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

Herp News Around the World
by Ellin Beltz

Volume Two

Vol. 2 . Vol. 3 . Vol. 4 . Vol. 5 . Vol. 6 . Vol. 7 . Vol. 8 . Vol. 9 . Vol. 10 . Vol. 11

The Vivarium Magazine editor offered me the opportunity to write the same sort of column that I wrote for the Chicago Herpetologial Society Bulletin, but their editor also offered pay!

I started in their Volume Two, Number 5 and stopped in Volume 11 when the publication was bought out and closed by the competition.

Volume 2, Number 5 - 1990


Three hundred species of land and freshwater turtles are affected by accelerating population decline. About 100 species require immediate conservation attention. Michael W. Klemens, an herpetologist at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City, said "That's a very high percentage for a group of vertebrates," and attributes their imperilment to chelonian reproductive strategies. Most turtle species depend on individual longevity to insure continuation. Although each female lays relatively few eggs and hatchlings have mortality rates, the ability of adults to reproduce for 30 or more years has historically offset these apparent disadvantages. All of this makes individual adult turtles and relatively undisturbed habitats extremely important. Roads and other man-made barriers can reproductively isolate portions of a previously unseparated population, reducing genetic variability and - in some cases - preventing reproduction altogether. Humans impact turtles without cars, too. In many parts of the world, turtles are an important protein source. Unfortunately, most turtles are "collected" rather than "raised" and have therefore been overexploited in some areas. Recognizing these problems, the World Conservation Union, the American Museum of Natural History and the Durrell Institute of Conservation and Ecology have pooled their facilities and researches to identify those populations most at risk and attempt to save some species. They identify the following categories of turtles in decline:

39 species are dwindling over a large part of their range, but the status of individual populations are not clear. These include:
  • alligator snapping turtle (southeastern U.S.) Macroclemys temminckii
  • bog turtle and Blanding's turtle (New York State) Clemmys muhlenbergii & Emydoidea blandingii
  • Mexican mud turtle (Yucatan peninsula) Kinosternon leucostomum ?
  • red-footed tortoise (South America) Geochelone carbonaria
  • big-headed turtle (Southeast Asia) Platysternon megacephalum
  • Egyptian tortoise (northeastern Africa) Testudo kleinmanni

52 species are limited to very small habitats. Further disruption could cause extinction of:
  • Burmese star tortoise (Burma, southeast Asia) Geochelone platynota
  • Berger's tortoise (Namibia, Africa)
  • Coahuila box turtle (Mexico) Terrapene coahuila
  • Bolson tortoise (Mexico) Gopherus flavomarginatus
  • aquatic box turtle (southeast Asia) Cuora spp.

16 species are heavily exploited for food in developing countries:
  • various river turtles in Madagascar, southeast Asia, South America
  • Fly River turtle (northern Australia, southern New Guinea) Carettochelys insculpta
  • Central American river turtle (Mexico, Guatemala, Belize) Dermatemys mawi
  • Madagascan big-headed side-necked turtle Erymnochelys madagascariensis

Certain other turtles are known to be in danger of extinction. This list varies from researcher to researcher but generally includes:
  • Some races of Galapagos tortoises that have not already become ancient history. Geochelone elephantopus spp.
  • Western swamp turtle (Australia) Emydura australis
  • The 15 living individuals of Geochelone yniphora, the "plowshare" tortoise (Madagascar)

All species of sea turtles are endangered species and legislatively "protected."
  • leatherback sea turtle Dermochelys coriacea
  • ridley sea turtle Lepidochelys kempii
  • green sea turtle Chelonia mydas
  • flatback sea turtle Chelonia depressa
  • olive ridley sea turtle Lepidochelys olivacea
  • hawksbill sea turtle Eretmochelys imbricata
  • loggerhead sea turtle Caretta caretta

Presently, nearly 50 projects which intend to conserve turtles have been undertaken worldwide with present funding of $2 million contributed by various conservation organizations. [From The New York Times, March 13, 1990, contributed by P.L. Beltz; references and scientific names primarily from Dr. Peter C.H. Pritchard's Encyclopedia of Turtles, 1979, TFH.]


At least 680 sea turtles have washed up dead, comatose or dying on the Pacific coast of Colombia, South America in March, 1990. Roderic Mast, director of species conservation for Conservation International, said "these turtles washed up with no evidence of having been assaulted in any way - no wounds, no signs of trauma. That's the really unusual part about this stranding... There are reports of turtle die-offs for no apparent reason in other parts of the Pacific, indicating that something may be going on that needs further research." Anne Meylan, a turtle specialist with the Florida natural resources department in St. Petersburg said the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute in Panama has received reports from fishermen of dead turtles washing up on the Pacific coast of Panama and floating at sea in early December, 1989. Some have suggested that the turtles beached themselves as whales have been known to do. Colombian fishermen attributed the deaths to a curse put on them [the fishermen] for overexploiting the sea's resources, according to Dr. Mast. [From the Daily Sentinel, Grand Junction, CO, contributed by Larry Valentine.]


Robert Brandner and Susan Basford, principal investigators on the "Saving the Leatherback" Earthwatch project report that they have confirmed that the shape of the pineal eye, or pink spot, on the top of each leatherback turtle's head is individually unique and provides a ready-made permanent marking system that can be shared by researchers around the world. Previously, flipper tags and shell filing was used to identify individual turtles. The pineal eye is a light-sensitive organ that is believed to help leatherback turtles navigate. [From Earthwatch, December, 1989, contributed by Karen Furnweger; and Wildlife Conservation, March/April, 1990, contributed by Michael Dloogatch.]


John Keinath of the Virginia Institute of Marine Sciences has attached small radio transmitters to the shells of more than half a dozen loggerhead turtles. Unfortunately for the high-tech trackers and the turtles, most of the latter were retrieved from fishermen's nets. Keinath is working with Brandner and Basford attaching transmitters to leatherback turtles on St. Croix. These new transmitters will show where the turtles are as well as when and how long they dive. Hopefully these fancy devices - and the turtles to which they are attached - will not end up in shrimp nets, too. [National Geographic, March, 1990, contributed by P.L. Beltz.]


An appeals court ruling, authored by Judge James Carlisle, in West Palm Beach, FL reads, "Between 80 percent and 90 percent of marine turtle eggs deposited are fertile... We conclude, therefore, that marine turtle eggs are units of marine life..." This is very good news for agencies which enforce the Endangered Species Act, because it means that they can fine egg poachers on a per egg basis. It is very bad news for James Bivens of Riviera Beach, FL who pleaded guilty last year to poaching 1,088 turtle eggs from a state park on Singer Island, off the Florida coast. He had been sentenced to 60 days and $100 per egg. After serving his time and paying $500, Bivens' public defender filed an appeal arguing that a turtle egg cannot be considered "a unit of marine life" because it was only potentially an endangered sea turtle. [From the Chicago Tribune, March 16, 1990.]


Suzanne Demas and co-workers at the University of Tennessee at Memphis have developed a promising technique for sexing turtles based on genetic fingerprinting techniques. DNA is fragmented from a small blood sample taken from living animals - even hatchlings. Previously the only technique that could distinguish the sex of hatchling turtles required their deaths. [From Science News, Volume 137, 1-13-90, contributed by Karen Furnweger.]


In 1989, 10 signs were installed in a well-heeled section of New York better known for its fast-lane lifestyle than conservation. The "caution turtles" signs are having a positive effect. Larry Penny, Director of Natural Resources for East Hampton, NY, says "Turtles are basically defenseless and deserve respect from motorists... People seem to really love turtles and the road signs just remind them to do the right thing. We are constantly getting calls and letters from people who have stopped their cars to help turtles cross safely over the road." Mr. Penny plans to erect more signs on local roads in 1990, but the NY State Department of Transportation will not allow turtle signs on state roads. "Deer crossing signs are okay, but turtle consciousness is not yet part of the state bureaucracy," added Mr. Penny. [From The Conservationist, New York State Department of Conservation, January/February 1990.]


The Nature Conservancy recently purchased 13 acres of what is described as one of the most vital strips of turtle nesting beach in the world from the Disney Company for $2.35 million. The site will be sold to the state of Florida who will then lease it to Brevard County for a park. The beach is reported to be the second most dense nesting beach in the world for loggerhead sea turtles. The premier beach is in the Arabian Sea. [From the Ocala Star-Banner, February 1, 1990, contributed by Ellen Nicol.]


Researchers around Lake Michigan are beginning to obtain data on "subtle toxicological effects" on wildlife. Preliminary results indicate that although Lake Michigan fish and wildlife are being barraged by toxic substances, the effects of this toxic assault are not always readily observable. Deformities in Great Lakes fish-eating birds have been recognized since the 1970's, but not many turtle studies have been done. However, Canadian and New York researchers have found reproductive problems and deformities in snapping turtles collected in contaminated Great Lakes waters. Old snappers which live in muck and sediment can become extremely contaminated. One Hamilton, Ontario turtle contained 2,097 ppm of highly-toxic PCBs. Another, found in the St. Lawrence River held 370 parts per trillion of dioxin. Eating snappers caught in any of the Great Lakes is not recommended. [From Lake Michigan Monitor, a quarterly publication of the Lake Michigan Federation, Fall, 1989, contributed by Karen Furnweger.]


Nature [Volume 343, February 15, 1990] reports "Carnivorous turtles are to be released into the River Ganga in an effort to help reduce the effects of the ago-old practice of throwing half-burnt human bodies into the river." Can you imagine the report of this in the Weekly World News?


Irula tribespeople along the Coromandel coast of India have long been recognized snake catchers, fearlessly collecting many of the highly venomous snakes used to produce antivenin. Now the Irula Cooperative offers a contract rat-catching service. It is estimated that 1/3 of the grain produced in India is eaten or spoiled by rats which breed during the harvest season. The Irulas then sell the rats to the Madras Crocodile Bank in Vadanemmeli to feed hundreds of hungry reptiles. Recycling in action! [The New York Times, International, Tuesday, March 20, 1990, contributed by P.L. Beltz.]


It appears that populations of amphibians are in decline, rapid deline - or in some cases - absolutely gone, even from relatively pristine habitats. "Frogs may be the canaries for the environment, and they are telling us something is wrong," says David Wake, director of the Museum of Vertebrate Zoology and the host of a conference held at the University of California at Berkeley in February, 1990. [USA Today, February 19, 1990, contributed by Bill Burnett.]


Australia - as all herpers know - has experienced an awesome increase in the number of cane toads [Bufo marinus] since they were imported by hopeful sugar farmers in the 1930s. The farmers were told the toads ate cane beetles, but they didn't. Instead the toads have eaten their way through the local micro and medium-fauna and have reproduced their way into a "toxic armada" feared and despised by Queenslanders. Now the business development manager for the Office of Economic Development in Brisbane reports, "We've got mothers and children out there catching them for us." An order was placed by the Shanghai [China] Industry Foundation for 4 ounces of freeze-dried toad venom. The toad-use committee has also received inquiries from a firm in Hong Kong and is looking into the feasibility of making toadskin wallets, purses and jackets. Anybody for toad roundups? [Chicago Tribune, Tuesday, April 3, 1990.]


  • It's silly season at some newspapers with escaped snake stories. The city of Aurora, IL was "recoiling from boa" according to headlines of the Elgin, IL "Daily Courier News, 3/15/90." The snake in question was a "9-foot boa constrictor" that escaped from its tank in a house. The neighbors fear that the 78-pound snake which has 60 teeth, bites and hisses will get out and harm them or their small children. The last snake to escape in Aurora (about 10 years ago) was a 14-foot python which was recovered from the roof rafters of the house from which it had "escaped." This previous "ordeal" prompted to the city to pass an ordinance prohibiting city residents from keepin exotic snakes within incorporated limits. The dreadfully dangerous 9-footer lived in an unincorporated area of the county.

  • In League City, TX at "6-foot boa constrictor" was found wrapped around a toilet in an apartment. The boa was "lost" 18 months ago by the previous tenant who had moved out a year ago. The snake apparently lived with its new roomate, a 23-year-old male university student, for 6 months before being discovered in the middle of the night. The former tenant said, "When I lived in the apartment, he had pretty much the run of the house. I didn't have him in a cage, so he went where he wanted." Any questions on how the snake got "out?" [Associated Press, early April, 1990, contributor anonymous.]

  • Glasnost slithers into Memphis on venomous snake scales... Two rare 6-month old 11-inch Russian cobras arrived at the Memphis Zoo in January, 1990. Curator Charles Beck reports that they had to be force fed at first, but said, "we don't have to play the flute for soon as you open their box, they start standing up in fine cobra fashion." One hopes these are 1.1 and that the zoo will be reporting babies some day. [The Commercial Appeal, Friday, Feburary 2, 1990, contributed by Bill Burnett.]

  • A "fang-tastic" contract will make a Zhejiang Province [China] resident a millionaire. Ms. Ni Lijuan raises 100,000 snakes on a quarter-acre farm, extracts venom and sells snake skins on contract for a Japanese firm. The Zhejiang Province has long had snake farms since snake is on the Chinese menu and its organs are used for traditional medicines. [Chicago Tribune, Wednesday, March 14th, 1990.]

  • The Aruba Island rattlesnake will be commemorated on postage Aruban postage stamps and on the new 25-guilder currency. This reflects a change in local people's attitudes. The AAZPA Newsletter {PLEASE ADD DATES, MUST BE AFTER MARCH 1989, page 7} reports that a majority of people asked "believed that the cascabel is part of the heritage of Aruba and acknowledged its right to exist as a part of nature."

  • A three-judge panel of the Illinois Appellate Court overturned the conviction of a Chicago man based on the Illinois Dangerous Animals Act, "life-threatening" reptiles provision, March 26th, 1990, calling the statute unconstitutionally vague. In 1987, police raided Thomas Fabing's home and seized 4 reptiles they though looked life-threatening: 2 20-foot pythons, a 7-foot boa constrictor and a 4-foot American alligator. The alligator was destroyed at the Chicago Animal Control Facility before anyone could point out that it was an endangered animal. Fabing was booked on a single misdemeanor for keeping a dangerous pet but no charges were brought against CACF. Having been to a couple of court dates with Mr. Fabing I would have to say my personal opinion is that the original judge just didn't like snakes, that the Department of Agriculture official responsible for pressing this case didn't like snakes, and that the prosecutor just wanted the case over. Unfortunately for them, Thomas Fabing may have been a disabled pipefitter who liked to have pool parties with his motocycle buddies and his 20-foot snakes, but his brother Michael is an attorney. We the snake owners of Illinois could have asked for no finer test case. Regrettably, only one of the animals survived to return to Mr. Fabing after this ruling, but he still has his other seven pythons, two pit bulls and a dozen rabbits. At last report, the state still plans to appeal.
[Insight, April 23, 1990, contributed by P.L. Beltz; Chicago Tribune, March 27 & 28, 1990.]


These are the believed to be the first zoo breedings of:
  • Honduran Neotropical dwarf boas born to adult snakes which had been wild-caught and held at the zoo since 1987.
  • 2 Chinese softshell turtles hatched from adults kept in an 18,000-square foot aviary with a waterfall, a stream, and a small lake which they share with 136 birds of 58 species at the Lowry Park Zoological Garden, Tampa, FL
  • 4 Malagasy Oustalet's chameleons hatched in August, 1989 at the Oklahoma City Zoo. They've had success with two species previously and report that there are about 125 more Oustalet's eggs in the incubators
[Wildlife Conservation, March/April, 1990, contributed by Michael Dloogatch.]

Congratulations for these successes. I would like to report more breeding successes in the future. "Firsts" alone are not enough to sustain populations. As Americans learned from the black-footed ferret debacle, the time to get successful is not when you have only a few animals left.

This column is reader-supported and can only continue with the support of its readers. As you can see from the items above, many were sent to me by herpetologists, and quite a few my father [P.L.] found. When you send clippings, letters, reports of breeding successes, etc. please include the publication and date (if any), and your name and address.

Volume 2, Number 5 - 1990

Rattlesnake kabob and barbecued alligator were two controversial menu items suggested by a Texas caterer for a Dallas Zoo fund raiser but rejected by zoo officials. "It got too controversial. It's not very kosher to be grilling a rattlesnake when you have them in the zoo," said a chef for the event. Sistie Stollenwerck, chair of the gala, said "The zoo is about preservation and conservation," and continued that organizers could not be too wild in their menu choices. What did the zoo patrons get for their $500 to $3,000 contributions? The same old thing as every other banquet, of course: the proverbial "rubber" chicken breasts. [From The Daily Sentinel, April 16, 1990, Grand Junction Colorado, contributed by Larry Valentine.]

Researchers in Brazil have discovered that frogs of the species --Hyla truncata-- are herbivorous. About three years ago, Helio da Silva, from the National Museum of Brazil, and her colleagues, noticed that excrement from these frogs contained seeds and the remains of fruit from at least 4 different species of plants. They put 10 captive frogs on a fruit-only diet for a week. All 10 survived. Two of the 10 were kept on the same diet for an additional 16 weeks, both were fine. In the wild, the biologists have noticed that the frogs snatch at fruit in much the same way as they lunge at bugs. Much of the frogs diet is composed of bromeliad items, which is quite logical since they dwell in the mini-ponds created by bromeliads, although some diet items were from tropical climbing plants. Further researches indicated that excreted seeds could germinate. Another herbivorous frog was casually mentioned at the 1st World Congress of Herpetology last year in Canterbury. This one is from the Indian subcontinent and was noticed by a researcher who watched locals "fishing" for frogs with bits of flowers. Herbivorous frogs could mean a lot to protein-poor regions such as South America or India because they could be easily farmed. Widely publicized North American "frog-farms" have been little more than abattoirs for wild-caught frogs. [From BBC Wildlife Magazine, February, 1990, contributed by Mark O'Shea; and personal communications, 1989, of the author.]

"Snake shoots hunter," screams the headline from Associated Press, April 24, 1990. How true this may or may not be I leave to you to judge. The report was filed in Nicosia, Cyprus and read "An Iranian hunter was shot to death Monday near Tehran [Iran] by a snake that coiled itself around his shotgun as he pinned the reptile to the ground, the official Islamic Republic News Agency reported...Another hunter [said] that the victim, Ali Asghar Ahani, tried to catch the snake alive by pressing the butt of his shotgun behind its head. But the snake coiled around the butt and accidentally pulled the trigger with its thrashing tail, firing one of the barrels and shooting Ahani in the head, IRNA said. The other hunter tried to grab the shotgun, but the writhing reptile triggered the other barrel..." It's really a shame we can't teach this technique to Sweetwater, TX rattlers, don't you think? [Contributed by Sean McKeown, from the Southwestern Herpetologists Society, April, 1990 newsletter, from the Long Beach Press Telegram, April 24, 1990.]

Giant flops not giant hops characterized Andy Koffman's Goliath entries in the Calaveras County Jumping Frog Jubilee in May, 1990. After much wrangling, organizers of the event decided to let the giant Cameroonian amphibians compete in the contest founded to commemorate Mark Twain's famous short story. The winner, a one-pound local frog, beat all comers with a 19 foot, 3 inch winning series of jumps. Attendance at the 62nd annual event drew a record crowd, mostly due to the eligibility controversy. [From The Daily Sentinel, May 21, 1990, Grand Junction, CO, contributed by Larry Valentine; USA Today, May 18, 1990, contributed by P.L. Beltz; and The Chicago Tribune, May 18 and May 21.]

The Arizona Herpetological Association is offering a $1,000.00 reward for information leading to the return of animals stolen from Tom Taylor, a long-time member of their club. Tom has only missed one meeting in 20 years, and the thieves apparently took advantage of this generous volunteer by breaking into his house and removing all of his reptiles in his absence. The missing include a long-time captive albino diamondback rattlesnake, a pair of Louisiana milksnakes, 4 breeding size rubber boas and an exceptional looking rosy boa as well as 31 adult breeding tricolor kingsnakes and 11 adult breeding albino kingsnakes. Gene Mulleneaux wrote, "Someone out there destroyed a major part of Tom's life. This collection has taken years to nurture...Prosecution would be nice, but the animals are more important." He closes with an appeal for information directed to: A.H.A., 1433 West Huntington Drive, Tempe, AZ 85282.

A Bangladeshi farmer didn't realize he had so many interesting neighbors until one night he tried to kill a snake that was living in the ceiling of his wattle and daub hut. He tried to spear the serpent, but it was only injured and clung to the ceiling resisting all efforts to remove it. The Khabar, Bangladesh paper reports that later that night about 50 obviously angry snakes invaded the Kazi family's hut, hissing menacingly. The paper went on to report that the 50 annoyed reptiles stayed a week, until their wounded comrade died. Reader discretion is advised on believing this item. [The Chicago Tribune, June 28, 1990.]

Also from Bangladesh comes this item of interest from Dhaka via the Associate Press wire: "A bus whose passengers included a snake charmer fell into a ditch, and dozens of people lay trapped for hours because rescuers feared the snakes had escaped from their baskets." The snake charmer himself was one of only 3 fatalities, reported the Bengali-language newspaper --Ittefaq--. Several hours passed before a snake charmer could arrive from a neighboring village. He then caught 3 snakes, said the others escaped and the rescue work began. [From The Chicago Tribune, May 31, 1990.]

Chris B. Banks, Curator of Reptiles at the Royal Melbourne Zoo, P.O. Box 74, Parkville; Victoria 3052, Australia is requesting details on the establishment of any species of reptile or amphibian in the wild outside its natural range. The Vertebrate Pests Committee of the Standing Committee of Agriculture (Australia) is working on developing guidelines for uniform legislation by all Australian States and Territories, to provide adequate control over the introduction, movement and keeping of vertebrate species not indigenous to Australia. Please include: species, where and when it or they became established and how the establishment occurred (escape, release, etc.). Also requested are particulars on the threat posed and steps taken to minimize or halt any damage caused by the animals. Copies of any published accounts would also be appreciated.

On that very subject...The Pacific island of Guam is hosting its first annual "Sweep Snakes" contest in an effort to rid this U.S. territory of the estimated 2 million brown tree snakes reportedly infesting the 212-square mile island. The story is that the snakes were accidentally imported to Guam during W.W.II, possibly in military cargo shipments from their native Solomon Islands. They are reported to have decimated the native bird population and to occasionally bite humans. The top prize for most snakes collected in the one month period starting June 23, 1990 is pickup truck. Other prizes will be awarded for the most innovative trap and for the longest individual animal. [From the Daily Sentinel, Grand Junction, CO, June 8, 1990, contributed by Larry Valentine.]

Pursued by an angry crowd, a man who had attempted a rape in Nairobi, Kenya crossed the Nairobi river to escape. On the far side, he encountered a giant monitor lizard. The crowd convinced him that the lizard would attack, so he returned to their side of the river only to be beaten up and taken to the police station by the mob. [From News of the Weird, by Chuck Shepherd, The Chicago Reader, June 29, 1990.]

Yet another weird reptile heist was allegedly performed on a pizza man in Balch Springs, TX, this time using a snapping turtle to threaten the victim into giving up all his cash. The Assistant Police Chief of the town said, "I suppose if he said it happened, I guess it did. Personally, I just can't see somebody holding somebody up with a turtle." [From The Chicago Tribune, June 15, 1990, contributed by Lisa Koester.]

By now, most people will have seen the articles about the puppy who was "saved" after having been eaten by a python in South Africa. An interesting dialog occurred on the subject of snakes in the Daily Courier News, Elgin, Illinois between Mike Bailey (a columnist) and Jeff McMenamin (a local herpetologist). The opening shot in this war was a front page article entitled "Aurora recoiling from boa" that went on to describe how afraid local residents were of an escaped 9-foot red-tailed boa. Jeff then wrote the editors and invited all and sundry to a meeting of the Chicago Herpetological Society to learn more about these usually misunderstood animals. Next, Mr. Bailey wrote, "Since there about 81 [sic] million different varieties of snakes, difficulty arises in determining whether a snake is a `peaceful, solitary and beneficial animal' as Jeff says, or a murderous carnivore that will either attack you like a shark on bloody meat or squeeze you like a ripe orange." Jeff returned the volley with - to me at least - the winning shot: "So no one told the 7-day old puppies in South Africa that snakes are not dangerous. I suppose this means that, gee whiz, if a snake eats puppies...any rational person could assume it just has to be dangerous to a human. Sorry to burst your bubble of fear, Mr. Bailey, but this just isn't so. Take a good look at the picture...Someone is obviously holding the snake, and calm I might add for the picture. They do not appear to be struggling frantically to save themselves from a `murderous carnivore'. Nor does it appear that the snake holds any more malice towards the puppy than you would toward a Big Mac." Thanks to Jeff for taking the time to write the editors, not once but at least twice, in defense of snakes. [From the Daily Courier News, March 15, March 23, March 25 and April 4, 1990, contributed by Jeff McMenamin; and The Morning Call, Allentown, PA, March 24, 1990, contributed by Paul Gritis.]

Bad combination..."Genuine watersnake," "genuine seasnake," "genuine tigersnake," "genuine lizardskin," "genuine python," "genuine boa" and "genuine viper" boots --and-- a handy/dandy 800 number. The company is Sheplers Western Wear and you can call them, toll free. What you can call them is up to you. [Shepler's Western Wear, Fall 1989 catalog, contributed by Paul Gritis.]

The Gerald R. Ford Museum in Grand Rapids has mounted an exhibit on U.S. Presidential pets. Most were dogs, cats, birds and the usual, but Alice Roosevelt (Teddy's daughter) attended presidential functions with a thin, green snake named Emily Spinach in her purse. [The Chicago Tribune, May 9, 1990, contributed by E.A. Beltz-Decker.]

Is this good news, or bad news? Only 2 loggerhead turtles were found dead (boat hits) by staff from the Marine Mammal Stranding Center from November, 1989 to March, 1990. The MMSC was the first to target balloon launches as a cause of sea animal deaths on the east coast in 1979. Bob Schoelkopf and Sheila Dean devote their entire home, lives and energy to the work of the Center which has received funding from private, local, state and national sources. You can support the Center by joining. Write MMSC, P.O. Box 773, Brigantine, NJ 08203. If you happen to be in Atlantic City, don't miss their facility - across from the Circle Lighthouse in Brigantine.

While we're on the subject of people and organizations dedicated to helping reptiles and amphibians, let me introduce you to a selection of truly dedicated conservationists. I know all three of these ladies personally, and can vouch for their dedication, interest and compassion. First, is Carole Allen who has devoted herself to raising money to help the Kemp's ridley turtle (--Lepidochelys kempii--). She was instrumental in the establishment of facilities for researchers at Rancho Nuevo, Mexico which is the only known breeding beach for these animals, as well as in the founding of the head start program for ridleys at Galveston, TX. The organization name is H.E.A.R.T., an acronym for "Help Endangered Animals, Ridley Turtles." To help, send $5.00 or more to: H.E.A.R.T., P.O. Box 681231, Houston, TX 77268-1231. Second is Dr. Dagmar Werner who, as head of the Fundacion Iguana Verde, has single-handedly developed and implemented breeding programs for green iguanas (--Iguana iguana--) in both Panama and Costa Rica. Dagmar is a tireless worker, interested not only in saving habitat for the iguana, but in keeping the local people in charge of the project - not some multinational corporation more interested in megamillion cans of iguana than in maintaining nature and natural ways. Seventeen thousand baby iguanas had hatched by June 1, 1990 and more are on the way. That's a lot of hungry, little green mouths! You can help by contributing $10.00 or more. The only catch is that you must send bank checks, not cash, or personal checks to: F.P.I.V. (Fundacion Pro Iguana Verde), Apdo. 1501-3000, Heredia, Costa Rica. Last - but certainly not least - is a lady who has undertaken the defense of all reptiles and amphibians. She is Dez Crawford from Baton Rouge, LA, founder of the Reptile Defense Fund (RDF) and an indefatigable champion of all slithery causes. She publishes a nifty newsletter which has pages and pages of people to write to concerning abuses of our favorite creatures. Write RDF, 5025 Tulane Drive, Baton Rouge, LA 70808 for more information. I'll be featuring more people and causes in upcoming issues. If you have a favorite, please send me details in care of the AFH.

If you thought there was nothing about sea turtles in this issue - guess again. The past few months have been full of interesting news...

Mexico has announced that the government will outlaw sea turtle beach harvests in 1992, but many feel the ban should be immediate. The insatiable Japanese demand for turtle leather causes illegal killings to far outnumber the authorized harvest. The U.S. government's shameful delay in demanding Turtle Excluders cost the lives of an estimated 22,000 sea turtles in 2 years. The illegal Mexican harvest is already 15,000 turtles over the legal limit in the first 4 months of this season. Please take time to write a pleasant, but firm, letter protesting the illegal harvest to: President Carlos Salinas de Gortari, Palaceo Nacional, Mexico, DF 06066 and Maria de los Angeles Moreno, Secretary of Fisheries, Avenida Alvaro Obregon, No. 269, Mexico, DF 06700. [From Striking Back, RDF, February/March, 1990, contributed by Dez Crawford; Voice of the Turtle, San Diego Turtle and Tortoise Society, March 1990.]

A massive die-off of green sea turtles was reported from Costa Rica, attributed to the turtles having eaten plastic banana bags which had been thrown off a dock. [From Striking Back, RDF, February/March, 1990, contributed by Dez Crawford.]

The Florida Supreme Court has upheld the Florida Marine Fisheries Commission's authority to require the use of Turtle Excluder Devices (TEDs), reversing a lower court ruling by an elected judge in Franklin County. P.S. Franklin Country has a large number of registered voters who shrimp for a living. [From Striking Back, RDF, February/March, 1990, contributed by Dez Crawford.]

The Jupiter Beach Hilton is repeating its Turtle Watch program for summer visitors to Palm Beach County, Florida. Last year the hotel's program helped 5,500 baby turtles into the ocean. This year they offer evening slide lectures, guided night and day tours of the nest sites and organized baby turtle releases. The triple-A rated hotel is 30 miles from West Palm Beach International Airport. You can reach them at 1-407-746-2511 for more details. [Press Release from the Jupiter Hilton, contributed by Sean McKeown; National Geographic Traveler, May/June 1990, contributed by P.A. Beltz.]

Japanese trade has had a devastating effect on sea turtle populations, particularly those of the hawksbills. In the last 9 years, Japan has imported the leather, shell and stuffed carcasses of more than a half million sea turtles and clearly undermines conservation programs in many areas of the developing world. Although the Japanese have recently agreed to reduce imports by 33%, they have provided no time frame for the reduction. Those wishing to comment on this issue can write: His Excellency the Ambassador, Ryohei Murata, Embassy of Japan, 2520 Massachusetts Avenue NW, Washington, D.C. 20008, or call 1-202-234-2266. [From Voice of the Turtle, San Diego Turtle and Tortoise Society, June 1990.]

What guides baby turtles? Several studies of leatherback, green and loggerhead hatchlings have led researchers to the belief that light is not as important in directing turtles as are wave motion and an internal magnetic compass calibrated by a first exposure to light. [From Science News, Vol. 137, May 12, 1990; Insight, July 2, 1990.]

How sea turtles survive from the tropics to the Arctic is the research subject of Frank Paladino of Purdue and James Spotila of Drexel Universities. They studied the leatherback turtle (--Dermochelys coriacea--) by measuring oxygen consumption rates at rest and during activity periods. They found that although the turtles have metabolic rates lower than those in mammals, their insulating bulk lets them retain heat efficiently in cold waters. In warm water, the turtles apparently enhance heat loss by increasing blood flow to their extremities. The researchers suggest a new category, not "cold-blooded" but rather "gigantothermic," and note that dinosaurs could have survived by similar methods without the high metabolic rates or hyperactive behaviors proposed by Dr. Bakker and others. [From Science News, Volume 137, April 28, 1990.]

The National Academy of Sciences studied sea turtles and Turtle Excluder Devices (TEDs) and found that the TEDs should be used year-round to protect marine mammals, turtles and finfish. They also determined (surprise, surprise) that the Kemp's ridley sea turtle is the species at greatest risk. Dr. John J. Magnuson, the zoologist who headed the NAS committee said that as many as 55,000 sea turtles may be killed by shrimping every year, and that he believed the previous estimate of 11,000 turtle deaths a year was "a gross underestimate," since past research had not counted as dead those turtles which were trapped and released in a comatose state. You can order a copy of the report from the National Academy Press, 2101 Constitution Avenue, N.W., Washington, D.C. 20418. Publication is expected in September, 1990. [From The New York Times, May 20, 1990, contributed by P.L. Beltz.]

Protecting nesting beaches of endangered sea turtles but ignoring man-made hazards that kill turtles in the ocean is, as one writer stated, putting the egg before the turtle. "Even if you were 100 percent successful and got a hatchling out of every egg and still we continue to ignore the mortality in the water...all our species of turtles will continue to decline," said Lew Ehrhart, a University of Central Florida sea turtle biologist. He, and others, want as much attention paid to oil spills, pollution and illegal fishing nets as is paid to beach and hatchling protection. In millennia past, once a turtle made it through the first year or so, it had it made. But now, the loss of juvenile and sub-adult turtles threatens the survival of whole species of turtles, according to Ehrhart. Many die of plastic ingestion, and many more are drowned in gill and drift nets which can cover 2,000 yards of ocean, destroying everything they catch. [From The Sentinel, Orlando, Florida, circa May 1, 1990, contributed by Ellen Nicol.]

A big, snakey "SS-Thank you" to everyone who contributed this month! When you send clippings, letters, reports of breeding successes, reports of reptile thefts (God-forbid) and so on please include the publication and date (if any), and your name and address to me.

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