Mayor was trimming bushes in his yard wearing sandals and was bitten on the right foot by a 2-foot cottonmouth moccasin. This bite landed him in the hospital for several days causing him to miss a Board of Aldermen meeting and several days of work. [The Times-Picayune, New Orleans, LA, September 10, 1996 from Ernie Liner]

"Animal kudzu"

As if the southern U.S. hasn't suffered enough - invaded by water hyacinth, nutria, walking catfish, and giant snakes on the loose, now Asian eels and slithering their way into lakes and rivers in Georgia. Descended from "exotic aquarium pets set free in the wild... it is adapting, reproducing and making itself at home. A flesh-eating predator that can grow to as long as three feet, it poses a threat to native species like the largemouth bass, the beloved game fish of the South," according to the December 8, 1996 New York Times. [from P.L. Beltz; Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, December 9 from Bill Burnett] The question is are these things edible? Can we "take" and sell exotic pest species in Chinese groceries?

Turtles 1, cars 1/3 less

Last year, Daytona Beach blocked parts of its famous driving beach to traffic after years of planning and litigation and after a season when more sea turtles than ever before nested on Volusia County, FL beaches. However, the number of hatchlings disoriented by lights was also up in 1996. [Orlando Sentinel, November 4, and December 3, 1996 from Bill Burnett]

Interactive webbed site

Shedd Aquarium http://www.sheddnet.org: Virtual aquarium website. Information on Shedd times and events. Interactive site on "Frogs!" the long running continuing special exhibit. Hear six frogs native to Illinois, vote for the frog of the week, and more.

And the winners are...

Months ago, before the endangered species stamps were even issued by the post office, I commented in this column that a prize awaited the first receipt of herp stamps from loyal readers. First arrival of the San Francisco garter snake and the American alligator to Ray Boldt and a tie between Ray and Fred Frye for the Wyoming toad stamp. I'm sending Ray a copy of "Frogs!" the guidebook to the Shedd Aquarium exhibit, signed at the top of my article "A guide to frogs of the Chicago region," while Dr. Frye is getting a copy of my index to the "Citations for the original descriptions of North American Amphibians and Reptiles" from SSAR. The winner of the random drawing of all 1996 CHS contributors was Ken Dodd who will be getting a copy of the index, too.

With thanks to this months contributors

and to Bill Burnett, Karen Furnweger, Jack Schoenfelder, P.L. Beltz, Ray Boldt, Mark T. Witwer, Breck Bartholomew, Kathy Bricker, Bryan Elwood, Denise and Frank Andreotti, Valerie Du Prez, Dez and David Crawford, Steve and Patty Barten, David Blatchford, and Mark Dieterich. Special thanks to Francine Chavez and Stewart Schilling for herp coins from their respective travels this year. Francine gave me a turtle coin from the Cayman Islands and Stewart brought back a tuatara five cent piece from New Zealand! You can contribute, too. Send newspaper/magazine articles with date/publication slug showing and your name on each clipping to me. Please use tape, not staples if you cut the stories to pieces. Staples tear, then it's microsurgery trying to get the stories back together!

March 1997

Good ears, Bob!

Researchers in Hawaii report in an internet communication that they have a specimen of an exotic Eleutherodactylus captured and pickled from a site on the formerly coqui-free archipelago. In 1994, in the October journal of the New England Herpetological Society, Bob Campbell reported a call record for Eleutherodactylus coqui, the Puerto Rican tree frog from the grounds of the Hyatt Regency Hotel on the island of Maui. He also reported that Cuban green anoles and house geckos were "conspicuous" on the property as well. If the coquis naturalize on Hawaii, they will be the first calling frog in the islands as the native poison arrow frog does not vocalize, according to the journal. In September 1996 a second article reports that Bob found five "coqui" at the hotel in his second expedition which led him to suggest that a breeding population had become established on the grounds of the hotel. [Courtesy of the New England Herpetological Society]

Better than Lojack?

A female research assistant from the University of Arizona was doing research work on reptiles when thieves broke into her truck and took a bunch of stuff. When she discovered the theft, she took off down the road to try to catch up with them. Lo and behold, up the road, she found two men by an overturned truck surrounded by stuff stolen from her truck. What happened? The men were driving away at high speed with her things when they opened one of the containers they'd taken. It was full of snakes. They ran the truck off the road and it overturned. One man was found later by deputies at a local hospital where he was being treated for injuries sustained in the accident. [Fish and Wildlife News, January 1997 from J.N. Stuart]

Maybe he went to the east-side campus?

A man claiming a degree from Illinois State University which he said was "near Boston", two tattoos (of snakes) and half-an-index finger is at the center of a controversy in Zimbabwe. The man provides Egyptian cobras to homeowners taking a vacation, posts signs outside the house in two languages (and pictures for the illiterate) and charges just $12 a day. However, the Zimbabwe Herpetological Society and the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals are arguing to the government that security use of Egyptian cobras be halted. The handler has offered oversight and inspections; the government has not responded. Steve Durrant of the ZHS had one very succinct observation, "What happens if the owner comes back and one snake's missing? I can't believe anyone would be stupid enough to let him put cobras [loose in their house] and pay him for the privilege." [The New York Times, February 9, 1997 from P.L. Beltz]

More snake attacks

An 11-year-old Florida boy was in serious condition at a local hospital after being bitten by an 18-inch pygmy rattlesnake he found under a board in the local woods. His knowledge of herpetology may have saved him. He captured the rattler by getting a friend to help push the snake into a bottle with a stick. His mother got the deputy sheriffs, who killed the snake, and called an ambulance. [Orlando, FL Sentinel, January 25, 1997 from Bill Burnett] A 20-foot, 275-pound reticulated python bit and wrapped itself around one of the owners of the Serpent Safari attraction in Lake Delton (FL?). The co-owner was also bitten on the hand and arm. Both men were taken to a local hospital and released. The python is being sent to a nature and breeding preserve in Texas. [Wisconsin State Journal, January 30, 1997 from Maggie Jones]

Snakes on ice

A county worker in Oklahoma spotted a giant snake frozen in an icy creek. Workers chipped the snake out (don't ask why - it wasn't going anywhere `til the thaw) and removed a dead 15- foot, 200 pound python. It became a local sensation and was put on view "stretched out on the back of a truck bed outside the district's maintenance barn." It was also carried around and displayed at several local schools before being taken away to be skinned. [The Plain Dealer, Cleveland, OH from Jim Zimmerman] The Walt Disney World on Ice show has a 75-foot "ice python" which dances with Mowgli the jungle boy. From the picture, the snake appears to be some type of giant soft-sculpture, perhaps manipulated on a Zamboni or by ice dancers concealed inside the vast contraption. [Chicago Sun-Times, January 26, 1997 from Steve Ragsdale]

As John Muir said, "Nothing dollarable is safe."

The National Park Service (NPS) announced that although their recent "Operation Rockcut" - an antipoaching sweep in Big Bend National Park - cost taxpayers only $15,000, but "... by the time it was completed, [NPS] had executed the largest roundup of wildlife poachers in its history. Undercover agents collected enough evidence to arrest 30 suspects in eight states on 290 federal and state charges, including 80 violations of the Lacey Act, a law prohibiting interstate commerce involving wildlife killed or otherwise `taken' in violation of state law. The operation netted... police officers, two preachers, a former president of the Arizona Herpetological Association, and the president of the International Reptile and Amphibian Association - all of whom have pleaded guilty to lesser state charges... federal cases [are still being prepared] against a few of the defendants... [NPS] received an anonymous warning that its next undercover agent would be found floating face down in the Rio Grande [River ... During the investigation, an agent had found that] different groups of poachers would enter Big Bend... and fill their pillowcases and coolers with snakes..." according to the National Parks magazine [November/December 1996) The poachees were found as far away as European pet shops. Experts estimate that trade in exotic species is up to about $20 billion a year.

Reptile rustlers sentenced

Two of the several men indicted in last year's Orlando International Airport reptile bust (accidentally concurrent with a big reptile sales event) have been sentenced. One man got off lightly with only a month of jail time after cooperating with investigators, but the other received 46 months and a $10,000 fine. After serving their time, they will be returned to their countries of origin. The specific charges were "importing 51 radiated tortoises, 94 tree boas and 25 spider tortoises, all endangered animals protected from illegal export by international treaty... [The man sentenced to the longest time ever for reptile smuggling] apologized ... through an interpreter. He said he wasn't thinking when he tried to flee after his arrest. He also said he didn't intend to break such serious wildlife laws. `He's very sorry about the smuggling. Snakes are a hobby of his,' the interpreter told the judge. `He's very sorry that all this has happened.'" [Orlando, FL Sentinel, January 11, 1997, from Bill Burnett]

O tempora, o mores!

A 12-foot Burmese python escaped from a wooden cage on his 16-year-old owner's back porch in Leesburg, Florida and was found by Animal Control and Police "moseying" along the property fence. [Daily Commercial, January 4, 1997 from Bill Burnett] The accompanying photo shows that both the Animal Control officers were female! Male colleagues reportedly were squeamish about handling the python.

Didn't these used to be expensive?

An albino Burmese python was found in a pillowcase inside a trash bin at a Kroger Store in South Bend, Indiana in late January. Police said the snake appeared "almost lifeless" when they arrived at the store after receiving a call. Besides being cold, the snake also had a head wound which appeared as though someone had tried to kill it before disposing of it. One police officer took the snake home and was planning to take it to a veterinarian the next day. [South Bend Tribune, January 31, 1997 from Garrett Kazmierski]

It's a trend.

Guardian Pest Control workers removed a 12-foot python from the closet of an apartment in Merrillville, Indiana. Seems a friend of the resident had left the snake behind "for a few days" but after the time stretched to weeks, it was time for the snake to go. The snake was taken to a pet shop in Orland Park, IL where the owner said it might be put "in a breeding program." [Lake County, IN The Times, January 9, 1997 from Jack Schoenfelder]

But here's a first...

Veterinarians in Springfield, Virginia removed a cataract from the right eye of a Komodo Dragon usually on display at the National Zoo. The zoo plans to try to breed "Muffin" to another one of their dragons after she recovers from her surgery. Seems as though it would be a disadvantage not to see an amorous Komodo male approaching. Her keeper said, "... if [the male Komodo] were to become aggressive, she needs to be able to have all her faculties in order to avoid getting hurt." [Richmond, VA Times Dispatch, February 6, 1997 from Mr. Laverne Copeland]

Turtle news

The Newsletter of the Archie Carr National Wildlife Refuge [Fall, 1996 from Kathy Bricker] announced that this summer was less productive of sea turtle nests than 1995. For people who enjoy this sort of thing, here are the numbers from 1989 to 1996 for sea turtle nesting from the Refuge:

YearLoggerheadGreenLeatherbackHawksbill
198911,512208 40
1990 16,385588 11
1991 16,123191 70
1992 15,271771 41
1993 12,942101 10
1994 17,3061,266 40
1995 20,224130 80
1996 17,937933 100


The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service proposed listing one of the rarest turtles in the U.S., Clemmys muhlenbergii, the bog turtle, as a "threatened" species on the endangered species list. It is estimated that the species has declined by 50 percent in the last 20 years due to habitat destruction. [Science News 151(6):92, February 8, 1997 from Mark Witwer]

Faint characters carved in the carapace of an 18-kilo turtle found in the capital city of Anhui Province, China read "Please return me to nature" and a date which indicates the carving was done 300 years ago according to the Xinhua news agency. Authorities wonder why the animal was found so close to downtown, and suggested that someone may have taken it from its habitat and then released it. [December 13, 1996 from P.L. Beltz]

Some sea turtles do not seem to stick to the same migration routes in the open ocean according to recent studies of long-range migration done by the Hubbs Seaworld Research Institute in San Diego, CA. Turtles tracked together stayed together for the first two months, then split up. In other studies, turtles have used tight migration paths towards the Galapagos islands and to the Central American nesting beaches. [Science News 150:342, November 30, 1996 from Mark Witwer]

Turtle objects, illustrations, games, puzzles and books are hot, hot, hot with retailers right now. "The preoccupation with turtles has a lot to do with a growing interest in nature," said a gift magazine writer. Sales of turtle-stuff are "anything but sleepy. With consumers readily shelling out the green, the turtle trend appears to be moving swimmingly." [Trend Watch, Entrepreneur, Magazine, November 1996 from Jack Schoenfelder]

Thanks to everyone who contributed this month and to Kathy Bricker, Steve Ragsdale, J.N. Stuart, Jim Zimmerman, Ray Boldt, Mike Dloogatch, and Craig Hassapakis for sending things I enjoyed reading, but didn't use in this column. You can contribute, too! Tear out whole pages from newspapers, don't bother to clip out the stories unless you want to and mail to me. Newspaper is surprising light, several pages and an envelope are usually less than one ounce. Please be sure to write your name or use a return-address label on each piece of paper. Letters only to my e-mail address as our file server does not support attached files with good fidelity. Looking forward to hearing from a whole bunch of you this year!

April, 1997

CHS member pleads guilty

To prevent misunderstanding, the following has been quoted verbatim: "A southern Illinois man today in court admitted his role in an international wildlife trafficking scheme that included smuggling of rare and protected reptiles from Spain, as well as shipping nearly 70 poisonous snakes through the U.S. mail in unmarked packages to avoid detection by authorities. James P. Zaworski, 31, of Marion, Illinois, pleaded guilty to one felony count of conspiracy to smuggle wildlife into the United States and to trade in protected species in interstate commerce. Zaworski, a reptile dealer known for his captive breeding success with small lizards called geckos, entered his guilty plea before Judge J. Phil Gilbert in U.S. District Court in Benton, Illinois, and now faces 5 years incarceration and/or a $250,000 fine. The investigation into Zaworski's activities began in 1994 at Kennedy Airport in New York City, where U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service wildlife inspectors discovered a mail parcel from Spain addressed to Zaworski. Hidden within the parcel, were 13 Lilford's wall lizards, a small blue lizard that inhabits the Balearic Islands off the coast of Spain. These lizards are protected by an international treaty, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), of which both the United States and Spain are signatory countries. Following the package to its destination in southern Illinois, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Special Agent Timothy Santel worked with U.S. Postal Inspectors, Illinois Conservation Police officers and other Service law enforcement officers to carry out a Federal search warrant at Zaworski's residence. They found records and documents chronicling 10 years of smuggling reptiles to and from Spain, France and South Africa. Among the reptiles seized at Zaworski's home were the 13 Lilford's wall lizards, European ladder ratsnakes also smuggled from Spain, box turtles illegally collected from a National Wildlife Refuge, venomous massasauga rattlesnakes mailed illegally from Florida, a timber rattlesnake and Great Plains ratsnakes listed as threatened species in Illinois, and two desert tortoises, a species considered threatened under the U.S. Endangered Species Act. Zaworski actively solicited and traded reptiles through the mail with Juan Gonzalez, a reptile supplier in Barcelona, Spain. Each would ship parcels containing live reptiles in plastic containers, using fictitious names and addresses. Packages were unmarked and declared as "books" to avoid detection. Search warrants were also served on Gonzalez by authorities in Barcelona, and portions of the investigation are ongoing in Spain and several U.S. states. Additional people may be charged. Investigators found Zaworski frequently traded venomous snakes, collecting from the wild and subsequently mailing copperheads, timber rattlers, massasaugas, and speckled and diamondback rattlesnakes in violation of U.S. Postal laws. Zaworski was also found to have collected turtles and snakes from national wildlife refuges and national forests. These reptiles were then traded or sold to reptile collectors around the country. Among the wildlife laws Zaworski violated are the U.S. Endangered Species Act, which prohibits trade in endangered and threatened species; and the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) which prohibits or restricts trade in listed species among the 134 signatory countries. In addition, Zaworski's trading activities violated the Lacey Act, a Federal statute which prohibits interstate commercialization of wildlife in violation of State laws. Some of the species traded were protected by Illinois state law, including the Dangerous Animals Act which prohibits the possession of dangerous wildlife, including venomous snakes. This investigation was prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney William E. Coonan, Southern District of Illinois and Jonathon Blackmer, U.S. Department of Justice, Wildlife and Marine Resources Section, Washington, D.C. In a related smuggling investigation, Robert L. Mitchell, St. Charles, Missouri, pleaded guilty in April 1996 for violations of the Lacey Act. Mitchell was fined $10,000 for unlawfully importing 18 live Hermann's tortoises through the mail. These protected tortoises were sent by Gonzalez of Barcelona, Spain, in the same manner that Zaworski smuggled reptiles. [U.S. Fish and Wildlife Enforcement press release, March 26, 1997 from Steve Grenard and Ron Brandon]

Another smuggling case prosecuted

The president and an employee of one of the largest US wholesalers of reptiles and amphibians have been indicted by the Federal government for illegally importing 1,100 herps listed under the CITES treaty. The indictments were handed down on January 1, 1997 and charges include fraud, conspiracy and illegal international trade in wildlife. If convicted, penalties may include up to 49 years in prison and $2.5 million in personal fines in addition to fines of up to $5.3 for the Florida-based company. Most of the animals were from Argentina. [U.S. Department of Justice press release, March 1, 1997 summarized by Allen Salzberg]

Museum collection searched for illegal specimens

The Topeka, KS Capital-Journal reports that Federal agents of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service are "examining collections at the university of Kansas natural history museum to determine if specimens were imported illegally." A special agent in Lenexa said that they are examining every specimen collected in the last few years and that an audit of the collections indicated that "450 specimens added to collections from 1991 to 1994 weren't acquired in compliance with federal regulations regarding permits and documentation." The museum's director said that the irregular specimens were discovered during internal audits of their 6 million specimens and that federal authorities were notified in August 1996. The Fish and Wildlife Service agent confirmed that William Duellman, a herpetologist and co-author of the book Biology of Amphibians (with Linda Trueb), is a subject of the investigation. Dr. Duellman retired suddenly from the University in December, 1996. In 1979, Duellman was fined by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for illegally importing reptiles from the Galapagos Islands, Ecuador according to the news report. [January 11, 1997 http://www.kansascity.com from E.H. Taylor]

But why?

Associated Press reports that someone stole a 9-year-old male 25-pound broad-snouted caiman from the San Francisco Zoo. Mike Sulak, the zoo's curator of collections, said, ``Whoever took it either knew what they were doing or was extremely stupid.'' [March 3, 1997 from Allen Salzberg]

Smoking can be hazardous

A Dutch tourist returning from a Caribbean vacation was shocked when authorities found a drugged iguana in his suitcase at customs control in Rotterdam, Netherlands. Authorities believe that the iguana as planted in his luggage for confederates to retrieve later. The man had gone through the "anything to declare" lane at Customs because he had too many cigarettes. [Reuters newswire, February 22, 1997 from Allen Salzberg]

Reward for information

The butchered remains of 10 gopher tortoises were found in a dumpster near a trailer park in Tampa, FL. They had apparently been killed and cut open for their meat. Wildlife officials are offering a $500 reward for information on who killed (or ate) the tortoises. [St. Petersburg, FL Times, March 11, 1997 from J.N. Stuart; The Gainesville Sun, March 12, 1997 from Ken Dodd]

A hop in the right direction

The Albuquerque Journal reports that the New Mexico House of Representatives passed a bill to protect 122 species of native reptiles and amphibians from being taken or killed for commercial purposes. The State's Game Commission will prepare regulations to go with the bill if it is passed by the New Mexico Senate. [20 February 1997 from J.N. Stuart]

Bud-wiser! Bud-wiser!

In a February 10, 1997 reply to a letter by Steve Grenard, a Budweiser spokesman wrote: "Anheuser-Busch. will not sponsor any rattlesnake sacking competitions [at rattlesnake roundups] this year. We were a participating sponsor in previous years, but have decided to place our sponsorship funds with other events. Anheuser-Busch has a longtime commitment to protection of wildlife and to preserving the environment. We do not knowingly participate in any events that are contrary to this corporate philosophy." http://www.xmission.com/~gastown/herpmed/med.htm

Live or Memorex?

Contributor Rick Dowling sent an article about the Opp rattlesnake roundup in Alabama and a letter. The article is the usual "y'all come down now, y'hear" press release thing, the photo shows spectators far too close to the snakes, handholding of venomous animals and so forth. Rick writes: It is interesting to note that the article states that most of the snakes are let go after the show. Tonight on WSFA, which is the local NBC affiliate out of Montgomery, AL, the [reporter] stated that the snakes are killed after the show for their skins and the meat which is frozen for next year's show. Someone is sure not telling the truth!" [The Montgomery Advertiser, February 27, 1997]

Shot for watching frogs

The Durban South Africa Sunday Tribune reports: "Student shot on frog research. An Institute of Natural Resources student was shot in the stomach at the Merrivale shooting range while conducting research into frogs last night. An ordinary night out watching the nocturnal habits of these slippery creatures ended with serious consequences when [the 23-year-old man] was shot in the stomach. A Medical Rescue International spokesman... said [the student] was taken to Medi City clinic in Pietermaritzburg. His condition was stable. [The victim] was in the company of University of Natal students when shots unexpectedly rang out. Police confirmed the incident and said that no one had owned up to the shooting. [March 2, 1997 from Lynn Raw and Allen Salzberg]

Mystery disease decimates frogs

"Queensland's principal conservation officer Ian Gynther has publicly confirmed that the cause of death in a massive mortality among frogs in the state is still unknown. Since May 1996 there has been a "wave" of frog deaths in at least 6 of the 200 species in southeast Queensland. While a fungal infection and a protozoan infestation in two specimens have been determined, Gynther said that these causes seemed unlikely to be responsible for all the deaths. Further tests are investigating the possibility of viral infection and toxin exposure. Australia has experienced similar high mortalities in frogs in the past. But generally these have occurred at high elevations, not in coastal plains. University researchers and conservation officials are calling for increased funding of research on the frog losses." [The Weekend Independent (on-line), University of Queensland, Brisbane Australia, March 21, 1997 from Dorothy B. Preslar and Steve Grenard]

Vacation hotspots

According to Men's Health Magazine [April, 1997], the top ten most dangerous golf courses around the world include the Lost City Golf Course, Sun City, South Africa. Its 13th green has a stone pit filled with crocodiles, big ones can be up to 15 feet long. Other risky fairways include one in Zimbabwe where the greens are targets for insurgents' mortar shells, a course in California built on a poorly buried landfill, and the Singapore Island Country Club, Singapore, where in the 1982 Singapore Open, pro Jim Stewart encountered a ten foot cobra which he killed, only to watch in horror as another reportedly emerged from its mouth. [from Allen Salzberg]

Do you have giant tortoises?

"Confirmation of the survival of 'extinct' giant tortoises from the granitic islands of Seychelles has just been announced by the Nature Protection Trust of Seychelles [NPTS]. Giant tortoises were common on all islands in the western Indian Ocean until Mauritius was colonized in the 1600s when increasing numbers of explorers and settlers visited the Seychelles islands and removed or killed the tortoises in vast numbers. By 1840, the only surviving giant tortoises in the wild were those on the inhospitable Aldabra atoll, some 700 miles away and unrelated to the Galapagos giant tortoises in the Pacific... In the Indian Ocean the Aldabran tortoises were saved by appeals for the conservation of Aldabra by eminent scientists of the time, including Charles Darwin, and the leasing of the island by Lord Walter Rothschild who maintained a passionate interest in the biology and conservation of these animals. It has generally been assumed that only the Aldabran species survived this overexploitation... it has been suggested that some Seychelles granitic island tortoises survive in captivity. The report of oddly shaped captives prompted NPTS to examine and identify the living tortoises. Examination of museum specimens... confirmed that some living tortoises do show characteristics of the supposedly extinct species. This was supported by genetic studies... at Aberdeen University's Zoology Department [which] shows that there are in fact two different species of supposedly 'extinct' Seychelles giant tortoise. The genetic work has identified one pair of one Seychelles species and four pairs of another. These species, thought to have been driven to extinction 120 years ago, are now the subject of a conservation program being carried out by NPTS. This includes searches for further living individuals in captive collections around the world. The NPTS is bringing the Seychelles giant tortoises together into a captive breeding program. To ensure the survival of these critically endangered species the NPTS is raising the funds needed to purchase the tortoises through an adoption scheme. Under this scheme anyone interested in helping to save the species from extinction can adopt a tortoise, wholly or in part, and will be kept informed of the progress of the captive breeding program. The NPTS would be pleased to hear from everyone interested in supporting their efforts to save these critically endangered species. Further information can be obtained from: The Nature Protection Trust of Seychelles, 53 River Lane, Cambridge CB5 8HP or contact Justin Gerlach. [from Allen Salzberg]

New, stronger TED rules

The Center for Marine Conservation reports that new rules from the National Marine Fisheries Service issued December 19, 1996 "significantly increase protection for threatened and endangered sea turtles in the Gulf of Mexico and the South Atlantic. They ban so-called `soft' turtle excluder devices (TEDs), require TEDs in large `try' nets... and modify bottom-opening TEDs to ensure turtles can escape from the nets. In issuing the rules, NMFS... refused to bow to withering pressure from implacable opponents of endangered species conservation and the fishing industry." [Marine Conservation News, Spring, 1997 from Kathy Bricker]

Super new publication

Special thanks to Craig Hassapakis for sending me a copy of Volume 1, Number One of his long-awaited new journal Amphibian and Reptile Conservation. It is a great first effort. The cover shows an individual of the presumed-extinct Golden toads (Bufo periglenes) from the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve in Costa Rica. For more information contact the journal at A and RC, 2255 N. University Parkway, Suite 15, Provo, UT 84604-7506 or http://www.byu.edu/~arcon/.

Spring, glorious spring

"But on this night a slight rain fell, and the temperature hovered in the low 50s... The hikers smelled the swampy, earthy aroma of decaying vegetation. They saw their breath hang like smoke in their flashlight beams. They heard the calling of frogs, spring peepers peeping and chorus frogs trilling, like a thumb running down a comb." [Richmond Times-Dispatch, March 6, 1997 from Mr. Laverne A. Copeland]

Thanks to those who contributed this month and to David L. Hardy, Ardis Allen, Mark Witwer, Mike Plummer, and E.A. Zorn for stuff I enjoyed reading but couldn't figure out how to fit into this column. You can contribute, too! Send whole sheets of newspapers/magazines with date/publication slug and your name on each page (or cut out the articles if you're feeling sculptural) and mail to me. Letters only to my new e-mail address. Don't complain there's "nothing to read in the Bulletin," contribute here or send us an article!

May 1997

Old Business

  • "[The] New Mexico bill to authorize the state to regulate commercial use of amphibians and reptiles died in the Senate after passing the House. Never came up for a vote

    it was still awaiting consideration when the '97 legislative session ended week before last. Maybe next time... James N. Stuart March 31, 1997
  • "...Stocking Sierra Nevada lakes with hatchery trout could cause the ESA listing of the mountain yellow-legged frog, reports Greenwire from the L.A. Times. The frogs were once found in half of Sierra Nevada lakes but now exist in only 3%, which some biologists attribute to the "voracious" introduced trout." Roger Featherstone April 20, 1997

Salamanders win court case!

"A federal judge ruled that the decision of Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt to withdraw the proposed listing of the Barton Springs Salamander under the ESA was "arbitrary and capricious" and ordered Babbitt to make a new ruling on the listing within 30 days. A release from Save Our Springs, the plaintiff in the case, said that Judge Lucius Bunton found that it was improper for Babbitt to withdraw the listing based on a conservation agreement between the FWS and various TX state agencies. Bunton noted that "strong political pressure was applied" to Babbitt and "political lobbyists for the development community worked with political appointees of the Secretary." For more information, contact Bill Bunch, Save Our Springs." Copies of the court's opinion from the Southeast/Texas field office at 1104 Nueces, Ste. 3, Austin, TX 78701-2128. [From Roger Featherstone March 26, 1997]

More Galapagos violence

March 27, 1997: The World Wide Fund For Nature [WWF] called on the Ecuadorean government to guarantee the rule of law and the safety of personnel and researchers in the Galapagos Islands, after a National Park employee was shot in the stomach following a week of unrest due to a government crack down on illegal sea cucumber harvesting... The attack follows a series of incidents that have tarnished the image of Ecuador's main tourist attraction in recent times... One of the world's most renowned natural protected areas and a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Galapagos Islands have been in a state of undeclared emergency ever since the Ecuadorean government abolished non-artisanal fishing around the wildlife-rich islands early in 1995, after a legal sea cucumber harvesting trial quota was repeatedly violated by hundreds of boats lured from the mainland by the creatures' high international market price. Following the decision, groups of the angry newcomers reacted by holding staff from the Charles Darwin Research Station and National Park personnel hostage for several days. "It is in the best interest of Ecuador to ensure that the law enforcement situation in the islands improves," warned Miguel Pellerano, Galapagos Coordinator for WWF. "Conservation activities cannot take place when the well being of the people working in the field is constantly under threat. And without conservation there won't be much of Galapagos left to show the world in a few years time." In the meantime, Galapagos National Park Director Eliecer Cruz vows to pursue legal actions against Lopez's attackers. "The National Park rejects the violent demeanor of the illegal fishermen and we ask the National government to act in order to guarantee that we'll be able to carry out our conservation activities in Galapagos in all safety." For more information, contact Javier Arreaza, WWF.

Terrestrial tortoises stolen

On behalf of Mr John Spence, Director of the Tygerberg Zoopark, Kraaifontein, South Africa, I am reporting a theft of terrestrial tortoises from the well-established terrestrial tortoise breeding group at Tygerberg Zoo. Some 10 animals were removed, presumably during the weekend of March 28-30. The species involved are as follows:
Psammobates geometricus (1 male and 3 females, one of which carries eggs); Testudo radiata (1); Homopus signatus signatus (1); Homopus femoralis (1); Kinixys spekii (2); Kinixys lobatsiana (1).
The animals were removed from a chain-link fenced enclosure situated next to the director's residence (in an attempt to prevent theft!!). No visitors to the zoo are allowed inside the enclosure, and the curator of reptiles, Ms Tamara Harris-Smith, only handles tortoises on special request for photographs... [Please] be on the look-out for any of the above animals, and to post this message to other interested colleagues. I will try and stay abreast of developments in this regard and post any information. Kind regards. Dr Ernst H.W. Baard, Cape Nature Conservation, Private Bag 5014, Stellenbosch 7599 South Africa. April 4, 1997.

Two new Web Sites

  • Check out the new Kansas Herpetological Society Home Page at http://vmsweb.selu.edu/~pbio4888/khsmain.html. [April 8, 1997 from Joe Collins]
  • Westward Frog, a new web page dedicated to the Conservation of Western Amphibians http://ice.ucdavis.edu/Toads/wwfrog.html with the "T" in "Toads" capitalized. The page has: a multimedia tour of California species (images, sounds, range maps and for some species detailed species notes); threats to amphibians (articles and reviews including articles on grazing and amphibians, urban streams, UV-B radiation and more); sampling techniques and field guides (listings and bibliographies); expert contact list for California species (names and addresses of experts for all California herps);educational materials (resources for teachers - all levels); and links to related sites. Westward Frog was created by Carlos Davidson and Lara Hansen of the University of California, Davis, Amy Lind of the U.S. Forest Service Redwood Sciences Lab, and Chris Gregory of the California Department of Fish and Game. [April 11, 1997]

Beam me down, Scotty!

The Associated Press reports that European scientists from England and Holland claim to have successfully floated a frog in air and propose that later larger animals may defy gravity as well. One of the researchers said, "It's perfectly feasible if you have a large enough magnetic field." The magnetic field necessary to float the frog was a million times as strong as the magnetic field of Earth. AP concludes, "The scientists said their frog showed no signs of distress after floating in the air inside a magnetic cylinder." [AP-NY 04-12-97, from Allen Salzberg] Kudos to the first contributor to find this in New Scientist. What do you want to bet the frog looks pretty green after an experience like that?

Turtle conservation groups recognized

Three turtle conservation groups were awarded the J. Paul Getty Wildlife Conservation Award in Quezon City, Philippines, the World Wildlife Fund [WWF] announced today. The $50,000 prize administered annually by WWF is one of the leading awards given for outstanding achievement in the conservation of wildlife and its habitats. This year's winners Brazil's Fundacao Pro-TAMAR, the Philippines' Pawikan Conservation Project, and Malaysia's Sabah Parks developed innovative approaches to protecting threatened sea turtles and their nesting habitats. "Through their multifaceted approaches, each of these groups have made marine turtle conservation part of the fabric of national life and national policy in their countries," said WWF President Kathryn Fuller. "This is the kind of effort necessary to ensure these magnificent creatures swim safely into the next century."

Brazil's Fundacao Pro-TAMAR (the Brazilian Marine Turtle Foundation) helped create a turtle conservation area that stretches along more than 600 miles of Brazilian coast, sheltering vital turtle breeding sites.

The Philippines' Pawikan Conservation Project establishes turtle sanctuaries, and recently convened a symposium on marine turtle conservation that brought together sea turtle specialists from throughout Southeast Asia.

Malaysia's Sabah Parks has released more than 4 million turtle hatchlings into the wild over the last 15 years and helped designate the nine islands of the Turtle Islands as a single protected unit. The group manages the 4,300-acre marine protected area known as Turtle Islands Park, which embraces three of the Turtle Islands.

Sea turtle populations worldwide face an uncertain future due to extensive hunting for their shells, meat, and hides. All sea turtle products from tortoise shell jewelry to stuffed tortoises, tortoise eggs and soup are prohibited items for trade. The Getty Prize, which was created in 1974 by the late J. Paul Getty, will be split among the three turtle conservation groups, with $25,000 going to the Brazilian project and $12,500 going to each of the Asian turtle projects. Past winners include Dr. Jane Goodall, Sir Peter Scott, and the guards who protected Rwanda's mountain gorillas during the country's recent civil war. For more information, contact Gillian Haggerty, WWF, http://www.wwf.org. [Environmental News Network, April 25, 1997 from Allen Salzberg]

Thanks to this month's contributors! And to everyone who has mailed a clipping in the last month or so - you'll see your contributions next month. Please keep the articles, cards, letters, vacation photos, and so on coming! All contributions are acknowledged.

June, 1997

Declining amphibians down under

  • "On June 13, 1996 a tunnel pipe was placed across and under the [Waitakere Ranges Scenic Drive in the cloud zone] as a frog crossing... Maybe some [endangered Leiopelma hochstetteri] use it, but the majority choose a more direct route to cross from one side of the road to the other. They by-pass the tunnel and its good intentions. Usually theories are expressed at the disappearance worldwide of frogs, it is usually seen as a loss of habitat, or environmental pollution. This is a much more obvious issue: Traffic on the Scenic Drive... is inadvertently killing an endangered frog species. Isobel Bruce" [MOKO, Autumn, 1997 (our spring-wish they'd use month names!) Newsletter of the New Zealand Herpetological Society]
  • Roundup, an widely-used herbicide, has been implicated in some Australian frog declines reports Michael Tyler of the University of Adelaide, South Australia in the March, 1997 issue of Froglog: "The Australian Government has... banned 84 herbicide products from use near water because of their impact upon frogs and tadpoles. All of these products, of which Roundup (Monsanto) is the best known, contain glyphosate as the active ingredient. However, there is agreement that it is not the glyphosate that is the principal problem but a detergent additive termed a dispersant or wetting agent. The function of the dispersant is to break down the surface tension at the leaf surface, so that the individual spray droplets disperse to completely cover the leaf. Unfortunately, all detergent compounds interfere with cutaneous respiration in frogs and particularly gill respiration in tadpoles. Impact may very with water temperature because oxygen saturation decreases with temperature... The use of these herbicides near water is already banned in the UK and the USA."

Horny lizard people needed

The Texas Parks and Wildlife Department has started a "Texas Horned Lizard Watch" program in an effort to find the cause (or causes) of the decline of Phrynosoma in that state. Call 1-800-792-1112 to volunteer. The program will provide maps and instructions on lizard monitoring. [Texas Parks and Wildlife Magazine, May 1997 from Mark Witwer]

Shopping as art

True Shoposaurs probably already know this, but the John G. Shedd Aquarium has a new gift shop called "Go Overboard!" on their main floor. You have to see it to believe it. Different environments with themed merchandise surround a huge 3-D octopus with tentacles wrapped around eight columns which themselves surround the kiddy play area full of interactive stations and toys. For shopping as make-believe, this store even outdoes FAO Schwartz and Nike Town. If you get to Water Tower Place in June, don't miss the frog displays courtesy of the Aquarium. You can get a 10 percent discount coupon for "Go Overboard!" at any WTP information desk. [Water Shedd, May 1997 from Karen Furnweger]

Alligator news: the good, the bad and the ugly

  • Farmers in Florida's booming $2.1 billion/year poultry industry are feeding alligators the carcasses of the average six percent of captive chickens lost to natural causes each year. The former disposal options were incineration, burial and composting. Poultry farmers find that alligators are cheaper - and can be sold for profit, too. [The Advocate, Baton Rouge, LA January 2,1 997 from Ernie Liner]
  • "Golden Gator" captured in San Francisco's Presidio Park was released into the Louisiana bayou. "The fuss amused many Louisianans. In this part of the country, people are more used to trapping, shooting and eating alligators. Their skin makes nice belts and high quality boots. Their skulls are sold as tourist trinkets in the French Quarter," reports Rebecca Rolwing, writing for the Associated Press.
  • Only 548 tags of the 26,548 alligator permits issued in last September's Louisiana alligator season weren't filled. It was the third largest harvest since 1972. The average alligator killed was seven feet long, but his year, the price was down to only $25 a foot from a high of $37 in 1994. The price drop has been blamed on oversupply of skins from foreign countries as well as from domestic alligator farms. [The Courier, Houma, LA, December 26, 1996 from Ernie Liner]
  • Kids feeding an alligator raw meat in Winter Garden, Florida accidentally sentenced a 13-foot alligator to death. When authorities heard about the feeding, they had the gator trapped and destroyed because it would no longer fear humans. The children had jumped a fence surrounding the pond to feed the gator. [Orlando, Florida Sentinel, February 3, 1997 from Bill Burnett]
  • A 6-year-old child in Baton Rouge found a 2-foot alligator with its mouth taped shut right after it had been run over by a car. Authorities speculate that someone was transporting the gator when it fell off a truck. The child tried to save the gator. Animal control officers who took it to the shelter said its survival was unlikely, but that they would try to get it healthy enough to release in the nearest bayou. [The Courier, Houma, LA, April 29, 1997 from Ernie Liner]
  • "Dozens of alligators at the St. Augustine Alligator Farm are dying of a mysterious disease... a bacterial infection has killed more than three-fourths of the alligators that have been exposed to the disease... many were more than 60 years old, 11 or 12 feet long and weighed 700 or 800 pounds." [Leesburg, Florida The Daily Commercial, March 1, 1997 from Bill Burnett]
  • Two young brothers were reportedly allowed to play with minimal supervision with the family dog in shallow waters at Lake Ashby, Florida when a sudden splash alerted their parents that not all was well. The mother found her 8-year-old and the dog, but the 3-year-old was missing. An "army" of searchers descended on the lake, helicopters buzzed overhead, a command center was set up - but no trace of the child was found until a day later when the boy was found dead adjacent to the alligator which is believed to have killed him. A trapper killed the 11-foot, 450 pound alligator. The mother said she'd never have let the boy play in the water if she had known there were alligators there. The park has no warning signs because authorities say that alligators are known to be found in every body of water in the state. [March 22, 1997 Democrat-Gazette, Little Rock, Arkansas from Bill Burnett; March 23 The Chicago Tribune from Sam Restich and The Albuquerque Journal from J.N. Stuart]

Jeremiah was a bullfrog?

A preacher in Orestes, Indiana takes his pet bullfrogs (Rana catesbeiana) along to old folks homes and hospitals. Seems if he asks you to take a "leap of faith," he's got a live, demonstrator for that concept. Elderly people enjoy holding the big amphibians, listening to the preacher has he ministers and singing along while he plays his harmonica. [Bucyrus, Ohio Telegraph-Forum, c. March, 1997 from Bill Burnett]

Bad news for greens

Scientists report that more than 50 percent of green turtles in the Indiana River in South Florida are infected with fibropapilloma, a disease which covers the turtles in tumors. Eventually unable to see to feed, tumorous turtles starve to death. Karen Bjorndal, director of the University of Florida's Archie Carr Center for Sea Turtle Research said that the "smoking gun of human contact with the environment" appears to be agricultural chemical runoff. [Leesburg, Florida Daily Commercial, February 3, 1997 from Bill Burnett]

Salmonellosis from iguanas up

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report in the March, 1997 issue of "Pediatrics" that iguana-linked salmonella cases are on the rise. In 1995, 67 cases were reported - the first case ever was reported in 1989. Doctors warn that salmonella infection can lead to meningitis and other serious complications in infants and people with compromised immune systems. One fatality, a 3-year-old Indiana child, was reported in October 1995. [New Orleans, Louisiana The Times-Picayune, March 11, 1997 from Ernie Liner

Oldest snake recognized

Reappraising a 95-million-year-old fossil found in an Israeli limestone quarry, researchers noted that the supposed lizard was actually more like an extremely primitive snake with two tiny hind limbs. While living species of snakes (like boas) have vestigial hind limbs, the fossil is more related to oceanic lizards such as Mosasaurus which roamed the southern oceans about 250 million years ago. In the last century, Edward Drinker Cope, a prominent American herpetologist proposed a link between snakes and Mosasaurids, but his proposal was roundly rejected by other scientists who believed that snakes developed from a group of burrowing lizards. [The New York Times, April 17, 1997 from Mark Witwer]

I'm breathing and I'm screaming II

Hollywood strikes again with "Anaconda," which has been making a lot of money with a bunch of hooey about snakes. The guy who knows about snakes describes the title snake as "the perfect killing machine... it strikes, wraps around you, holds you tighter than your true love, and you get the privilege of hearing your bones break before the power of the embrace causes your veins to explode. Then it swallows you whole." Wrong. In the course of a research project which bagged more than 450 anacondas in a mark-and-recapture study, reported in last year's Smithsonian Magazine, workers report essentially no problems other than those expected while dealing with animals which can be up to 20 feet long. Not one human predation has been reported for the species, unlike the Asian python which has taken several Homo sapiens usually in artificial situations. [Philadelphia Inquirer, April 21, 1997 from Mark Witwer]

More boots

"Save $79 bucks! Slip into striking new GENUINE Python Snakeskin Boots with tough LEATHER shafts... Special $149.97." The Sportsman's Guide, 411 Farwell Avenue, South St. Paul, MN 55075-0239. [from Tom Taylor]

More skins

An article in the April 1997 issue of Fur-Fish-Game details how to catch, kill, skin and sell rattlesnake hide. As usual, the advice includes getting a sprayer full of gasoline (although it suggests "checking state regulations" first) and shooting the animals with a .22 (although not while coiled as that ruins the skin). For once, the bite advice is accurate - go straight to a hospital do not apply tourniquet, ice, suction or other folk remedies. [from John Levell]

More snakes

  • A woman who was hand-feeding her pet python nearly became chow. Eustis, Florida police responded to the call and used pepper spray to persuade the python to let go. [Leesburg, Florida Daily Commercial, February 8, 1997 from Bill Burnett]
  • Copperbelly watersnakes (Nerodia erythrogaster neglecta) from northern Indiana, Michigan and northwestern Ohio have been put on the U.S. federal endangered species list. However, the snake has populations in Illinois, southern Indiana and Kentucky. In those areas, coal companies, agriculturists and the government have reached an agreement to protect snake habitat while not protecting individuals of the species. [The Cleveland Plain Dealer from Jim Zimmerman, The Times-Picayune from Ernie Liner, both February 26, 1997]
  • The President asked for $1.5 million for brown tree snake (Boiga irregularis) control on the island of Guam where the species has eaten its way through the local fauna, caused power outages, reportedly been found in baby cribs and is so abundant that officials are afraid it will be accidentally transported to other islands (including Hawaii). Tom Fritts of the Interior Department said, "What's at stake is the ecology of many islands in the Pacific... [it's like a bomb] The question is, when is it going to go off, causing ecological economic and sociological damage?" [Honolulu Advertiser, February 17, 1997 from Sean McKeown]
  • A 10-foot python escaped in Sioux Falls, SD by breaking the glass in its aquarium and pushing aside 60 pounds of weight which had been placed on the top of the tank. The snake wrapped itself around its 18-year-old owner and it took three people to get it off again. [The Chicago Tribune, March 2, 1997 from Ray Boldt]
  • One man in western Kentucky near the Ohio River "said he had shot so many snakes [escaping the flood] that he was nearly out of ammunition for his .22-caliber rifle. [Louisville, Kentucky The Courier-Journal, March 13, 1997 from E. A. Zorn]
  • The Bonnet Carre Levee Spillway was opened to provide an outlet for Mississippi River waters earlier this year. After that, so many snakes were spotted in Lake Ponchartrain that the local police issued an advisory aimed at bikers, rollerbladers and picnickers to be on the lookout for reptiles. Alligators are also a possibility, according to police officers. [The Times-Picayune, March 22, 1997 from Ernie Liner]
  • An 8-foot long, 25-pound Burmese python was found by a sewer inspector in Maryville, Tennessee last year. Animal Control had the snake x-rayed because of the big bulge in its middle and found that it had eaten a duck. The snake was later claimed by a man who said that he had lost the Burmese and an even larger boa constrictor from his garage about two months before the python was found. [October 15, 1996 The Daily Times, Maryville, Tennessee and October 13 Knoxville News-Sentinel both from Ernie Liner]

Quite a range extension

A worker at a concrete plant near Auckland, New Zealand was amazed when what he thought was an odd-colored rock turned out to be a turtle. Zoo officials were surprised, as well. The turtle was an American red-eared slider (Trachemys scripta). [MOKO, New Zealand Herpetological Society Newsletter, Summer 1996/97]

You may not want the CD

Five drag queens formed a "porno rock band" called "The Sea Snakes." They are touring the U.S. as well as working on a CD of their music which reportedly insults every convention of polite society. As this is a family magazine, no further explanation will be offered, but let's just say that even the fertile imagination of Jeff Beane ("Twisted Sistrurus") might have difficulty with some of the Sea Snakes' stunts and lyrics. [The New Mexico Daily Lobo - UNM, May 1, 1997 from J.N. Stuart]

Fatal fire kills eight pets

Two alligators, three turtles and two snakes survived a fire in their Fayetteville, Arkansas home, but eight other reptiles weren't so lucky. Their owner was not home when the fire was reported by the owner of "Lil' Shoppe of Horrors" a neighboring body piercing and tattooing parlor. The fire appears to have begun on a mattress, but the cause was undetermined, according to authorities. The animals were being kept under permit, according to the owner, but his permits burned up in the fire. [Little Rock Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, April 4, 1997 from Bill Burnett]

Contributors write...

  • Brian Bankowski: "I saw more iguanas around the swimming pool [in Aruba, Dutch Antilles] than I did in two weeks of slogging the jungles of Costa Rica... the turquoise white spotted Ameivas are everywhere. You'd love it here. [Postcard from vacation]
  • Bill Burnett: "Who lets their kid go into any body of water in Florida unsupervised? ... Gators are everywhere in Florida!" [March 29, 1997 letter]
  • Sherman Minton: [There's] "A message here for some amateur snake keepers... (autograph on copy of "Bites by non-native venomous snakes in the U.S.") In most nations, snakebite is a disease of the rural agricultural population, and the reptiles... are part of the ... native herpetofauna... a significant number of snakebites [in some Western nations] are cause by [non- native] snakes kept in captivity... In a 1959 survey... only 7 of 6680 venomous snakebites were inflicted by non-native species... [Since then there have been nearly 60 bites by exotic venomous snakes and 106 bites by native species. Half of the people bitten were keeping or trying to catch the animals.] Clearly, keepers and hunters of venomous reptiles make up a well-defined high- risk group.... Of the 51 individuals... bitten by [exotic venomous snakes] 47 were adult males and four adult females... Three... were bitten twice by exotic snakes during a 2-year period; one of them sustained a third bite by a native snake." [Wilderness and Environmental Medicine, 4:297-303, 1996] On the scary side, Dr. Minton notes that there are no antivenoms for some of the exotics now finding their way into amateur collections as "rarities." In addition, some people envenomated did not know (or record) the scientific name of the animal which bit them. This omission could retard or stop the application of antivenin by hospital personnel fearing malpractice should the snake turn out to be a different species.

Thanks to everybody who contributed to this month's column

and to Ernie Liner, Mark Witwer, Garret Kazmierski, Bill Burnett, Kathy Bricker, Ray Boldt, J.N. Stuart, Jack Schoenfelder and P.L. Beltz for stuff I enjoyed reading (sometimes several times as the same story bounces around the nation). You can contribute too! Send whole pages of newsprint, magazine, newsletter, etcetera with your name on each piece to me. Please fold a minimum number of times, omit staples, use tape if you must affix pieces together and use the largest envelopes available to help reduce my "origami" load! Thank you!!!!

July 1997

There's some really weird people out there

An article in the Bastrop, Louisiana Daily Enterprise reports that a house in that town was completely destroyed by a fire. The Fire Chief said that the accidental fire started in the kitchen: "It was reported that a snake was found in the kitchen and a gallon of gasoline was poured on the snake which was near the stove. The gas stove ignited immediately... The house, valued at $25,000, was totaled out." [June 10, 1997 from George M. Patton and Martha Ann Messinger]

How long it's taken to get here

The Center for Marine Conservation [CMC] reports: "Nearly 24 years passed between the time that the Kemp's ridley sea turtle was formally listed as endangered and the time that turtle excluder devices (TEDs) were required in all shrimp trawls operating inshore and off shore from North Carolina to Texas in order to protect the Kemp's and other threatened sea turtles... the complete story of sea turtles and shrimp trawls [is in] CMC's Delay and Denial: A Political History of Sea Turtles and Shrimp Fishing..." Write CMC for more information: 1725 DeSales Street, NW, Washington, D.C. 20036. [Marine Conservation News, Summer 1997 from Kathy Bricker]

More turtles die in Gulf of Mexico

"Seventeen Kemp's ridley turtles, the world's most endangered sea turtle, have been killed in Texas waters since 1 April as a result of nearshore shrimp fishing activity. Only 1,500 female Kemp's ridley nesters remain in the wild and the Texas shrimp season's arrival is further threatening the species' survival. Recent reports showed that 41 percent of Texas shrimpers were not in compliance with U.S. TED laws. Call Rolland Schmitten 301-713-2239 of the National Marine Fisheries Service to ask for increased enforcement of turtle excluders and a 60-day closure of fishing activities within three miles of shoreline along the Texas coast. Contact Earth Island Institute for more info: Todd Steiner,n seaturtles@earthisland.org." [From Roger Featherstone and Carole Allen, April 20, 1997]

Sea turtle project sunk

Even though the Northern Indian Ocean Sea Turtle Workshop in Bhubaneswar, India in January of this year was a big success [Marine Conservation News, Summer 1997 from Mark T. Witwer], promoting cooperation between the IUCN's Marine Turtle Specialist Group, the Convention on Migratory Species and the U.S. National Marine Fisheries Service and delegates from Bangladesh, India, Malaysia, Maldives, Oman, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Sri Lanka and Thailand, an important sea turtle research project in India has been sunk by apparent lethargy on the part of India's massive bureaucracy. A collaboration between an American researcher and an Indian professor had planned to use a $70,000 grant to track sea turtles by satellite radio- telemetry. At the time of this writing, the American has left India to work in the Caribbean this season instead. It is reported that the specially made transmitters have an effective battery life of only a few months and that any further delay on the part of the Indian government would have prevented the effective collection of data from turtles migrating through the Indian Ocean [Chicago Tribune, June 25, 1997]

One baby turtle saved

A 5-pound baby green sea turtle was found swimming in the brackish waters of Lake Borgne near New Orleans. Rescued by workers from the Aquarium of the Americas, "Popcorn" is unique because of the 71 turtles found stranded since 1990, only he has survived. The turtle was checked for parasites, vitaminized and released. [The Times-Picayune, December 30, 1996 and Houma Courier, January 3, 1997 both from Ernie Liner]

Happy birthday to you, and to you and to you...

A 330-pound anaconda captured a few months ago in the Amazon has delivered its young in captivity. As many as two dozen babies are expected by keepers at the Wisconsin Dells "Serpent Safari" tourist attraction. The attraction is no longer the home of the 29-foot reticulated python which reportedly nearly killed owner Louis Daddono in January, 1997. The snake had been stabbed 30 times while the owner struggled to free himself from its coils. It died after six weeks of veterinary treatment. [Wisconsin State Journal, May 30, 1997 from Maggie Jones and Dreux Watermolen]

Music hath charms to rile the savage beast

A researcher from Harvard University played tapes of a trombone and a French horn playing the note "B-flat" to a pit full of alligators at the Wonder Gardens in Bonita Springs, Florida. The gators didn't go for the trombone, but liked the French horn and began bellowing and dancing in the water. Some even began foreplay such as that usually associated with mating. The professor reports that the note appears to trigger the reptile's mating hormones. [Bonita Banner, May 31, 1997 from Ardis Allen]

Behold the dodo

A retired Los Angeles firefighter who moved to Guam decided he'd had enough brown tree snakes when he found one inside his pet canary's cage with the pet canary inside of the snake. So he killed it. Then he went on a brown tree snake hunt and killed 50 more. The Director of Guam's Department of Agriculture said, "For years the [US] government said there was nothing we could do. But they were wrong." The Ag. director has personally taken 500 brown tree snakes, and since last September, his staff has distributed about 1,300 snake traps, each baited with a live mouse. The snake population in the area around the airport - where these efforts have so far been concentrated - is down and some bird species are showing signs of increase. Jack Russell terriers are being trained to catch the snakes, and one researcher is working on a non-living scent attractor that smells like dead mouse. Others have suggested introducing the king cobra (Ophiophagus hannah) since it eats other snakes, but some local residents object and so that proposal has been shelved. [US News and World Report, June 2, 1997 from Mark T. Witwer]

Barton Springs Salamander wins court case

  • "In an opinion released March 26, Senior Federal Judge Lucius Bunton found that Secretary of the Interior Bruce Babbitt violated the Endangered Species Act and the Administrative Procedures Act when he decided to withdraw the proposed endangered listing of the Barton Springs salamander. The small aquatic salamander lives at Barton Springs, Texas and nowhere else in the world. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service had identified the salamander as its top priority for adding to the endangered species list among all candidates for listing in the service's four-state southwest region (including Texas, New Mexico, Arizona and Oklahoma). In striking Secretary Babbitt's decision, the court found that "strong political pressure was applied to the secretary to withdraw the proposed listing of the salamander" and that the record suggested "that political lobbyists for the development community worked with political appointees of the secretary." Perhaps most notably, the court held that it was improper for Babbitt to withdraw the proposed endangered listing based on a "conservation agreement" the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service entered into with the Texas Natural Resource Conservation Commission, the Texas Department of Transportation and the Texas Parks & Wildlife Department. The ruling came in the second suit by the Save Our Springs Alliance on a petition filed in January of 1992 by Dr. Kirkpatrick and University of Texas geologist, Barbara Mahler to add the species to the endangered species list. Secretary Babbitt lost the first suit in last July when the court ruled that he violated the ESA when he failed to respond to the petition in accordance with deadlines set out in the act. The court's ruling requires the Secretary of the Interior to make a new decision on the Barton Springs salamander listing within 30 days. For more information and/or copies of the court's opinion contact Southeast/Texas field office at 1104 Nueces #3, Austin, TX 78701-2128. [From James N. Stuart April, 8, 1997]
  • The Austin American-Statesman reports: "Bowing to pressure from a federal judge, U.S. Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt said Tuesday that he would list the Barton Springs salamander as an endangered species. The announcement, which came coincidentally on Earth Day, outraged [Texas] Gov. George W. Bush, delighted environmental activists and sent ripples of concern among landowners and developers in a vas area that feeds water to the Zilker Park habitat of the tiny amphibian..." [April 23, 1997 from William B. Montgomery]

Thieves strike twice in South Africa

  • "On behalf of Mr John Spence, Director of the Tygerberg Zoopark, Kraaifontein, South Africa, I am reporting a theft of terrestrial tortoises from the well-established terrestrial tortoise breeding group at Tygerberg Zoo. Ten animals were removed, presumably during the weekend of March 28-30. The species involved are as follows: Psammobates geometricus (1 male and 3 females, one of which carries eggs), Testudo radiata (1), Homopus signatus signatus (1), Homopus femoralis (1), Kinixys spekii (2), Kinixys lobatsiana (1). The animals were removed from a chain-link fenced enclosure situated next to the director's residence (in an attempt to prevent theft!!). No visitors to the zoo are allowed inside the enclosure, and the curator of reptiles, Ms. Tamara Harris-Smith, only handles tortoises on special request for photographs. Dr Ernst H.W. Baard, Cape Nature Conservation, Private Bag 5014, Stellenbosch 7599 South Africa Fax: +21-8871606" [April 4, 1997]
  • "Another theft of terrestrial tortoises from the Tygerberg Zoopark, Kraaifontein, South Africa has brought the captive breeding program to a practical standstill. The animals were again (refer to a previous posting on the first theft) removed from the enclosed area during the night of May 28, 1997. The numbers and species involved are: 1.4 Geometric tortoises, Psammobates geometricus (CITES I); 0.3 Tent tortoises, Psammobates tentorius (CITES II); 1.0 Kinixys spekii, Savannah hinged tortoise (CITES II); 0.1 Kinixys lobatsiana, Lobatse hinged tortoise (CITES II). This is a general alert to anybody who comes across any information in this regard to contact me via e-mail or fax. Please be on the lookout for offers/deals where any of the above-mentioned taxa might be involved. Thank you. Ernst Baard [May 30, 1997]

So why did they steal it, anyway?

Allen Salzberg sent this followup to a previous story: "In February, thieves stole a 4-foot-long caiman from the San Francisco zoo. The reptile was found - cold, dehydrated, bruised and tied to a tree near a San Jose park bike trail. It's recovering in the zoo." [May 15, 1997]

Limit frog takings by schools

"A Western Australian paper, the Sunday Times (25 May '97), reports on the Stirling City Council notifying the 200 odd schools in its shire requesting that each school limit the number of tadpoles taken for the classroom. The number of rare frogs and the declining frog population in the area had prompted the need for limits. At the same time it did not want to stop the children from using the waterways but to respect them. In the request to the schools it asked that each school limit the number of tadpoles taken to a number equal to the number of classrooms at each respective school. Good awareness stuff. Congratulations Stirling City Council!" Brian Bush, SNAKES Harmful & Harmless, 9 Birch Place, Stoneville WA 6081 Australia. http://www.nettrek.com.au/~bush/index.html

All the laws in the world can't stop this

"I just spent a week herping and photographing herps in west Texas. On the way home through Oklahoma, we spotted over fifty dead box turtles in a 32 mile stretch of two-lane highway. We managed to get five living ones off to the side of the road, one of which a man in a pickup (with a young boy in it) went off onto the shoulder in an attempt to run over, saved only by one of our party stepping in the way. We didn't count the dead red-eared sliders, there were too many to keep track of. We also saw five DOR Texas Rat Snakes in about a five mile stretch. I've witnessed the same thing in southern Illinois on more than one occasion. If fifty box turtles die in a 32 mile stretch of road, how many are killed on roads nationwide in May, an active month for them? Ten thousand? Fifty thousand? My opinion: You can pass all the import/export laws you want; as long as there are morally bankrupt people who assuage their feelings of inadequacy by running over helpless animals, as long as there is indifference and ignorance over the carnage in the general public, the box turtle will continue to fade from the American landscape. Mike Pingleton" [May 27, 1997]

Oklahoman asks for help

Richard Lardie writes: "Oklahoma's turtle populations are being threatened by commercial turtle harvesters... Both Oklahoma paddlefish and turtle populations need to be regulated..." Laws are coming up before the Oklahoma House and Senate to protect state wildlife. "Any support you and your organization could provide would be greatly appreciated.... Oklahoma Senator Frank Shurden is Chairman of the Oklahoma Senate Wildlife Committee. he is said to loath and despise turtles and doesn't believe they have any good points... These individuals and others in Oklahoma's Congress need to know the value and importance of turtles in our ecosystem. Write State Capital Building, Oklahoma City, OK 73015." You can contact Richard at P.O. Box 9002, Vance AFB, OK 73705. The Chicago Turtle Club, affiliated with the CHS has already addressed this issue at their meeting. I hope to hear that the other turtle organizations in North America (and around the world) have a go at this.

Reptile importer sentenced

A May 30, 1997 Press Release from the U.S Department of Justice, the U.S. Attorney's Office and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) reads in its entirety: "Zachary W. Carter, United States Attorney for the Eastern District of New York, and Adam O'Hara, Special Agent in Charge, Law Enforcement, USFWS, announced today the sentence imposed in a significant criminal wildlife case, United States v. Bronx Reptiles, Inc., 949 F. Supp. 1004 (E.D.N.Y. 1996). On December 17. 1996, Bronx Reptiles was convicted of unlawful importation of 73 Solomon Island frogs under inhumane conditions, in violation of the Lacey Act, 18 U.S.C. 42(c). The importation led to the deaths of all 73 of these rare amphibious animals, which the Lacey Act seeks to protect by requiring shipment under humane conditions. On Wednesday, Magistrate Judge Cheryl L. Pollack sentenced Bronx Reptiles to the maximum penalty permitted by law, $10,000, and she additionally placed the company on five years probation to ensure prospective compliance with the Act's legal requirements. Defendant Bronx Reptiles, located in Yonkers, New York, is one of the nation's largest wholesale importer of live reptiles, amphibia, and other wildlife for sale to the pet trade. In this case, Bronx Reptiles imported frogs in a box with none of the required careful packaging, and, most importantly, with no source of water. The International Air Transport Association (IATA) Live Animal Regulations provide specific guidance for packing frogs, stating that they "must be kept damp as they breathe through their skins; if their skins are allowed to dry, the animals will die quickly." In her earlier decision, Magistrate Judge Pollack concluded that "[d]epriving a frog of sufficient moisture is virtually a guaranteed death sentence for that frog..." She rejected Bronx Reptiles' claim that it could shift the blame to the overseas exporter, holding that "Bronx Reptiles, one of the largest importers of its kind in the country and responsible for numerous shipments of amphibians and reptiles, was not only aware of the industry guidelines for shipping these types of animals, but was also very familiar with the regulation holding the importer responsible for ensuring that humane shipping conditions are used. In announcing the sentencing decision in this case, Mr. Carter stated: "This conviction should encourage Bronx Reptiles and other wildlife importers to take all necessary precautions to assure that live animals are imported under humane conditions, which do not cause suffering or death to animals. Mr. O'Hara stated that the USFWS is committed to enforcing the humane shipment provisions of the law which plainly hold United States entities responsible for the shipping conditions from their overseas suppliers. The case was prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney Stanley N. Alpert." For more information, contact Bruce J. Weissgold, CITES Policy Specialist, Office of Management Authority, USFWS, 4401 N. Fairfax Dr., #430, Arlington, VA 22203 USA. [From Steve Grenard]

Way to go THS!

"Last week a judge ruled that the USFWS has 60 days to decide whether to list the Flat-tailed Horned Lizard under the federal Endangered Species Act, according to a Defenders of Wildlife release. Resulting from a lawsuit by the Tucson Herpetological Society and others, the USFWS is seeking comments on its decision to list the species indigenous to the Sonoran Desert of Arizona, California and Mexico." [From Roger Featherstone, June 2, 1997]

MHS plans Midwest Symposium

"The Midwest Herpetological Symposium is to be held October 17, 18, and 19 in Minnesota. The keynote speaker will be Dr. Peter Pritchard, speaking on "Turtles: Time-Tested Architecture, Uncertain Futures" Other speakers include: Patrick Nabors, "Captive Propagation of Varanid Lizards;" Aaron Bauer, "Geckos of the Southern Hemisphere;" Sehoya Harris, "Frogging in the Ecuadorian Amazon;" Jeff Lang, "Male Mugger's in Madras, Crocodiles that is!;" Jeff Ronne, "The not so Common Boa Constrictor;" John Moriarty, "Minnesota's Amphibians and Reptiles;" John Rossi, D.V.M. "Rare and Unusual North American Snakes;" Dan Keyler, M.D. "Venomous Snakebite: Causes, Effects and Treatment;" Richard Funk, D.V.M. "Managing Reproductive Problems in Captive Reptiles;" Roger Brannian, D.V.M. "Herpetological Veterinary Medicine: An Overview." Dr.'s Rossi, Funk and Brannian will also be running a vet workshop on Sunday, this will be an event not to be missed. Hope that everyone, especially turtle people, will not pass up this opportunity to hear Dr. Prichard speak. Jake." [June 10, 1997]

Breathing and Screaming, III

New CHS member Rich Crowley sent a copy of the Chicago Sun-Times article on the movie "Anaconda" which is just full of fun facts about these giant reptiles including: "Scientists say anacondas have been around for billions of years..." Rich writes: "... I could not resist the opportunity to contribute [this] ... especially since dinosaurs roamed the earth 65 million years ago!" Being a geologist by education and a herpetologist by avocation, I always find newspaper articles about science rather amusing - but "billions" of years for snake development is very, very funny as the first algae date to about 3.8 billion years ago (ya), hard-shelled life to about 600 million ya, first amphibians to about 400 million ya, first reptiles to about 280 million ya, and first mammals to about 240 million ya. We ourselves date to a whopping 200,000 years in modern form. Oh well, a year here and a year there and pretty soon you're talking real time, huh?

Thanks to this month's contributors

and to Jack Schoenfelder and Ardis Allen for stuff I enjoyed reading, but couldn't use this month. The file folder is getting thin, though and I'm looking forward to getting lots and lots of clippings from dedicated readers like yourself. You can join the few, the proud, the contributors! Merely take pages of newspapers and magazines being sure that the date/publication slug is on some part of the page, put your name on each page (those freebie address labels from various not-for-profit appeals work well for this!), fold a minimum of times and try to omit using staples or paperclips (clear tape any loose pieces together), and put the the largest envelopes available and mail to me.

August, 1997

Crocodiles beaten to death

The Associated Press reports that six Plant City, Florida men have been charged with trespass and the felony killing of a crocodilian. The four men and two juveniles are accused of beating to death a pair of Nile crocodiles in a fenced cage at the Gator Jungle attraction. The owner of the gator park said, "You wonder what their mothers would think about them. It's really sad." The AP concludes "The Nile crocodile is the number one eater of humans on the African continent, and the reptiles have been known to attack animals as large as elephants. But these crocodiles hardly had a chance. They lived in fenced cages." [July 29, 1997 Fort Meyers, FL News-Press from Ardis Allen and Gainesville Sun from Ken Dodd]

Cook County restoration still in limbo

Vegetative restoration of some parts of Cook County Forest Preserves (CCFP) has been all but halted following an outcry by some residents along the North Branch of the Chicago River who were upset when a screen of weedy shrubs facing a preserve were removed by volunteers. A series of newspaper articles in the Sun-Times followed - unfortunately the reports were highly biased against restoration. Several editorial cartoons implied that the CCFP was permitting logging on its property. What is really happening is people just like us giving up their weekends to remove non-native vegetation and collect and spread native seeds. While at first glance, plants and herps may seem to be two different things, it does affect native amphibians and reptiles. Restored land is better habitat for herps than golf courses, green fields, softball diamonds and parking lots. The Cook County Commissioners are continuing to take public comment on this issue. You can find out who your commissioner is by calling the Citizens' Information Service. All the commissioners can be contacted at Room 567, 118 North Clark Street, Chicago, IL 60602. [North Branch Restoration Project Newsletter, July 1997 from Jane and John Balaban]

Scientists dissect frog deformities

While many news reports have singled out causes for the alarming increase in reported deformities in frogs (bacteria, ultraviolet, chemicals, pesticides, nematodes and so on), the latest news is that scientists are still not sure what is causing the deformities. The scientist with the most previous press coverage (Stan Sessions of Harwick College) insists that parasites are the only cause and that he has induced extra limb development by infecting laboratory frogs. However, at a recent conference at Stony Man Mountain, Virginia, scientists presented other potential causes. Martin Ouellet of McGill University Montreal has studied more than 100 ponds in the St. Lawrence River Valley for four years presented the results of his work which implicate new types of pesticides as a major player in the frog deformity equation. Kathy Converse of the National Wildlife Health Center in Madison, Wisconsin pointed out that if the deformity cause is indeed a pesticide, it must be a new one and the reports of deformed frogs have jumped from a "background" of one percent to as high as 69 percent in ponds which receive pesticide runoff. David Gardiner, a molecular biologist from the University of California Irvine, suggested that the deformities are caused by a new group of chemicals which mimic growth hormones. He has successfully replicated deformities such as those found in wild populations in the laboratory, growing frogs with extra legs and eyes by adding retinoic acid, a by product of retinoids such as those found in acne medication and skin cream. [Orlando, FL Sentinel, May 25, 1997 from Bill Burnett]

Chemical control on tail loss

Robert Denver of the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor studies what makes tadpoles metamorphose into adult frogs. While researchers have long known that thyroid hormones play a large role in metamorphosis, this work utilized a hypothalamus hormone called corti-cotropin- releasing hormone (CRH). Thyroid hormones increased and metamorphosis occurred faster. Curiously, as water levels in the tadpoles' tanks were reduced, natural CRH production increased and metamorphosis occurred 1/3 faster than in the control group. Denver says that CRH "is exquisitely sensitive to stress in the environment" of all vertebrates. Salmon fingerlings use CRH to change to the adult stage. The hormone is produced under stress, whether rush hour traffic or a drying pond. CRH also plays a role in the beginning of human labor. A researcher at Cornell University's Laboratory for Pregnancy and Newborn research says that Denver's results "make very good sense... Here is a very old system of metamorphosis in tadpoles which utilizes CRH and that same system has been put to use in labor and delivery." [Science News, Volume 151, May 10, 1997 from Mark T. Witwer]

Vets save herps

  • A boa constrictor in Klamath Falls, Oregon ate a heating pad! The veterinarian who surgically removed it said, "This heating pad apparently satisfied all the criteria for food as far as this snake was concerned. It was warm and fuzzy and had some hard objects inside that must have felt something like bones." [Chicago Tribune, July 13, 1997 from Ray Boldt]
  • A White's tree frog named Charlie ate a few marbles which had decorated his cage for months. Charlie's 14-year-old owner said "He would have died. He wouldn't do anything; he wouldn't open his eyes, he just laid there." A veterinarian in Jackson Hole, Wyoming surgically removed the marbles. He said, "I like challenges, and this was definitely a challenge. This was the equivalent of a person swallowing a cantaloupe, size-wise. Maybe a watermelon." [Jackson Hole, WY News, May 28, 1997 from Debra Patla]

    A veterinarian at the North Carolina State University Center for Veterinary Medicine is the faculty advisor of "the Turtle Crew." Composed of about 40 vet students, the Crew treats turtles brought in by good Samaritans. About 80 percent of the victims have been hit by cars. One Crew member said, "Even though it takes a long time to see any reward because everything about turtles is slow - their metabolism - everything... I guess the best thing for me is when I'm able to release one." About 60 to 70 turtles a year are treated; as many as possible are released. [Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association, 211(2) July 15, 1997 from Gery Herrmann]

Still horny after all these years

An 80-ish Galapagos tortoise mom and a 90-ish dad recently produced eggs which hatched into a quartet of baby tortoises at Philadelphia Zoo. While only a few zoos have had successful Galapagos reproduction, none in a non-tropical climate has ever had live offspring. The curator of reptiles said, "It's incredible." The tortoises mated in December and mom dug a nest in the dirt-floored portion of her exhibit inside the Reptile House. The eggs were removed by a curator after four were crushed. The remaining five eggs were placed in an incubator and checked periodically. The first baby emerged April 7, the others later in the month. [Wisconsin State Journal, June 16, 1997 from Dreux Watermoelen]

Gonna rename it "Lorena"?

The Las Vegas Sun reports: "A 47-year-old Las Vegas woman was recovering today after successful surgery to reattach a finger that was bitten off by her pet iguana. `I've never seen anything quite like this,' said... the chief of the plastic surgery division at the University of Nevada School of Medicine, who performed the operation. `Generally, animal bites cause a rough rip or tear, but this was clean - almost like a knife cut - right through the middle joint of the left ring finger.' The accident occurred as [the woman] gave a weekly bath to a 5-foot-long iguana she owned for five years. [She] was rushed to University Medical Center's trauma unit, where she underwent four hours of microsurgery to attach finger arteries and nerves." [July 22, 1997 from J.N. Stuart and the AP bounce from Jack Schoenfelder]

I guess I'm strange, too

"... Your average non-herper... simply does not understand my hobby... The standard response [includes] ... some rather strange looks and an apparent desire to get the hell away from this weirdo who can't be content with a budgie like normal people... I feel sorry for the people who can't appreciate my pets, who see them as miniature monsters, and sometimes I wonder, is there perhaps something wrong with me that I adore them so much? ... Am I strange? Perhaps I bumped my head too many times as a child? Is there maybe something wrong with me... ? Then I shake my head, knowing that I have always been a little unconventional. This is part of what makes me special, and also part of what makes my pets special too." Damon Bailey [MOKO; New Zealand Herpetological Society Newsletter, 1997/2] You can visit the NZHS Web site that Damon created at http://www.flying-dutchman.co.nz/herpweb/.

Shellular communications, II

SixeEastern box turtles outfitted with transmitters were released in Druid Hill Park near Baltimore in an effort by the Zoo to study habitat use, mating, foraging behavior and burrowing for winter hibernation. The project aims to find out if turtles taken from captivity and released in a different area than they were collected will survive. Some of the turtles participating in the study were confiscated from a turtle smuggler who was trying to pass the animals through a security checkpoint at Baltimore-Washington International Airport. The other turtles lived in the park, but were maintained in captivity at the Zoo briefly. Initial results show that the native turtles moved the farthest, while two of the confiscated turtles remained precisely where they were released. [The Baltimore Sun, June 21, 1997 from Mark T. Witwer]

Genesis 3:14

Paleontologists have redescribed a fossil from an Israeli limestone quarry which was formerly considered a relatively legless lizard to being a legged early snake. The species, Pachyrhachis problematicus, lived in a shallow sea about 95 million years ago. The New York Times devoted a quiet, scholarly article [April 17, 1997 from Mike Dloogatch] while the Little Rock Democrat- Gazette [April 18, 1997 from Bill Burnett] has a more heartland spin on the story. After recapitulating the Biblical story the paper reports: "Though they're not saying the forbidden fruit was involved in the loss of snake appendages [researchers] say fossils... demonstrate that snakes once had legs... [they] advance the bold suggestion that snakes are most closely related to the mosasaurs, giant swimming reptiles that lived at the time of the dinosaurs... That hypothesis has been around since the 1800s, when the great paleontologist Edwin Drinker Cope proposed it..."

Arribada, 1997

As many as 35,000 olive ridley sea turtles spent an hour or two on the beach at Escobilla, Mexico laying eggs. The Associated Press reports, "The numbers are a good sign - showing the apparent success of a ban on the turtle trade, subsidized alternative for poachers and navy guards patrolling the coast... local residents of this coastline 300 miles south of Mexico City, who were already poor before the county spun into economic crisis can get $2.50 US for 100 eggs - about what each nest holds." [Wisconsin State Journal, June 27, 1997 from Dreux Watermoelen]

Buzz, buzz, bite

  • Residents of Ontario Canada are asked to report all sightings of the Massasauga rattlesnake (Sistrurus catenatus) to the Metro Toronto Zoo, 361A Old Finch Avenue, Scarborough, Ontario M1B 5K7 to the attention of Andrew Lentini. [Rattlesnake Tales, June 1997 from Jason King and Bob Johnson]
  • Some residents opposed the 10th Annual Rattlesnake Roundup in Alamogordo, NM. The usual "events" were featured: snake-handling demonstrations, deep-fried rattlesnake, etc. A protestor said, "This is not education, it's a freak show, and it plays to people's worst fears about snakes. There's a snake show at the Alamogordo zoo. That's education. This is entertainment." He was one of the protestors from the Sangre de Cristo Animal Protection and People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals who stood outside the fairgrounds with signs urging people to "boycott this display of cruelty." [Albuquerque Journal, April 20, 1997 from J.N. Stuart]
  • A 15-month toddler was bitten by a pygmy rattlesnake in Lake County, FL and was flown to an Orlando hospital for treatment. Initially, his condition was critical, but he was released after a couple of days and was expected to be walking in a few days. The child had been walking in his front yard when he was bitten. [Orlando, Florida Sentinel June 8, 9, and 14 from Bill Burnett]

Real webbed sites and other frog news

The North American Amphibian Monitoring Program home page is a froggy site worth visiting on the Web. I particularly enjoyed the poetry page http://www.im.nbs.gov/naamp3/naamp3poetry.html which has frog haiku, frog rap and a longer work called "Salamanderfrogilisticexpialidocious." A post about deformed frogs reads, "Jeremiah was a bullfrog, was a good friend of mine. He only had two legs, instead of four. But instead of two eyes, he had nine..."

The "Friends of the Frog" website is at http://www.friendsofthefrog.com/. The group hopes to place a large frog sculpture in Grant Park citing other public sculpture in Chicago including Oldenberg's Bat Column, Calder's Flamingo, Picasso's Head of a Woman (yes, that's what it's called) and Moore's Large Interior Form. So far, the Park District has not approved the project. [The Cape Times, Cape Town, South Africa, May 9, 1997 from Wes von Papinešu and Kimberley Heaphy]

"I am trying to verify that the supermarket tabloid Weekly World News ran an article in about 1990 claiming that amphibians are in decline because aliens are collecting them for food. I'm using the comment in an otherwise serous article..." Robert Gannon, 35 Burrowes Building Penn State, University Park, PA 16802.

The Declining Amphibian Task Force (DAPTF) is offering 4 inch (10 cm) stickers featuring a Neobatrachus motif in a tasteful green and black printing. You can get it as a glass decal or an opaque sticker. Each is (UK POUNDS) 1.00. "Please send cheques or international money orders (in British pounds only please) made payable to DAPTF to John Wilkinson..." Department of Biology, The Open University, Walton Hall, Milton Keynes MK7 6AA, UK.

The government of South Korea is urging residents to collect all American bullfrogs on sight. Bullfrogs are eating their way through the fauna of local ponds, so the government is urging Koreans to eat as many bullfrogs as they can. They even had a frog cook-off in front of the Environment Ministry and recipes for fried frog, sweet and sour frog and frog gruel were distributed to the public. [Little Rock, Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, June 13, 1997 from Bill Burnett]

Iguana drive you home, now, o.k.?

Undercover agents serving a warrant in Clearwater, FL had trouble believing their eyes when they noticed a car moving erratically along U.S. Highway 19. They called for police backup which followed the car for a couple of miles until it pulled over. At the wheel was a 3.5-foot green and orange iguana. His owner was slumped down in the passenger seat, apparently drunk. An agent said, "It's not every day you find a lizard driving a car. And nobody had a camera." The man was arrested on a drunk-driving charge and the iguana was taken to the local animal shelter. [Orlando, FL Sentinel, June 14, 1997 from Bill Burnett] Some lawyer is going to have fun with this one. The iguana wasn't drunk, but it was driving without a license. The man was allegedly drunk, but he wasn't driving even though he was busted for DUI. So, are you responsible for underage, unlicensed iguanas that decide to drive your car while you're passed out in the passenger seat? I hope somebody out there finds the end of this story!

Thanks to everybody for contributing!

I received two super post cards this month, one with a glorious red-eyed tree frog from Irene Flebbe, the other from Philip Jones from Thailand. My mailman really likes the postcards. So do I! You can join my ultrafavorite CHS members by cutting out whole pages of newspaper, or clippings with the publication/date slug firmly attached with tape, putting your name on each piece (return address labels are handy for this) and mailing to me. Sorry, no email right now. Due to a bureaucratic snafu at my alma mater, all alumni e-mail accounts were cancelled as of August 8. We received six days notice. Apparently they will not be forwarding mail to our new service providers, either. Please do not use the old email address as your letters will deposit in an electronic vacuum. I will post my new address in next month's column.

September 1997

It was great to see you, too

For those who weren't at the August meeting, y'all missed a great talk by Roger Repp from Arizona. Great slides, cool animals, excellent presentation of two slide carrousels full of rattlesnakes, lyre snakes, Gila monsters and other denizens of the various habitats found around Tucson and in the great state of Arizona (even near Feenix). I also enjoyed reading the nametags of all the new board members, many of whom I'd never seen before. Do you get the idea that I haven't been at a meeting in a while? I sure did. Anyway, not only haven't I been at meetings, but the number of animals I keep is at an all time low - being down to just a few toads and a bird. So I have a lot of empty tanks, home-made lids, heat lamps/pads, thermometers, pumps, filters, flat rocks, water bowls and all the other impedimenta of a largish herp collection. I also have many, many natural history books (quite a few on herps), a large collection of framed and unframed posters, photos and prints, event tee-shirts (in all sizes), costume jewelry with a herp motif, and souvenirs from herp meetings including the World Congress of Herpetology in Canterbury. On Saturday, November 15 from 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. I'm going to have a "Great Herpetological Re-sale Sale," and you are all invited. You may also take (for free!) clippings used to write this column for the last eleven years. Get all your Herp Holiday shopping out of the way. There's lots of free street parking and I'm 1/2 block from the CTA el station. Hope to see you then!

No newts ain't good news

California Newts (Taricha torosa) in the Santa Monica Mountains are in decline and researchers suspect that introduced mosquito fish and wildfires which have reduced shading along streams may be at fault. Mosquito fish have been documented eating newt larvae according to Lee Kats, a herpetologist at Pepperdine University. [Los Angeles Times, August 15, 1997 from Norman Scott, Jr.]

Frog news

Deformed frog observations are being collected at http://www.npsc.nbs.gov/narcam and at a toll free number 1-800-238-9801 by the National Biological Service. Citizens are asked not to collect living deformed amphibians; herpetologists will be sent out to sample the sites. However, dead deformed amphibians should be preserved. Take them to your local university herpetology department or museum curator. Freezing destroys tissue and should be avoided unless no other preservation method is available. [The Orlando Sentinel, June 29, 1997 from Bill Burnett and Science News, July 12, 1997 from Karen Furnweger]

Five Madagascar tomato frogs have successfully bred at the Baltimore Zoo, producing about 4,000 tadpoles, some of which have transformed into froglets. Several factors were considered key to the successful reproduction. Keepers lowered the depth of the water, reduced humidity levels and dropped temperatures from 75 to 70 degrees, thus duplicating conditions found in the frogs' habitat during breeding season. The curator of amphibians said, "They just responded beautifully." While tomato frogs have been bred in captivity before, all previously recorded attempts included the use of hormones to jump start the reproductive cycle. [The Baltimore Sun, August 12, 1997 from Mark Witwer]

Nature Conservancy Magazine had an excellent article about the Ramsey Canyon leopard frog, which as its scientific name (Rana subaquavocalis) implies calls from under water in only a few pools in the Huachuca Mountains. The article continues with a discussion of the declining amphibian problem, citing the Wyoming toad and the Costa Rican golden toads and harlequin frogs. The Ramsey Canyon frogs are believed to number several hundred adults and Conservancy stewards are doing all they can in an effort to preserve the species. [September- October, 1997, 47(4) from Mark Witwer] The same issue has a fascinating piece on the number of extinctions of flora and fauna by state. Washington State has zero, but Alabama has a whopping 98 species extinct. One assumes the author is only referring to the conterminous United States when he writes, "Alabama is the nations fourth-richest kingdom of plant and animal species; in species per square mile, only Florida can match it. Its waterways hold half of all species of turtles found in North America... Only two years ago, a near-barren patch of rock... presented weight undescribed species of flowering plants... Among [Alabama's] remaining 3,800 species of plants and animals, more than one of every four are considered in danger of extinction."

The shape of things to come.

A man in Gilbert, Arizona was writing programs for business applications and had started a hobby business of raising ostriches when somebody gave him his first tortoise. Now he has 75 tortoises, including several he was given by Federal agencies after confiscations. He says his Aldabras are more docile than the Galapagos tortoises even though their general size and shape is similar. The Feds even gave him some star tortoises which had been "stuck in a shoe box and shoved under a desk without food or water." Most died, but he did keep one from that batch. The man applies his computer knowledge to herp care. The cages are monitored for temperature and humidity, while other computers change heat lamps, fans, misters and heating pads to keep the various reptiles in optimum condition. [The Arizona Republic, August 23, 1997 from Tom Taylor]

The party's over

People who carelessly bought baby iguanas for pets, perhaps inspired by a dinosaur movie, are now ditching the animals in record numbers. In 1995, 840,000 iguanas were imported from Central America and Mexico into the U.S., now animal agencies and herp societies are getting dozens to hundreds of calls from people trying to abandon their pets. As we all know, iguanas are vegetarian and can be quite a handful to feed and house after they get bigger than the adorable baby phase. Some people are irresponsibly abandoning their pets outdoors. A Humane Society volunteer said, "Too many [people] strive to get the most exotic pet out there - their own little dinosaur ... once you find out it may not be your pet of choice, it's the animal who suffers." The Arizona Herpetological Association has been inundated with secondhand iguanas, sometimes having as many as 30 on hand. [The Arizona Republic, July 12, 1997 from Tom Taylor] Personally, I'll never forget the (former) CHS Animal Adoption Chair who said that if we didn't find homes for the two dozen iguanas we had at that time, that we were going to have "one hell of a barbecue."

Caiman abandoned to CHS member

A Chicago person who does not wish their name used because owning caimans is illegal in the City, turned over a 4-foot caiman to Larry Reed, a Porter, Indiana veterinarian and frequent contributor to this column (The Caymanian Compass). Reed said, "It's the nicest caiman I've ever had my hands on. It wasn't aggressive at all. Apparently whoever owned it before handled it a lot. It's in good shape, very good shape." Reed said he would try to place it with one of the dozen or so local people who keep reptiles. [The Porter County Times and The Chesterton Tribune, both July 16, 1997 from Jack Schoenfelder]

Range extension

Brahminy blind snakes from Southeast Asia have been found in Hawaii, Florida, Louisiana and as far north as Boston. But, fear not, for these snakes grow only about 6 inches long and look like a rather shiny American brown snake. They eat ants and termites and live in loose soil. The females are parthenogenetic which means you only need one to make many, many more. In New Orleans, they are found around the Audubon Zoo, mostly around the tropical rain forest exhibit. It is possible that they are moved by landscapers and in landscaping materials. One Louisiana herpetologist said, "They are probably all over the place." [The Lakefront Picayune, New Orleans, June 5, 1997 from Ernie Liner]

Arribada, 1997 - part II

About 35,000 olive ridley sea turtles hit Mexican beaches in June this year, most arrived in only three nights. The large numbers are cited as a result of aggressive anti-poaching operations, development of sustainable turtle use by local people and the navy patrolling the coast. There has been a ten-fold increase in the number of nesting turtles from 1988 to 1997, according to Mexican officials. [June 27, 1997: The Little Rock Democrat Gazette from Bill Burnett and The New Orleans Times-Picayune from Ernie Liner]

Arrivaderci, 1997

About 100 baby Kemp's ridley turtles were released on Padre Island National Seashore while park visitors watched. Rangers wearing latex gloves released the day-old hatchlings in an effort to "imprint" them on the sands of the Island. Two females have been observed nesting on the Island; it is believed they came because they were part of a previous release effort. [The Courier, Houma, LA, July 30, 1997 from Ernie Liner]

Laws, rules and regulations

The San Diego Zoo is covered with signs which read "Please do not annoy, torment, pester, plague, molest, worry, badger, harry, harass, heckle, persecute, irk, bullyrag, vex, disquiet, grate, beset, bother, tease, nettle, tantalize, or ruffle the animals." [Souvenir sign from Eloise Beltz- Decker]

"Reptiles don't have a lot of jury appeal. It's getting better, but people used to say, `So what? It's just a Gila monster.'" said a special agent for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service commenting on the difficulty of prosecuting reptile neglect or abuse cases. [Chicago Tribune, July 31, 1997 from Ray Boldt and Claus Sutor]

"According to the Code of Federal Regulations for Parks, Forests, and Public Property, the `feeding, touching, teasing, frightening, or intentionally disturbing of wildlife nesting, breeding or other activities' is prohibited under CFR 36, wildlife protection, section 2.2 (a) (2). On federal lands, the use of a snake stick to move a snake into position for photographing is therefore unlawful." [National Parks Magazine, Volume 71 (7-8) July/August, 1997 from Mark Witwer]

The latest round in an apparently never ending saga of the attempted prosecutions of CHS member Tony Janowski for possession of 1,174 turtles and 96 nonvenomous snakes in a van stopped in August 1994 on Interstate 55 in downstate Illinois, has just been filed by State Attorney Bill Workman. The state had initially charged him with three misdemeanors and a felony charge of transporting protected aquatic life for commercial purposes. The charges were dismissed by a judge twice, first in January 1995 for vague wording in the charges and the second time in May of the same year. Now, the state's attorney feels that the second ruling should be overturned because it establishes a bad precedent (that the statute of limitations can run out while a case is waiting appeal). [The Courier, Logan County, IL from Steve Coogan]

A family faces a $250 fine and 30 days in jail if they are charged with an Ohio misdemeanor for transporting wildlife across state lines. The curious story starts with a rental house in Florida where a 76-year old lady had lived for 18 years. The whole time she was there, she fed the local resident wild gopher tortoise which lived in the back yard. Then she moved and the family sold the house, but found out the new owners had dogs. So they took the tortoise with them when they moved to Ohio. Unfortunately for them, gopher tortoises are protected and it is illegal to take them out of Florida, so now they're in trouble. [The Orlando Sentinel, July 18, 1997 from Bill Burnett]

Rattlesnakes bite three

Three Canadians were bitten recently on the Thirty Thousand Islands of Georgian Bay, Ontario. The Parry Sound hospital treated all three, the last arrived in critical condition and would have died without the 30 vials of antivenin with which he was treated. After recovery, he said "I went to pick up a rock [in the campground]... and felt a really deep bite in my hand." [Toronto Sun, August 5, 1997] Contributor Brian Bankowski wrote, "It's funny that the only people that seem to meet up with snakes are the one's that don't want to!!"

Dog food

A 7-foot boa constrictor got onto an enclosed Los Angeles patio and ate a 74-year old woman's pet Chihuahua while she watched, helpless to intervene. The woman has vowed to fight for laws that would keep wild animals out of the city except in zoos. [Chicago Tribune, August 13, 1997 from Scott Keator, Ray Boldt and Claus Sutor]

A Florida couple looked on in dismay when an alligator grabbed their 4.5-year old chocolate Labrador which had been playing in less than a foot of water in a lake near Tallahassee. Although most of these stories end with the dog being eaten, in this case, the dog bit the alligator on the nose, the gator let go and the dog was taken for veterinary treatment. A licensed trapper later killed the gator while warning residents that children and dogs should be kept away from the water hole. [Fort Myers News-Press, August 15, 1997 from Ardis Allen]

Lost and found

An 8-foot long boa constrictor escaped its home in Lakemoor, a town in McHenry County, IL. The 26-year old owner contacted police to report the animal missing, but later found it a block away from his home. The county prohibits private possession of snakes longer than 6 feet, so the Animal Control Unit is investigating to see if the man had violated any other animal ordinances. [Chicago Tribune, July 26, 1997 form Claus Sutor]

A woman in Pompano Beach, Florida awoke when a 5.5-foot boa constrictor cuddled up next to her in bed. She said, "I jumped out of the bed and saw the outline of something in the dark. I turned on the light in the bathroom. And there it was. Its head was on my pillow." The 3.5-year old rainbow boa had disappeared from a neighbor's bathtub six weeks earlier. [The Orlando Sentinel, July 12, 1997 from Bill Burnett]

Drugs, snakes and guns - again

Police in Springdale, Arkansas arrested a 34-year old man and a 31-year old woman on felony drug warrants and found several pounds of brick marijuana, a few ounces of powder methamphetamine, nine large snakes, and 20 guns including some equipped with silencers and night-vision devices in their house and thousands of dollars in cash and drug paraphernalia in their car. "A lot of the snakes were intermingled with the drugs to discourage anyone from coming near them," said the local sheriff. [The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, May 21, 1997 from Bill Burnett]

Reptile thefts

A 3-foot anaconda was stolen from a Portage, Indiana pet shop. The shop owner said the animal was very aggressive and suggested that the person who took it must have been experienced with snakes. The snake was priced at $250. [Vidette Times, July 30, 1997 from Jack Schoenfelder]

Sixteen Corn Island boa constrictors were stolen from a back porch in Sebastian, Florida and eight were recovered from a Melbourne pet store. The man who was keeping the snake for a friend who imports them from Nicaragua said, "I was shocked. I couldn't believe someone could manage to come in and just simply walk away with all the snakes." The snakes are valued at $400-500 apiece. [The Leesburg Daily Commercial, July 9, 1997 from Bill Burnett]

Teal appeal

The Shedd Aquarium needs your financial support to continue to breed and care for the critically endangered teal iguanas being maintained by the institution. Send donations to "T.I.F. - John G. Shedd Aquarium, Development Department, 1200 S. Lake Shore Drive, Chicago, IL 60605. Also, if you've not yet visited the new gift shop in the Aquarium (which you don't have to pay to get into) - it is a don't miss stop for all herp lovers. They have frog stuff and iguana stuff and even some snake stuff and the shop is modeled on the new fantasy architecture style popularized by WB and Disney. They have a six-foot sculpture of a red-eyed tree frog. Take your camera! If you have more time - the "Frogs!" exhibit is still up and hopping strong. I saw it again recently and enjoyed it just as much as the first time. [The Chicago Sun Times, March 12, 1997 from Ray Boldt for the fund appeal address]

Turtle strandings

The Brigantine, NJ Marine Mammal Stranding Center published the strandings list for 1996. Last year they found/received 58 turtles, of which only one could be released. They found 50 loggerhead, five leatherbacks and three Kemp's Ridleys; one loggerhead was released. [The Blowhole, Spring, 1997 from Bob Schoelkopf and Sheila Dean] You can contact the MMSC by writing P.O. Box 773, Brigantine, NJ 08203. If you are ever in Atlantic City for a convention or a trip, Brigantine is the next island over the bridge and the Center is well worth a visit.

Thanks to everyone who contributed this month.

You can contribute, too. Send actual pages of newspapers or magazines or clippings with the date/publication slug attached (tape please!) to me.

October 1997

Did anybody else notice this?

In a photo accompanying an article titled "Turning Turtle Racing Into a Financial Boomlet" in The New York Times, a 5-year old girl is shown staring at the "turtle she entered... in the turtle races... 340 turtles were entered." Several people [E.A. Zorn, K.S. Mierzwa and P.L. Beltz] sent in the clippings, but no one remarked that the approximately four inch long painted turtle being held by the child is being held plastron upward and looks to be quite distressed about it! [June 29, 1997]

Help rattlesnakes, write letters

"Wisconsin needs your help to prevent the extirpation of the Timber Rattlesnake from the state. The Natural Resources Board has passed a pseudo-protection rule, where the species is listed as a "Protected Wild Animal", BUT a "self-defense" clause allows killing the snakes at any time, any where, by any means, without any reporting requirement or accountability other than for one to say one "felt threatened" or that a dog or cow was "in danger". Absolutely no reporting is required when a snake is killed.

The Web site on the Wisconsin Timber Rattlesnake has been completely updated at http://www.mpm.edu/collect/vertzo/herp/timber/factshe1.html.

Letters should be sent to: (1) Trygve A. Solberg, Chair Wisconsin Natural Resources Board, P.O. Box 50, Minoqua, WI 54548; (2) Betty Jo Nelsen, Vice-Chair Wisconsin Natural Resources Board, 4033 Petit Rd., Oconomowoc, WI 53066; (3) George E. Meyer, Secretary Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, P.O. Box 7921, Madison, WI 53707. Clearly state your concerns for the final board decision. Politely demand that the reporting requirement be reinstituted with the 1-800 number, which does not inconvenience landowners. Make the point that populations are clearly well below viability and that the Department has shirked its responsibility to protect an imperiled species. Use the following points as you see fit.
  1. The proposed rule will increase the risk of snake bite to the public, by sanctioning instead of prohibiting snake-human interaction;
  2. The decision clearly contravenes the intent of the Protected Wild Animal rule, where a protected animal is allowed special exemptions from protection without any accountability. It will allow the killing of rattlesnakes anywhere, anytime, in any manner, with no requirement to tell anyone that the killing occurred. One need only state that one felt "threatened", or that one's dog or cow was "threatened", to legally kill the animal;
  3. The amendment for reporting included providing for no carcass handling to minimize bite risks, and an 1-800 number for reporting. This is the part of the suggested compromise that was never read;
  4. The lack of a reporting requirement robs the Department of the opportunity to collect valuable scientific information on human-induced mortality, identify areas with snake populations are in contact with residents, and collect biological information on carcasses; (5) The rule affords very little protection to this vanishing species (the only enforceable provision is the ban on possession of rattlesnakes), and will likely result in the future need to list the species as a threatened or endangered species."


Background and news summaries are available on the website http://www.mpm.edu/collect/vertzo/herp/timber/Conserv.htm

"1997 Timber Rattlesnake Survey Results: Data collected strongly advanced the case for listing as a threatened species, supporting an estimated population decline of one order of magnitude (meaning that where there once were 100 snakes only 10 remain) with few viable populations remaining. Only one viable den site could be found in 1997...

On August 27, 1997, the Natural Resources Board voted to approve the listing as a Protected Wild Animal, but changed the language to allow the killing of rattlesnakes in "life threatening" situations and to "protect" pets and livestock, and changed the reporting requirement for such killing to a voluntary request.

Implications of the Board ruling: If allowed to stand, the wording of the NRB revised rule should result in the following:
  • It will allow the killing of rattlesnakes anywhere, anytime, in any manner, with no requirement to tell anyone that the killing occurred. One need only state that one felt "threatened", or that one's dog or cow was "threatened", by the snake to legally kill it. This clearly contravenes the intent of the Protected Wild Animal rule;
  • It will increase the risk of snake bite to the public by sanctioning, instead of prohibiting, snake-human interaction;
  • It will not allow for the collecting of human induced mortality data within the rattlesnake's range, as no reporting is required;
  • It will afford very little protection to this vanishing species (the only enforceable provision is the ban on possession of rattlesnakes).


What's next? This rule will now go to the two Natural Resource Committees of the state legislature for approval. Mr. Johnsrud, as chair of the Natural Resources Committee, is expected to hold more hearings before it goes to the Assembly's committee for a vote. Gary S. Casper [http://www.mpm.edu/collect/garyc.html Coordinator, Wisconsin Herpetological Atlas Project ... http://www.mpm.edu/collect/vertzo/herp/atlas/welcome.html ... Chair, Great Lakes Declining Amphibians Working Group http://www.mpm.edu/collect/vertzo/herp/daptf.html Regular mail to Gary at: Vertebrate Zoology Section, Milwaukee Public Museum, 800 W. Wells St., Milwaukee, WI 53233.

Lawsuit planned

"Tucson Herpetological Society, Horned Lizard Conservation Society, Defenders of Wildlife, and other conservation organizations intend to sue the US Fish and Wildlife Service [USFWS] for denying listing of the flat-tailed horned lizard under the Endangered Species Act. On July 15, 1997, USFWS withdrew its rule to list the species due, in part, to a recent unproven Conservation Agreement. Plaintiffs say the lizard meets four of five conditions that trigger listing, any one of which can trigger listing." [Greenlines, August 14, 1997 from Roger Featherstone]

Turtles seized in Sri Lanka

"Reuters reports customs officials in Sri Lanka this week seized 41 endangered star tortoises being smuggled to Germany, part of what is believed to be a large-scale smuggling ring. Officials say that Sri Lanka has become a smuggling hot spot due to an absence of laws to punish offenders. [Greenlines, August 14, 1997 from Roger Featherstone]

Busted on the way to Orlando

"Two men on their way to a reptile breeders show were arrested when they tried to smuggle snakes and turtles worth $70,000 into the country, authorities said. Reptile dealers Kei Tomono, 26, of Chiba City, Japan, and Masakazu Iseya, 41, of Hasuda City, Japan, were arrested last week at Orlando International Airport by agents from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Agents found eight snakes thought to be from Southeast Asia in Tomono's suitcase. Two turtles were in Iseya's luggage, said Assistant U.S. Attorney Tom Turner. U.S. Customs officials in San Francisco had notified the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service that Tomono, a suspected smuggler, and Iseya were scheduled to arrive in San Francisco that afternoon from Japan. A secret search of their bags revealed the snakes and turtles, but the men and their luggage were allowed to continue to Orlando. Both were arrested and charged with importing wildlife without disclosing it to U.S. officials as required by law. On August 7 an Orlando grand jury indicted Tomono on separate smuggling charges. He is accused of smuggling 64 Fly River turtles indigenous to Indonesia and Australia, and 113 snakeneck turtles to Orlando in April 1996. Both types of turtles are endangered in Japan. Trellis Poe of the National Reptile Breeders Exposition, which sponsored the show in Orlando over the weekend, said the group does not condone smuggling. "Everything has to be captive-born,'' Poe said. "Everything has to be licensed. And if we find someone here who isn't doing what they're supposed to be doing, we don't let them come back.'' U.S. Magistrate James Glazebrook set bail Friday for Tomono at $100,000, but suspended it pending a review by a federal judge. Iseya's bail was set at $25,000. [Miami Herald, August 18, 1997, from Allen Salzberg]

Busted at home in Holland

"Associated Press reports a Dutch owner of a reptile business has been indicted on charges he illegally smuggled 13 endangered tortoises into the US. Customs agents in Florida found the Madagascar tortoises, listed under the Endangered Species Act, hidden in five socks in Freidrich Postma's suitcase. Postma faces a maximum sentence of five years in prison and a $250,000 fine." [Greenlines, September 9, 1997 from Roger Featherstone]

It may have seemed like a good idea...

The Sydney, Australia Daily Telegraph reports that: "Queensland's rarest snakes could be poached into extinction because of a radical New South Wales [NSW} wildlife protection policy, Queensland fauna squad police fear. The fears were revealed in response to the NSW Environment Department's plans to pursue a policy of an amnesty for illegal reptile keepers to register collections. Queensland Police fauna squad chief John O'Shea has written to the Queensland government urging it to protest about the amnesty which is expected to be announced this week. Sergeant O'Shea said the amnesty could in fact cause the extinction of rare reptiles in the wild. He said in the letter obtained under Freedom of Information that the amnesty had already prompted a black market buying spree by illegal NSW reptile keepers. [September 23, 1997 from Raymond Hoser http://www.smuggled.com.

Busted for taking tuataras, again!

Bruce Hudson of the New Zealand Herpetological Society kindly sent me an advance copy of his article about the arrest and sentencing of a man for taking four tuataras from the wild. Bruce wrote: "Go to jail. Go directly to jail. Do not pass go. DO NOT collect tuataras. Frederick Robert Angell, aged 38, a panelbeater of Waimate (160 km north of Dunedin) was the first person to be imprisoned for the smuggling of tuatara. Now he is also the second. The most recent chapter of the Angell story started with four tuatara found in a box near Waimate in May this year. (See May 17 Evening Standard report, page 18 of Moko 97/2). Appearing in court on August 15 this year, Angell pleaded guilty to a number of breaches under the Wildlife Act, Endangered Species Act, plus the theft of a motor vehicle. Angell admitted to the taking the four tuatara in May, and according to a Nelson Mail report (Aug 15) conspiring with Anson Wong to trade in tuatara between May 12 and July 4. Anson Wong is a wildlife trader based in Penang, Malaysia. Angell was released on bail under strict probation conditions so he would have a chance to put his affairs in order, as it was felt likely that he would receive a prison sentence. Angell slipped his bail and simply didn't turn up for his day in Nelson court on Friday August 22. He had been reported leaving for Nelson from Waimate the previous evening, possibly in a stolen car. There was much speculation where Angell could have run to, but Radio New Zealand were reporting a sighting of him in South Canterbury on August 28. Later, Angell admitted breaching bail, plus according to other reports was implicated in other crimes. When recaptured, Angell attempted to change his plea to not guilty, asserting that he suspected entrapment. Judge Walker of the Nelson District Court rejected his application when the prosecution revealed that the associate was not an undercover agent as alleged, but had merely assisted DoC officials with their enquiries. Bizarrely, Angell had also asked that a Maori high priest to lift a tapu on him, which surprised a number of people, as there is little to suggest that Angell was previously concerned with Maori protocol. Sentencing Judge Walker sentenced Angell to three years and three months in prison, and ordered equipment Angell used to be forfeited. Angell was also fined $2400. For many individuals, this sentence would have been very severe. But for repeat offenders like Angell? The New Zealand justice system is geared to rehabilitate offenders, so an individual like Angell gets soft sentencing. Its likely that the incentive of early release will motivate Angell to say I'm going straight now. Only time will tell if he is to be believed this time. What makes Angell tick? Angell has consistently offended and re-offended over the years, so the question of what motivates him to re-offend must be asked. At several thousand dollars per animal, money has to be a big factor. According to Judge Walker, Angell was motivated by personal gain and a willing partner in the taking of tuatara. A secondary factor is that Angell has become well known as someone who is prepared to illegally supply wildlife for a buck. It is probable Angell will be contacted in the future by less scrupled people, or perhaps like Anson Wong, will make him offers if he can get his hands on some of New Zealand's fauna. This may prove to be too much a temptation for Angell to resist. Harsh words from some... One government official said [off record] that Angel... should be injected with a sedative, jammed into a tight fitting tube and shipped around the world for a few months... soaking in his own... [then something unprintable, about the tube not being fitted with toilet facilities.] Angell even attracted comment from DoC minister Nick Smith, who was reported in the Timaru Herald (September 12) as saying, "It must be damned frustrating to have to deal with repeated smuggling attempts from the likes of Mr Angell. One wonders how many times a person has to be prosecuted to recognize that New Zealanders wont tolerate people hocking off their heritage?" [via email September 23, 1997]

Frogs dying in Central America

"The New York Times reports 9/23 that biologists believe a lethal protozoan is killing frogs across Central America. Habitat loss has been cited as the main reason for population declines, but the introduction of pathogens is an explanation for widespread frog death in pristine environments. If protozoan are responsible for frog deaths, question remain: How was the infectious disease spread, and since the lethality and spread of the disease suggests it was introduced, by whom?" Greenlines #467, September 24, 1997 from Roger Featherstone]

Hope to see you all November 15

Several people have asked why my collection is so small that I am selling tanks, heaters, pumps, filters, flat rocks, water bowls and the other impedimenta of a formerly largish herp collection at my "Great Herpetological Re-sale Sale" on Saturday November 15 from 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. What happened was that the adjoining property owner wrecked an old building on his property and just about wrecked my house in the process. I was away when it happened (of course) and when I got home found my basement flooded (the heat off, of course), my foundation undercut, and my side walkway and catch basin missing. Most of the concrete in the basement heaved when the catch basin rose upward under hydrostatic pressure. So we had to move everything in a hurry. Also, the engineers that the insurance company called in said for us not to heat the basement. They were afraid the whole building would slip into the excavation! Obviously, some of our animals had to go. We couldn't possibly house a basement full of critters in an apartment already full of critters and people. So we found homes for the big, bright, showy stuff and moved the salamanders and frogs into the bedroom (some were even under the footed bathtub for a while!) and anywhere else we could stuff an animal's tank. Needless to say, the initial mortality was high and subsequent mortality over the past year in addition to giving away any animal that I possibly could has reduced my need for aquaria and the associated accessories. To repair the damage to the drywall (every seam was cracked) we had to move our stuff out room by room so that the work could be done. This resulted in me sorting out books, posters, tshirts, tchochkes, dust catchers, herp jewelry and other little things that I think other people would enjoy having. Incidentally, the insurance, while covering a lot - did not cover everything. And nothing can cover my anguish at losing so much so fast. So, now that you know why we're having the sale. I hope everybody comes to it. I will be giving away clippings used to create these columns and hope that we have a lovely party in and around recycling a whole lot of really cool herp stuff. There's plenty of curbside parking, but be citysmart in what you leave out in plain view. We are 1/2 block north of the Howard Red Line Station of the CTA and there's an official bike rack three buildings south of the house. If you've been here before, I can wait until you see how the neighborhood has changed!

Next month this column returns to its regular clipping-oriented format.

I had to rush this time and so used a lot of Internet stuff because it only needs to be edited rather than written. Please continue to send clippings with the date/publication slug firmly attached (or the whole sheet - there's little weight to newspaper). In either case, please put your name on each piece and mail to me. Letters and text to my new private email address.

November 1997

Yosemite

As many of you know, I've been rock climbing in Yosemite National Park, California, for the past month. Last month's column was written in a haze of "leaving next week fever." I hope you enjoyed it, but I have no clue what was in it. Myself and a pair of climbers with dreams of their second ascent of El Capitan left Chicago on a Saturday afternoon, slept at Bonneville Salt Flats, saw Mono Lake at sunset Monday and drove into the Park. My first view of the 3,000 foot tall, weathered granite pluton called "El Capitan" was of its dark rock face outlined in thousands of stars. As my eyes adjusted, I began to notice lights on the rock face itself. We were seeing other climbers head lamps; some over 2,000 feet above the valley floor. The scale of the rock cliffs just has to be seen to be believed. Take my word for this - I grew up in a 17th floor apartment in Manhattan, New York. The canyons of skyscrapers in New York City are on average half as high as the rock faces in Yosemite valley. As in the City, the light and consequent warmth, is a fleeting thing; uneven heating and cooling does strange things to airflow as well. Plants and animals colonize the smallest nooks and crannies of any structure as we saw first hand. When my family moved to Chicago in 1969, we got an apartment on the 76th floor of the John Hancock Building. Our apartment had the "beams" from the building's steel skeleton. Within a few weeks of moving in, there were lichens on the metal and spiders in the corners of the beams. Spiders are carnivores, of course, so that implies there's smaller stuff for them to eat! City vertical landscapes tend to be a world of "super tramps," plants and animals that maximize their opportunities by taking advantage of changing conditions. Yosemite's vertical wilderness is a cross between some apparently hardy and adaptable species, and some things I've seen no where else. The rocks support a fascinating ecosystem. The plants and animals coexist in associations, but microhabitats can separated by as little as a few feet. It would be next to impossible to draw lines around a constantly changing dance between sunlight and shadow, wet or dry, windy or sheltered. The different orientations of the thousands of sheared off rock planes result in adjoining areas having vastly different doses of sun, wind, rain, mist, pouring or standing water. We saw two major types of rock face habitat: open face and in rock planes or cracks. Open faces usually are covered with lichens which are slippery and to be avoided. Small cracks support mosses, succulents and tiny grasses (although some may be sedges or rushes if there is enough water).

Some naturalists decry climbing as destructive to the ecosystem, but I disagree. One of the first thing any climber learns is "keep your feet off the plants." Trust me, stepping on a slippery little succulent a thousand feet up can ruin your entire day. You also want to keep your gear out of the larger cracks and joint planes in the rock which support all the tiny stuff, flowering plants and trees. Manzanita and canyon live oak are common trees along the planes. Trees are a really nice thing to have on a climb. There's nothing so airy as a belay hanging off a featureless crack with no plants and no trees. Even the ants and silverfish don't hang out on flat, featureless rock. Belays off trees are somehow much more cozy. If you sit still enough on belay near a tree, you will see all the animals. Lizards poke their heads out when they think the climbers have left. Spiders spin and odd bee-like creatures investigate every button and thread of your gear. Squirrels chase each other around the rock. Another thing climbers learn early is "don't put your rope down a crack." Dry cracks are full of leaves, dirt and snakes; wet cracks form perched ponds if there is no drain. Perched ponds have frogs. The frogs say "my pond, my pond" and give you little wet looks like "Could you leave now, please?" As a last resort, they hide in the cracks and use the acoustics to say, "MY POND, MY POND" in your ear for the next twenty minutes. Perhaps the coziest places on the rocks walls are shelves and rock terraces. You can see them from the valley floor by the outline of the incense cedars and pines. The one place where climbers do really impact the environment are on ledges and terraces. Both are good sleeping places for people, any habitat value they had before is gone if they're on a climbing route. Decades of climbers have groomed most terraces to just gravel sand with all the new falling rocks being put to the outside. The result is a little, rock-walled structure. The artificial talus slope is marvelous for spiders which arachnophobic people soon discover. People who don't like snakes would probably not like this in summer when the rattlers are out. Sleeping on a ledge makes you feel like a real primitive especially when the arrival of the next team climbing the face below wakes you up.

The last and scariest features on big walls hang over your head. Roofs are not cozy especially when you have to climb around or over it. Think CTA Elevated platform roofs, or the tunnels in the subway. Roofs can be as small as a garden shed roof - or big enough to cover Union Station. Under these giant hanging slabs of granite hundreds of feet off the ground, mosses and ferns overgrow old pitons and other gear left in the margin. Smaller than roofs, but more ominous are the dozens of loosely cemented flakes and blocks which are just waiting for sufficient inspiration to join the rest of the talus at the bottom of these huge rocks. One assumes there are animals under roofs and flakes. My guess would be various invertebrates and salamanders as we have seen them in downward facing joint planes in the Appalachians. One day, on belay on Royal Arches, I watched three pebbles fall from under a flake: one, two (count to twenty), three. A few seconds later, two squirrels came roaring out from under the flake, chased each other around like they were on a downed log in the forest, not 500 feet off the ground, and return to the shelter of the flake. This all took about a minute and a half; after than there was no sign that there was anything bigger than a lizard anywhere in the area.

My Chicago friends and I climbed the apron at Glacier Point which is near where the rock slide happened which killed a hiker two years ago. You can always see fresh talus; there are no plants or trees growing on it, yet. This highly publicized talus pile is puny compared to others which we walk up on our way to the rock faces. It apparently fell on the only fen in the valley and wiped out the only known population of a fen plant. The geologist in me wonders if fens and seeps might indicate paths of instability in the rock. Saturated material is incompetent and large blocks of granite saturated in water (or surrounded in ice) can come crashing down at any time. Yosemite rock talus is composed of broken pieces of the granitic rocks: granite, granodiorite and diorite. The chunks can range from house-sized boulders down to granite sand. The boulders tend to be buried in the smaller size pieces of cobble, gravel and sand rather than free standing with large, room-sized gaps - although a few hillsides have these cave-and-lid boulder cities. Free-standing boulders are good places to learn how to climb the canyon big walls and people are climbing the popular boulder problems all day and all night. One problem, lighted by the NPS incidentally as it is right next to the ghetto comfort facility, is actually called "Midnight Lightening." Whether for the electric charge you get from doing it - or from your need to lose weight before trying it's overhanging puzzles - no one knew.

At sunrise and sunset the mammals come out. If you ever go to Yosemite, do not leave any food in your car. Do not leave candy wrappers or empty coolers in your car. The bears have learned what human food looks like and they peel open cars (I am not kidding you) and pop out minivan windows, then crawl in the car and trash it until they find the food. Every morning a truck labeled "Wildlife Damage Control" drives around and counts the cars. One day it was 19 cars. Another day it was only 14, but two were in one of the hotel parking lots, so there was quite an uproar. Many climbers sleep in their cars in the ghetto parking lot; one reported seeing a mom and two babies in and out of an adjoining car. He said that the last baby to exit played with the steering wheel like he was driving until mom called again and the baby hopped out the peeled open drivers' side door! The squirrels will steal anything you leave out and the raccoons come through camp and village with impunity, standing meerkat-like to beg for food from tourists. We tried to feed one a clove of garlic and they never came back again! Keep wildlife wild, after all.

In October, reptiles in the hanging gardens and associated talus slopes, slick rock, and ledges covered in talus include the western fence lizard and the alligator lizard while amphibians seen were Pacific tree frogs and amphibians heard were either two species of toads or one species of toad making two different noises. There is no way to catch a toad calling from deep within boulder talus. It would seem that there are perched ponds (perhaps in old joint planes) buried deep under the boulder-sized rubble at the base of the slopes. One of the park people said that the toads have a fall activity or false activity phase, but there were no papers or posters in the National Park Service (NPS) visitor center with any information. A day of rain brought out the introduced bullfrogs which live in the permanent pond in front of the prestigious Ahwanee Hotel. I was surprised that the obvious attempt to assist larger native ranids in the Sierras (remove the bullfrogs) had not been done, nor were there signs or displays about frogs or frog declines. Signs at Half Dome summit said that you were to stay on the trail to avoid damaging salamander habitat, but no salamanders were actively being sought by your correspondent at the top of a bruising 8.5 mile "hike" from the Nature Center (closed for the season) to the top of Half Dome.

It had snowed the night before and all the passes out of the park were closed because of the unexpectedly early storm. With nowhere to go, and the chains to the top scheduled to be removed for winter two days later, I decided to brave the weather and try for the top of the rock. Part of me wanted to look down to see how I would feel at height in the valley. I sure didn't realize that even from the top of a tourist trail you don't get the "climbing view" - really straight down the rock face. The bottom of the hike is relentlessly vertical, then lulls you with a long walk in a meadow, followed by switchbacks in a pine forest. The top is all rock and was pretty miserable, but it gave me an idea of what the books call an "early fall Sierran ice storm." The top of Half Dome was catching weather that other rocks in the valley didn't get that day. It was actually high enough and in the right place for the winds to push wet clouds up against the face. Then when the wet cloud hit the cold rock face, the water condensed out and - if you were high enough - froze instantly. Your nose grows icicles under these conditions. A half an hour of this is enough to make you question the sanity of any winter expedition. The top of the rock, even on the tourist trail, was slippery and cold and if any salamander (endangered or otherwise) had chosen to take a walk that day, it would have iced up solid before it got one step out of its rock crevice. There are no logs or other cover objects because previous tourists took all the downed wood and even chopped down six of the seven trees which used to grow there to build camp fires, surrounded (of course) by any loose rocks which may have sheltered burrows or provided habitat.

Out of the zone of ice and snow, on the 8.5 mile down hill hike, I really began to notice the plant zones. From bristlecones, through pines and cedars, to manzanita, to more cedars and other pines and finally to the maples, oaks and alders of the valley. I was walking with a lovely couple from south of San Francisco who had taken several wilderness medicine and survival classes. It was fascinating to learn about all the things you can do to hurt yourself while walking down 60 degree terrain composed of CCC built rock stairs of uneven height, width and weathering. The drop off into the river was always at least 50 feet, while at the falls it was more like 300 feet. The NPS has a really nice fence at the transition from high pool to water fall. It would have been more reassuring if all the fence posts had actually been in something; many were floating, broken off from their support hole, and held in place only by the chain link fencing. Maybe it's flood damage or hyperactive tour groups, but it was scarier than any climbing I did the whole trip. We managed to get down the damp, slippery rock stairs of the upper falls just at sunset and did the relatively easy last couple of miles to the base by head lamp. The valley was dry and people who spent the day on the bottom saw fluffy clouds up by Half Dome but received no rain at all. Every rock faces in the valley was lit by the gibbous moon which rose before sunset. The last shuttle bus was pulling off in the distance when we got to the trail head. Fortunately, the couple had a car parked at Curry Village, only about a half-mile further, and were staying in the climbers' ghetto, or there would have been a 4-mile base walk back to the tent.

The next day the weather improved and at night my Chicago friends and I hauled their 56 liters of water and another 125 pounds of food, clothes, sleeping platform and gear from the road, through the woods, and up the talus to the base of El Capitan. The next morning, I drove to the big trees grove at Mariposa to see the Sequoias with two students from Eugene, Oregon who had the adjoining camp at the ghetto. Trees to match the rock faces, apparently. Even a wide angle lens does you no good with these plants. One has a branch, 100 feet off the ground that is 10 feet in diameter. And that's just one branch. Imagine the trunk. The wildlife here was invisible. I wonder about the survival of the grove with the tourist road cut straight through - but this only continues the tradition. One tree is cut through so that stage coaches and early cars could drive through the tree! The drainage ways here are lined with horsetails. Usually these are indicators of slumps, or disturbed soils, but as these ditches are being fed by road runoff from above, anything is possible. Later we drove to Glacier Point which is the top of a pluton at about the same height as Half Dome and the top of El Capitan. Sunset here paints Half Dome yellow and pink, but you can't see El Cap at all, other rocks are in the way. We saw the rings of Saturn and the moons of Jupiter through my telescope at night and watched climbers on Royal Arches, Washington Column and the Lost Arrow Spire. At night, you can really see how many people are on the rock by counting the head lamps. Some were taking advantage of the extra light to climb after sunset. The rocks glow white for several days up to and beyond the full moon, but routes west of the Nose are shadowed from the rising moon for about an hour. Of course, the same features which make shadows in the day have moonshadows at night, so the features on the glowing rock walls keep changing all night.

There are no spectacular sunrises in the valley, the widest part is west to the setting sun - so by the time the light gets to the floor it is a bleached morning light. The rocks are warmer than the valley floor if they receive any sun at all. Thus the lizards stay active in sunset on one face of the rock, while the toads trill from the other by the light of the moon. The first warm day after the snow, I found the alligator lizard. It was a nice-sized animal, about 12 inches including the tail, and I picked it up quite easily - then reached for my camera. Big mistake here, folks. Yon wee beastie is called alligator lizard for the length of teeth strength of jaw ratio or because of its aggressive disposition, or some combination of these two. It drew blood on six fingers before I decided not to try for the photograph and let it go. I did creep up on the same block for a few days, but never saw the critter again. Stellar's jays tease photographers like Yosemite bears break into cars. (Visualize piranhas in a bowl of goldfish.) The squirrels never hold still either and the deer blend into the background worse than the lizards on the white granite rocks. I'm really glad I don't have to do nature photography there. The light is incredibly difficult to see in and is really hard to photograph well. Everything is either too light or too dark. That's this minute. Wait five minutes. What was too light may still be too light or it may now be too dark. Do too much of this and the wind changes in response to the changing patches of sun. If you're in shadow, you're cold, if not - you need shades and sunscreen. There is a pronounced "night wind" which flows up valley just before sunset. The different rocks from the smallest boulder to the big guys I've been on (Half Dome, Glacier Point, El Cap, Royal Arches, Washington's Column) have vastly different wind exposures. Some faces are incredibly sheltered, some are extremely exposed. You really learn about sun and wind hanging on belay for hours at a time. Anyone baked on one side and frozen on the other realizes quickly that wind and sun do not occur as linked variables here. Shady places are just as likely to be windy as not. One expects that all these factors change during the year in response to changing sun angles and valley weather. The fence lizards maximize their daily sun bath by always basking so that their whole top surface is in sun. They make little lizard sundials; sight off one of the other rocks in the valley and the lizard - you can tell the time of day. The moon tells you the other half.

While my Chicago friends were up on El Cap for ten days, I climbed a whole bunch of stuff, visited Hetch Hetchy Dam, and scaled the south face of Washington Column with an out-of- season ski instructor from Tahoe and the two students from Eugene. The route is a perfect beginner's big wall; it has a ledge to sleep on and plenty of interesting rock problems. The top is about 2,000 feet above the valley floor, so the pines in the floodplain get really, really small. Cars, but not their noise, disappear entirely until you can see the headlights. Then they're kind of like fireflies. The sleeping ledge reminded me of our apartment in the Hancock Building. There we were 850 feet above street level, here we were about the same, but with no glass walls. But we did have millions of stars over head, a marvelous view of Half Dome absolutely not seen on any postcards, and a crescent moon sailing up just after midnight. We actually spent two nights on Dinner Ledge which was great because I slept through the visit of the ringtails the first night. The second night, the ringtails actually got into one of the haul bags. I woke first and lighted the scene with my head lamp while the ski instructor leapt from his sleeping bag with his head lamp in one hand and a rock in the other. Zip goes the rock; the ringtail takes the hint and leaves. Only then does the guy realize he's standing 900 feet in mid air wearing only his sleeping belt and leash! I was laughing uncontrollably. The whole thing reminded me of a diorama in the natural history museum of one of our ancestors, fire in one hand, rock in the other - facing off some horrid beast in the dark! The next morning, we were wakened by the next party climbing South Face, but instead of racing them up, we rappelled down with the haul bags, our trash and our memories of a fascinating place few are privileged to see.

Then my friends were down from El Cap and it was time to go. Too soon! Goodbye climbers' ghetto, no more chilly mornings in paradise firing up the stove for coffee and washing in cold water (thank you, NPS!) in the camp latrine. No more tent and bearbox. No more 7-mile drive for a shower. Just a quick 2,200 mile, three-day trip (I thought) and back to my workday world, preparing for spring semester - two new classes to teach! So we packed the poor Jeep to the gunwales again, checked the tire pressure and drove out of the park through Tioga Pass. Through Tuolomne Meadows, past Mono Lake, out and down over the Sierras at sunset on Saturday. We drove through Nevada at night passing the ridges and basins with effortless acceleration. Our first clue of what was to come was when we saw our first overturned semi- trailer just east of Cheyenne, Wyoming, Sunday afternoon. It was a lovely sunset, all pink sky, blue horizon and white snow. Then the darkness brought us to the ice and snow which had blanketed Colorado. We drove into the tail of the blizzard in Nebraska - then were in the heart of the trouble. Interstate 80 was a skating rink. There was three to six inches of black ice on every surface, particularly bridges and overpasses. Every rest stop was packed with trucks, no room to get in. Same at all the truck stops and gas stations. I drove for three hours on this stuff, then pulled off 80 when the radio from Hastings, Nebraska announced that the state police wanted everybody off the road. We slept in our subzero gear (intended for a high Sierra early season ice storm) in the Jeep on the overpass at York. Too soon the sun came up and we found out 80 was closed due to a pile up of semi trucks just a few miles up the road. So we did the rest of Nebraska on side roads. I drove on up to twelve inches of ice, no snow on top of the hills, and all that snow down in the valleys. Quite fun. I'll take clinging to an exposed belay stand 300 meters up any day, thank you, before playing Dorothy Hamill with a 2,000 pound car for 250 miles. I thought about everyone who said "be careful, rock climbing is dangerous" for most of Nebraska. Iowa was fine, the highway was open, and looking at all the cars and trucks in the ditch was entertaining. The upside down mobile home was the overall parking winner, second place was awarded to the mating semi trucks, and "Ms. Congeniality" went to the girl in the overturned car who was sitting on her headliner in a blanket, reading a book!

Monday night at suppertime, we rolled into Chicago traffic complete with "news" radio traffic and weather calling for the usual hour and five in from the airport. I slept for the next two days. So now I am back home, trying to write a column for CHS at three in the morning and finding that I can't focus on the clippings you've so kindly sent, but I can type and write what just happened. So, I hope you'll forgive only the second travelogue in 10 years - rather than the usual clipping/news oriented format. Next month (yes, that's two times I've promised now) I'll return to the news. Please keep sending stuff to me.

December 1997

Aesop updated

"Once upon a time, a beautiful, independent, self assured princess happened upon a frog in a pond. The frog said to the princess, "I was once a handsome prince until an evil witch put a spell on me. One kiss from you and I will turn back into a prince and then we can marry, move into the castle with my mom where you can prepare my meals, clean my clothes, bear my children and forever feel lucky for doing so. That night, the princess had frog legs for dinner." [from Chris Drew via the Internet]

War of the Bullfrogs

"Food was the main reason the bullfrogs came to [South] Korea in the first place. The government imported them as a meat supplement in 1973 and earlier, when Koreans were still among Asia's poor. The bullfrogs didn't catch on with diners, but they did work their way into the ecosystem. With no natural predators, they began to take over South Korea's lakes and swamps, threatening local snakes, frogs and fish... the Ministry of Environment was put in charge of the bullfrog-extermination program... [and is] getting the public to do the dirty work... [a] television documentary... opens with tranquil lake side scenes... until the music changes to a `Jaws' -like thumping, and in swim the deadly bullfrogs. The next scene shows in graphic detail how sharp-toothed foreign bullfrogs can swallow up whole Korean snakes... [then] gave tips on catching bullfrogs and displayed possible frog byproducts, such as frog-skin keychains..." [The Wall Street Journal, September 10, 1977] Contributor Rob Streit suggested that the captured frogs could be shipped to North Korea to provide protein in a starved land, but added that the northern government "would probably label the gesture an `amphibious assault.'"

Last chance before they hop away

The Shedd Aquarium "Frogs!" Exhibit will finally hop away on December 31, 1997. So if you haven't yet visited this marvelous show, do take the time to see it. I really enjoyed seeing so many species which otherwise I'd only seen in books. One of the largest species in the display the "Mountain Chicken" (Leptodactylus fallax) actually built a foam nest in an off-exhibit holding area, but even though the male was calling for a while, reproduction didn't occur in their exhibit tank. The Shedd tried making a rainy season and played male calls in an effort to "create a little competition or, at least, some inspiration." [Jim Anderson in WaterShedd, September/October, 1997] The Shedd gift shop also has lots of neat frog books and frog stuff, but whether this will be restocked after the exhibit is over is anyone's guess!

Bufo acephale or Bufo cdromus?

Researchers in England report successful creation of headless frog embryos. [The Courier, Houma, LA October 19, 1997] While other papers around the world point out that this "technique... may lead to the production of headless human clones to grow organs and tissue for transplant," I'd like to suggest something more conservation-oriented. How about using headless frogs (clones, of course) for education dissections? Can you see the teacher's kit for this project in your mind's eye? It would be enough to send them all to "virtual frogs" which are some of the hottest new CD-ROM educational software products right now. Incidentally, the American Association of Bioethics has doubled its membership in only two years. [The Times-Picayune, October 22, 1997 both from Ernie Liner]

Red-eyed tree frog ornaments?

"A Froggy Christmas," a collection of holiday songs by some of the hottest frog acts including Frog Marley, Ribbit Goulet and Elvis Frogsley was released by Macol Records with a portion of the profits going to non-profit nature conservation groups. [United Press International, October 8, 1997 from K and W Herp Haven]

Bolitoglossa forgotten?

Researchers at the University of California have found a species of lungless salamander (genus Hydromantes) which uses its tongue to capture prey by shooting it out and sticking it to the food item - just like chameleons and frogs. They say that this is the first time a salamander tongue has been observed to function like a projectile in an article in Science News, September 13, 1997 from Mark Witwer.

It's the water

"The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency has found a large number of deformed frogs in Minnesota... [and] severely malformed frogs have also been found in other states, southern Canada and in Japan... [Embryo Xenopus were raised in water taken from wetland sites in Minnesota which had high deformity rates in local amphibians.] Researchers are now testing the water, hoping to isolate the chemical causing the mutations and to study the health of people living near the affected ponds... a research scientist in water quality for the Minnesota agency... recalled some of the first abnormal frogs she saw in 1995... [they had] no back legs and couldn't hop. `It was those frogs that made me decide I was going to stay with this until we figure this out. They were pathetic." [The Times-Picayune, New Orleans, LA October 2, 1997 from Ernie Liner] More detailed data came out a week later in Science News, October 11, 1997 from Mark Witwer especially this chilling quote: " Undiluted pond water from two of the Minnesota sites caused abnormalities in 100 percent of the embryos... pond sediments, groundwater, and tap water from nearby private wells also affected the embryos' development... wetland sites [with]... 10 percent or more [deformed frogs] have been reported in 54 of Minnesota's 87 counties. In some hot spots... 75 percent of the frogs are deformed... Although human embryos are protected from many environmental influences as they develop, the hormonal pathways controlling limb development in frogs and people can be affected by the same agents."

New Year's resolutions

Subscribe to FROGLOG, the newsletter of the Declining Amphibian Populations Task force via www at http://acs-info.open.ac.uk/info/newsletters/FROGLOG.html. They have paper and electronic versions.

Visit the "Snakes of Indiana" at http://birch.palni.edu/~drigg/snakes/htm, suggested by Jack Schoenfelder.

Read the Box Turtle Research and Conservation Newsletter at http://bio- www.tamu.edu/users/heather/boxturt.htm. Edited by Helather Kalb, it contains summaries of current projects and news reports as well as photo requests and letters.

Visit the Oregon Herp Society's website http://www.efn.org/~ore_herp for a neat list of upcoming herp events around the U.S. [Newsletter OHS, September 1997 from John Applegarth]

Volunteer for a herpetological atlas project. The West Chester, PA Daily Local News reports that almost 400 people have volunteered so far for a Pennsylvania atlas project. Contributor Mark Witwer wrote: "This is a great project. I got involved this summer."

Lost and Found

A pet desert tortoise escaped from a Montana home and was found three days later trying to cross the road during rush hour traffic in Billings. A California woman recognized the animal as a desert tortoise and rescued it. The newspaper arranged for the reunion of the tortoise and its family. [The Billings Gazette, August 8, 1997 from Jim and Kathy Bricker]

A touching story from the caption of an AP photo: "Willy Garrett, 45, holds his pet turtle Wanda after retrieving her Tuesday from the Delta Hotel, which burned Monday night. Garret said Wanda survived because she was in a tank of water. Firefighters said the fire stared from a cigarette left smoldering in an armchair." The picture shows Garrett tenderly offering the turtle's face to the photographer; the background shows the school gymnasium where all the hotel's residents are camped out on cots awaiting new homes. [Daily Gazette, Little Rock, AR September 13, 1997 from Bill Burnett]

"Two valuable water pythons stolen from the Port Elizabeth snake park on Monday night were mysteriously returned yesterday... wrapped in a bright red pillowcase at the entrance... [found] after an anonymous phone call," according to the Cape Argus, May 1, 1997 from K and W Herp Haven.

Four 6-month old zoo-raised iguanas were released in Jamaica, the first of their cohort to be restored to their former range. The species was thought to be totally extinct until rediscovered by a local man in 1990. The Kingston Zoo collaborated with the Fort Worth, TX zoo to breed Cyclura collei. They found that the offspring don't require head-starting - but have "all the necessary skills hard wired... [they're] on their own form the day they're laid," according to Science, July 11, 1997 from Eloise Beltz-Decker.

"Houma Police responded to an intruder call last Wednesday... when the officers arrived, they were unable to handcuff the slither subject... a 4-foot boa constrictor, perched atop the toilet in the bathroom. The officers managed to coax the snake into a bag and haul it off to the Terrebonne Parish Animal Shelter." [The Courier, Houma, LA October 15, 1997 from Ernie Liner] Since the animal is not native to Louisiana, it is presumed to be an escaped pet.

The owner of a roadside zoo attraction who was a 7-day wonder when he admitted he fed live puppies to snakes is in the news again, fighting to keep his wildlife license which was revoked by the Florida Game and Fresh Water Fish Commission. [The Miami Herald, August 19, 1997 from Alan W. Rigerman]

Love thy neighbor

The City of Coral Springs, FL has ordered a man to remove the 5-foot-tall papier-mache alligator which surrounds his mailbox. Even though neighborhood kids think the gator mailbox is neat, and the mailman hasn't complained about putting his mitts into the jaws of death on a daily basis, one neighbor did complain about the big green gator - so now it has to go. The city code says that "All mailboxes shall be of a design consistent with the style of the main house..." [Sentinel, Orlando, FL, August 24, 1997 from Bill Burnett] I wonder if now the 64-year-old former Chicagoan will make his whole house a big green gator - or just take down the mailbox.

Teen discovers new fossil species

Patrick Stanley, a 16-year-old amateur paleontologist from Oak Grove, Missouri has found a new-to-science turtle from the Jurassic, about 150 million years ago. His mother said, "When he was 4, he brought home a bunch of bones from the creek." She got a fossil book and rebuilt his find, which was also a turtle. At 12, he called up Robert Bakker and joined that scientist on a dig in Colorado. He has also found dinosaur bones and teeth in Mexico and South Dakota. The most recent find was excavated in Colorado this July. [The Chesterton Tribune, September 2, 1997 from Jack Schoenfelder]

Welcome to the El Nino

Last summer Scandinavia sizzled and more than a dozen tropical nights were recorded in Norway. Of course, their idea of tropical is over 68 degrees F! "Danish police warned people to keep and eye on their pet snakes. Humans may get drowsy in the heat, but reptiles get downright excited and want to get out and soak up those rays. Police and fire departments have had to hunt for missing pets - like one viper found sunbathing on a car hood," according to the Albuquerque Journal, August 22, 1997 from J.N. Stuart.

The letter of the law

A man who moved from Florida to Ohio took his pet tortoise along. Unfortunately for him, it was a protected gopher tortoise and the owner now faces charges. The 69-year-old man said that he felt he was saving the animal's life by taking it with him, as it faced an uncertain future if left with the house in Jacksonville. [Bucyrus, OH Telegraph-Forum, August 19, 1997 from Bill Burnett]

Guns don't shoot...

A gopher tortoise in Florida was taken to John Rossi after being found with 21 pellet gun holes in the upper carapace and 11 in the plastron. Rossi hoped to be able to rehabilitate the animal. [The Orlando Sentinel, September 24, 1997 from Bill Burnett] Meanwhile in Terrebonne Parish, Louisiana, a man went to the hospital with "several small gunshot woods" after an alligator he and his companion thought they had killed started thrashing around in their boat and the other man fired a .410-gauge shotgun. Unfortunately, alligator hide is tough stuff and some pellets deflected off the gator's back and struck the man in the side and hand. [The Courier, Houma, LA September 8, 1997 from Ernie Liner]

Sick turtles

There are more and more articles about sea turtles being found with tumors. It started as a trickle, like the deformed frog stories. The numbers of deformed frogs are high, but there are lots of frogs in each pond. All sea turtles are endangered and the sheer number of news stories about different individual sea turtles is astonishing. (1) "Surgery is planned for a young, rare green turtle pulled from Biscayne Bay near Black Point Channel... discovered by the shrimping crew aboard the Minnie Pearl... [the animal] has tumors from the papilloma virus... some of the growths around its eyes, shoulder and tail also were tangled with fishing line [which was removed]... Researchers believe the emergence of such cases [of turtle tumors] may be related to environmental stresses. [The Miami Herald, August 16, 1997 from Alan Rigerman] (2) "Scientists at the University of Florida have noticed a tumor called fibropapilloma reaching epidemic proportions in some habitats. They think the tumor may be related to chemical runoff that poisons the turtles' environments and damages their immune systems." [Fort Myers, FL News Press October 19, 1997 from Ardis Allen] (3) "[He] first saw a diseased green turtle in Pine Island Sound in 1962. Now, noncancerous tumors that attack sea turtles are a worldwide concern. `I've seen these things on large green turtles, tumors the size of a football... [he said], it's grotesque.' It's also fatal. The tumors suffocate turtles, blind them so they can't find food or cover the rectum so they can't excrete... something weakens the turtles immune systems. They don't know what... Green sea turtles, loggerhead and olive ridley turtles with tumors have been seen from Brazil to Florida, from Hawaii to Australia, and in Indonesia. [News-Press, October 24, 1997 from Ardis Allen]

Range extensions

Naja naja, the king cobra, is one of India's "big four" species of venomous snake. It is not native to Washington state from whence the following report: "A 39-year-old Everett man was in intensive care at Harborview Medical Center in Seattle today after his pet king cobra bit him twice yesterday... [he] was playing with the 3-foot-long venomous snake at his apartment when he felt the animal bump against him. Unaware that he was bitten, [he] locked the cobra back in its serpentarium... Three hours later... [he] called a friend to tell him he was feeling weak, having trouble breathing and slurring his speech. The friend called 911." He was treated with antivenin and his condition upgraded from critical to serious overnight. Keeping venomous snakes is illegal where he lives, so the animal was confiscated. [Seattle Times, September 24 & 26, 1997 from Mike Teller]

Meanwhile in Philadelphia, a 23-year-old man was bitten by a Gaboon viper which he was keeping along with two rattlesnakes, a canebrake and a diamondback. The Philadelphia Zoo provided the antivenin for his treatment at the request of the University of Pennsylvania Hospital. As it is illegal to own venomous reptiles in Philadelphia County, the animals were remanded into the custody of Philadelphia Zoo. [United Press International, September 6, 1997 from K and W Herp Haven]

Check his tape

Titled "Rattlesnake stops traffic along Lakeshore Drive" is this grammar-gem from the Orlando, FL Sentinel: "He discovered a 5.5-foot eastern diamondback rattlesnake that was crossing the road from an adjacent residential construction site. `This is the biggest poisonous (sic) snake I have ever seen around here,' he said... he tried to kill the reptile with a shovel before finishing it off a pellet gun (sic). He measured it up to four inches in diameter with almost one-inch fangs." [September 8, 1997 from Bill Burnett]

'Tis the season to be mailing

For several years now, CHS members have been sending cards and photos at the holidays which I always enjoy and occasionally try to describe in this column. I especially love the "Kodak" Christmas cards when people take their most fantastic herp photo of the year and put something like "Season's greetings" in print. The postcard collection grows by the week... The 1997 winner of the funniest post card is from Marty Marks. It shows a "lady lizard" in a frilly maid's apron and a seated "male lizard" smoking a cigarette, reading a newspaper surrounded by white stuff. The caption is "How many times do I have to tell you. Don't leave your dead skin on the floor. I'm not a maid you know!!" The best odd-sized, odd-shaped card was contributed by P.L. Beltz. Purchased at St. Patrick's Cathedral in New York City, the front shows the patron saint (green robe, of course) with staff and mitre, pointing at two green and one brownish orange serpent. The back has the Irish blessing about roads rising to meet you and the winds bein' always at your back with warm sunshine and soft rains which seems kinda inappropriate for the snakes since they're buzz off the island. Of course, it's printed in Italy, so anything's possible.

Thanks to my contributors, loyal and brand new!

Good homes have been found for all the clippings from past colums. Thanks for other neat things received from Ardis Allen, no name on clipping, Mark Witwer, Ray Boldt (thanks for another of your spectacular nature photos!), Bill Burnett, J.N. Stuart, E.A. Zorn, P.L. Beltz, and David Blatchford. You can contribute, too. If you have email- send me a note; let's see how many CHS people are on line. To contribute to the column send full pages of newspaper (you'd be surprised how little it weighs) or clippings with date/publication slug firmly taped on. Please put your name on each piece (address labels are really handy here) and send to me. I cannot ask you to photocopy material or to send news reports from wire services due to U.S. copyright regulations even though, to many it would seem that these avenues of contribution would be easier. A lot of CHS members take time and effort to bring the rest of us this column and believe me it's appreciated. I'm hoping for the happiest holidays for all of us, our families, our critters and our friends.

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Frogs: Inside Their Remarkable World
by Ellin Beltz
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Ellin Beltz / ebeltz@ebeltz.net
January 10, 2008

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