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

Herp News Around the World
by Ellin Beltz

Volume Three

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

This was the second year I wrote for The Vivarium.

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 3, Number 1 - 1990

Alligators in Lakeland, Florida have been coming out of their pond to listen to 67-year-old Fred Gregory play his trumpet outside his mobile home. He said, "You might call me a `gator charmer...They like anything I play." [The Daily Sentinel, May 25, 1990, Grand Junction, CO. Contributed by Larry Valentine.]

New Organizations...

1.) Greg Naclerio is founding a newsletter and database for the preservation of monitor lizards. The newsletter, VaraNews, is the publication of VARANIX and is open to all input at this time. You can write to Greg at 8726D Sepulveda Boulevard, #243, Los Angeles, CA 90045. Information is free, but send a self-addressed stamped envelope to make Greg's life a little easier. 2.) Carl Lerner, DDS, 3711 Green Ash Court, Indianapolis, IN 46222 is starting a network of individuals willing to share information on geckos. He hopes to publish if enough interest is generated. Please send a SASE if you write. 3.) I received a form from the "International Iguana Society," Finca Cyclura, Route 3, Box 328, Big Pine Key, FL 33043, (305) 872-9811. Membership is $25 per year. 4.) Press releases have been sent around by the "Venomous Snake Society" stating it to be an international organization dedicated to furthering the understanding and conservation of venomous reptiles. Membership is either $10 or $15 depending on what part of the release you read. Their address is P.O. Box 691454, West Hollywood, CA 90069. NOTE: I have no information other than what was sent to me by the last two organizations and would suggest that more information be requested prior to sending them any money.

At the third annual Rattlesnake Extravaganza in Alamogordo, New Mexico, protesters employed an unusual method of dissent to the proceedings. apparently about 2 tablespoons of butyric acid were dumped near the "pit of death," rattlesnake cafeteria and milking booths. Butyric acid smells something like bad eggs, rotten meat or vomit and the effect was immediately apparent. The announcer told the offended spectators that the smell was from the terrified snakes. [Newsletter of the Southwestern Herpetologists Society, August, 1990. Name of contributor withheld by request.]

Large numbers of big pet snakes are escaping or being abandoned in Florida according to an Associated Press release. The assistant curator of Miami's MetroZoo, Ron Magill was quoted, "Keep in mind, I think for every snake that's found, there's 10 of them that are never seen." From 1987 to 1988, the Port of Miami processed 1.26 million imported reptiles, including a total of 18,150 ball pythons. Of major concern is the possibility that some imported animals will begin to affect the fauna of southern Florida in ways similar to those believed to be a product of the importation of cane toads to Australia. Todd Hardwick, a private trapper of nuisance animals says he has found baby constrictors at two locations in Dade County, indicating the possibility that escaped snakes may be mating in the wild. [Austin American-Statesman, November 23rd, 1990, Austin, TX. Contributed by William Burnett.]

Are any snakes "poisonous" or are some snakes "venomous?" It may seem like splitting scales, but the popular press regularly uses "poisonous" to identify reptiles, when really they mean "venomous." This fine point came to mind recently with reports of "poisonous snakes" being distributed by a chain of pet stores in New York. Early press reports quoted Dr. Herndon Dowlings' identification of the snakes as venomous red-necked keelbacks. The snakes were later reidentified by Edmund Malnate, an Asian snake expert in Philadelphia, as being non-venomous buff-striped keelbacks. Unfortunately, the whole controversy is causing the New York City Health Department to rethink its policy on snake sales. The 1959 law only bans the sale of "poisonous snakes." [Articles from the New York Daily News, October 16 and 17, 1990 as well as the Chicago Tribune, October 17, 1990 and innumerable community papers. New York articles contributed by Allen Salzberg of the New York Turtle and Tortoise Society.]

Students who do not wish to dissect frogs can call a toll free hotline sponsored by ALDF, an animal rights group. Callers to 1-800-922-FROG are asked to leave their name and address to receive information, or their phone number to get a faster response. [ALDF, Animals' Advocate, Spring, 1990. Contributed by Hannah Eisenberg.]

Six Japanese tree frogs accompanied Toyohiro Akiyama, a reporter for Japan's biggest television company, on his historic ride into space aboard the Soyuz TM-11 on December 2nd, 1990. The frogs will be used in experiments to see how they cope without gravity. [Chicago Tribune, November 21 and December 2, 1990. Contributed by P.L. Beltz.]

Perhaps they're not the first frogs in space if an article in the Weekly World News [April 17, 1990] can be believed. The headline screams "Space Aliens Stealing Our Frogs!" Walter Caine, the founder of a California-based research group, Extraterrestrial Today, was quoted: "I have hundreds of reports from eyewitnesses who have seen extraterrestrials gathering frogs and tadpoles all over the world...There isn't a doubt in my mind that space aliens are eating our tadpoles as a delicacy and experimenting with our frogs."

I must confess that I read tabloid newspapers. If I didn't, a recent pair of pictures would not be being discussed here. On October 30, 1990, Weekly World News ran a story headlined "Snake Eats Man Alive!" In brief, a Japanese researcher was allegedly eaten by a 25-foot, 380-pound anaconda in the Amazon jungle. This story, and accompanying photo was sent to AFH by Phillip S. Venditto who also sent a letter. He wrote, "First off they say [the researchers] are studying anacondas, so why is there a picture of a reticulated python in this article? They also say it's 25-feet long. To me it looks no more than 15 feet...And it says that [the anaconda] dropped from a tree onto this guy [which killed him]. Usually, [anacondas] strike and coil to kill their prey. And, as we all know, when a snake swallows its prey, it does not crush the bones of its food item. It is ridiculous stories such as this that make people hate snakes even more..." Even more ridiculous is the fact that this same photo was used by the same newspaper not even 3 months later! In the issue dated January 8th, 1991, the same snake corpse picture (without the backdrop of "Japanese researchers") illustrates an article titled, "Hunters kill giant snake that ate 6 human babies!" This time, the snake is identified as a 13-foot "killer python." Even more interesting is the fact that an elderly gentleman of my acquaintance says he saw this same photo during the second World War, almost 50 years ago. In those days, the snake had supposedly eaten a Japanese soldier. He says that the Japanese men around the snake are in uniforms which have had all identifying marks removed, probably by photographic retouching. He points out the strange footgear, weapon, pith helmets and glasses as lingering proofs of the age of the photo!

The New York Turtle and Tortoise Society has sent out a press release titled "Ninja Turtle Backlash?" in which they warn parents to think twice before purchasing a pet turtle and reports that there is an extensive black market in baby turtles today. The NYTTS release was picked up by at least the New York Daily News (August 26, 1990), The Wall Street Journal (May 3, 1990), The Daily News (April 11, 1990), and the New York Post (May 8, 1990). Another story of Ninja Mania is a sad story relayed by Donna Waddell of the Turtle and Tortoise Club of Santa Barbara. A Santa Maria (CA) woman bought two box turtles for her son. One turtle died and the other was crippled when the boy and a friend cut away at the turtles' shells in an attempt to make the animals more "ninja-like." The mother then tried to return the turtles to the pet shop where they were bought as if they were just merchandise. [The last item is from the RDF Newsletter, Summer, 1990. Contributed by Dez Crawford.]

Last but not least is an incomparable item first reported in the Alberta Reptile and Amphibian Society Bulletin (Fall, 1990) and then repeated by David Lawrence in his HerpWatch column in the C.H.S. Bulletin (November, 1990). Apparently, a lady in Ottawa, Canada pleaded guilty to having grown several thousand dollars worth of --Cannabis sativa--, a formerly common cultivar originally native to Asia, usually called "marijuana." This in itself is not so unusual. What is truly weird is WHY she was growing pot... She claims that it was the only thing her 2 1/2 year old pet iguana would eat! The prosecutor said the woman could not be charged with drug trafficking, because the intended recipient was not human. The judge fined her $550 for simple possession, but warned the woman to start feeding her lizard something else, or else. [Contributed by Mike McNeil.]

Please send weird news, strange stories, odd photos (just herps!) to me.

Volume 3, Number 2 - 1991

Call him, Michaelangelo...

A 9-foot alligator was freed from a drain pipe in West Palm Beach on March 27th, 1991. Rapidly dubbed the "Ninja Gator" by locals, the animal had crawled from its home in a canal through about 50 feet of pipe before being noticed. An animal control officer noosed him out of the pipe and he was returned home. [Larry Valentine, The Daily Sentinel, Grand Junction, CO, 3/28/91]

Just what we've always wanted...

TM Outfitters of Yakima, Washington is offering lighter covers, wallets, hat bands, bolo pendants and belts made of prairie rattlesnake hide by Big Sky Rattlesnake Company of Montana.

Are reptiles next?

Eleven conservation organizations, led by the World Wildlife Fund have proposed legislation to Congress that would phase out the importation of wild birds for the pet industry over the next five years. The Pet Industry Joint Advisory Council, a pet shop lobbying group, has endorsed the bill. The measure permits imports of wild birds for breeding stock and will provide incentives to encourage the captive raising of birds to offset the loss of imports. [P.L. Beltz, Chicago Tribune, 4-4-91]

Do "Freshmen" eat here?

Ramada Inns conducted a survey of food and beverage controllers recently. The average 800-room hotel uses 28,977 bottles of beer, 28,200 pounds of chicken breast, various tons of other consumables, 57 pounds of alligator meat and 25 pounds of rattlesnake fillets per year. [D. Marrandino, Hotel/Motel, March, 1991]

Turtles, turtles

  • United States Department of Commerce officials reported that Japan imported 18,000 hawksbill turtles in 1990 to supply a lucrative domestic trade in eyeglass frames, mirror handles, ornamental combs and other turtle-shell items. The Commerce and Interior Departments may recommend sanctions against Japanese exports to the U.S. of wildlife products including the $53 million worth of natural and cultured Japanese pearls. [Mike McNeil, Fresno Bee, 4-4-91]
  • The island nation of Cyprus wants to make its Akamas peninsula into a national park. Some environmentalists fear tourism will hasten the extinction of various flora and fauna in the untamed northwest coastal area. The last known green sea turtle (Chelonia mydas) nesting beach in the Mediterranean occurs on the peninsula. Turtles have been protected by law since 1971, and the major threat to nesting is tourism. The Cypriot government says the green turtle isn't endangered and is proceeding with its plans for the park. [P.L. Beltz, Wall Street Journal, 4-22-91]
  • Turtle tumors threaten sea turtles in all the oceans of the world. Fibropapiloma tumors are blossoming like mouldy cauliflower on almost half of the green sea turtle population world wide. The disease was first observed in the late 1920s, but didn't reach plague proportions until the last few months. It may be caused by a virus, a virus in combination with pollution or by a parasite that either conveys a virus or causes the tumor directly. [William L. Burnett, Daily Commercial, Leesburg, FL 3-11-91]
  • Guards armed with machine guns patrol the broad Pacific beaches at La Escobilla, Mexico in an effort to save more than 80,000 giant sea turtles from slaughter by local residents. The President of Mexico, Carlos Salinas de Gortari, banned all hunting of sea turtles and sales of related products (including eggs) in May of 1990. The government offers aid to turtle hunters who were left without work. But the ban has not ended clandestine hunts at sea by fishermen who capture approaching turtles, and then dump them after slashing them open for eggs, or chopping off their flippers for sale in Japan and other foreign markets. During mass nestings, known as "arribadas" tens of thousands of female sea turtles swarm ashore within hours of each other for the brief egg-laying process that is the only part of their lives spent on land. Before the ban, poachers ignored numerical limits on the turtle catch and practically no eggs survived at La Escobilla, which is one of the most important nesting grounds in the world for the Olive Ridley. [P.L. Beltz, New York Times, 11-23-90]
  • Five years ago, the University of Costa Rica launched an innovative but controversial plan with the 360 townspeople of Ostional which legalized their tradition of gathering Olive Ridley sea turtle eggs to sell and eat. The project earns money for the impoverished villagers while involving residents in turtle protection. Critics claim the program encourages poaching on other beaches by providing a cover for illegal poachers and they question the merit of preserving a tradition that is generally harmful to the species. For the first 36 hours of every nesting "arribada" locals can gather as many eggs as they can. Then locals take turns guarding the beaches from outside poachers. Problems arise after the legal eggs are transported away from Ostional and mingled with illegal eggs from other beaches. Egg collecting is handled by the Ministry of Agriculture, while the Ministry of Natural Resources oversees the Ostional Wildlife Refuge, resulting in bureaucratic jurisdictional snafus for enforcement. Some proposed tourism developments are being opposed by the local people who fear that tourists will be an even bigger threat to the turtles than egg collecting. [Dr. David Hardy, Tico Times, 12-14-90]

The sum toadal is...

Readers of the Wall Street Journal are apparently into numbers. After a recent article about toads, toad tunnels and volunteer toad carriers, several readers took exception to various points mentioned in the article: 1.) "Have you the f(r)oggiest notion just how many toads it takes to amount to 20 millions tons, the mass that your article claims are smashed on British roads in a year? I was impelled to leap to my calculator...assuming five toads to the pound...we have a hypothetical dead-toad population of 200 billion... 2.) If each toad weighs four ounces, there are just about 160 billion toads. We calculated that if each toad is one inch tall, they could make a stack 2,525,253 miles high... 3.) You are mistaken when you say that toads don't hop, they waddle. Maybe toads in the U.K. waddle, and carry tightly rolled umbrellas as well, but during my rural Michigan childhood, I had a pet toad who hopped... " The editors noted that they should have said 20 tons of dead toad, not 20 million tons. [The Wall Street Journal, 4-19-91]

Not really extinct...

Toads thought extinct have been found near Mortensen Lake, Wyoming. The Nature Conservancy purchased 1,800 acres of lakeshore wetland to protect the toads and plans to work with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and state Game and Fish Department to reintroduce the Wyoming toad to other sites in its former range. Incidentally, each toad bears a unique wart pattern as distinctive as a human's fingerprint. Researchers are photographing and cataloging each toad. [Larry Valentine, Nature Conservancy Magazine, March/April 1991]

Possibly extinct...

Golden toads, Bufo periglenes, previously found only in Costa Rica's Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve may be extinct. They were first described by science in 1963, when thousands clogged rain puddles during their short breeding season when the rains came in May and June. Their spectacular breeding displays were observed for years, until 1987 when only a handful of toads emerged to breed. In 1990, no toads appeared. While other frogs have disappeared from the relatively undisturbed Cloud Forest Reserve, their species are found elsewhere. The Golden Toad, however, was only known from a tiny mountain habitat which has been protected since 1972. [P.L. Beltz, South American Explorer, February, 1991, Number 28]

Absolutely extinct!

Fossil remains of a toothy, prehistoric marine lizard which may have been 30-feet long were unearthed near Adamsville, Tennessee by staff of the Memphis Pink Palace Museum. The remains date from the Cretaceous era, 70 to 75 million years ago, before the Gulf of Mexico receded from the heart of North America. Gordon Bell, Jr., a mosasaur specialist at the University of Texas at Austin said, "If these things were still around, beachfront property would be real cheap." [William Burnett, Commercial Appeal, Memphis, TN 11-14-90]

Bad news for Illinois reptiles

The Illinois Supreme Court has rejected a constitutional challenge on a slippery issue: a state law banning the possession of so-called "life-threatening reptiles." The state's highest court did not overturn Thomas Fabing's conviction for possession of two 15-20 foot pythons and an alligator, but threw out his conviction for possession of a 7-foot boa constrictor. Despite testimony that the snakes were tame, swam with children and had never attacked anyone, a Cook County circuit judge fined Fabing $100. The state Appellate Court overturned that decision and ruled that the law was too vague because it does not define life-threatening. Never loath to save taxpayers money, the state Department of Agriculture appealed the Appellate decision to the state Supreme Court. Justice William Clark wrote for the court, "Regardless of the snakes' dietary preferences, we believe the testimony at trial showed that it is reasonably possible that the two 15-20 foot pythons would attack humans." In any case, the boa and one of the pythons died out of Illinois during the legal wrangles and animal control had euthanized the alligator at the start of the case. [Gene Holmes, The State Journal-Register, Springfield, IL 3-23-91]

A good excuse to buy new tanks

Reptile owners in the Northwestern U.S. might consider reinforcing their snake rooms, switching to plastic tanks, or tightening up their lids based on a recent report of the U.S. Geological Survey office in Pasadena, CA. They have discovered striking evidence that the Pacific Northwest is a seismic danger zone that could produce an earthquake of up to 9.5 on the Richter scale. Coastal areas could drop as much as six feet in minutes and huge waves could be experienced from Vancouver, B.C. to Mendocino, CA. [The New York Times, 4-5-91]

This is a reader supported column and I use just about everything that gets sent. So, please, take a moment and clip out the next herpetological article you see and send it to me in care of the AFH at the address on the masthead. Thanks!

Volume 3, Number 3 - 1991


The wrestler, Jake "The Snake" Roberts, was --sans-- snake in Baton Rouge after action by the Reptile Defense Fund which prevented him from abusing his python mascot during World Wrestling Federation bouts. At the end of his matches, if his opponent has been defeated, Jake adds a "dramatic" touch to his act by dumping a large python (named Damian) on his opponent. Often the poor beast is dumped on the floor, and tossed about. Sharp eyed watchers have noted that it's not always the same snake. Close scrutiny of videotapes reveals pythons of various species, sizes and patterns are used in the act. It is suspected that the snakes are so abused as to require constant replacement. The method used by RDF to stop Jake's cruelty was to have their legal counsel contact the local animal control officer and recommend that animal control inform WWF that cruelty to animals, any animals, was prohibited under the local codes of the city of Baton Rouge. This simple technique worked! If you or your herpetological society would like help in banning Jake "The Snake" from your community, call RDF at (504) 767-6384.


This writer has been asked to comment on venomoid snakes many times by her readers in this and other publications. I would like to cite the most common objections to the practice of surgically removing snake venom glands. While my comments are not the last (or the most heated) I'll ever issue on this subject, I would hope you would find them well considered and reasonable. These opinions are mine alone, and, of course, do not represent the official views of any organization, publication or agency.

I feel snakes should not have their venom glands removed professionally or amateurishly because:
  1. Creation of "venomoid" snakes will blur the distinction between harmless and dangerous snakes in the mind of the general public. It may foster the impression that venomous snakes are safe to handle and may lead to human envenomations which could result in laws banning all reptiles.
  2. "Venomoid" snakes can breed and their offspring will be venomous. Remember, female reptiles can retain sperm for several seasons and can deliver young even if breeding has not been attempted by their owners. I've heard of enough cases of offspring escaping mom's cage to remind everybody of this fact.
  3. Surgically devenomed animals cannot kill their own food. Live food has been known to damage captive reptiles.
  4. "Safe" venomous snakes sold at retail will most probably appeal to the least responsible segment of snake keepers - attention seeking novices. Novices are responsible for most of the snake escapes, and how is anyone encountering an animal whose species is known to be dangerous to know that this particular specimen is "safe." I suspect escaped "venomoids" would merely be killed.
  5. Removing venom sacs is a mutilation, and one not likely to be performed by responsible veterinarians. Therefore these mutilations will occur by the actions of persons not trained in responsible, medical procedures. Yuck!
  6. Irresponsible show-offs will, sooner or later, terrorize the innocent with these poor creatures. Stupidity leads to legislation, possibly to reptile bans.
  7. Removal of the venom sacs does not prevent snakes from biting. How is the victim to know if the operation has been performed at all, let alone correctly?
I would appreciate your comments on this explosive issue. [Special thanks to David Crawford, the League of Florida Herpetological Societies, the Central Kentucky Herpetological Society, the Northern Ohio Herpetological Society and others who have written about venomous snake keeping and devenomation.]


Federal Express Corporation, Northwest Airlines and Lufthansa have halted shipments of tropical birds caught in the wild. Defenders of Wildlife and seven other animal groups as well as the Pet Industry Joint Action Council began lobbying in February to get airlines to halt the imports which are often used to smuggle rare and endangered species and result in too many deaths of wild-born birds. Figures from the U.S. Department of Agriculture show that 14 percent, or about 65,000 of the 462,000 birds imported in 1989 died en route or in quarantine. Birds bred in captivity made up 13 percent of imports, but had a death rate in shipment of only 5.4 percent. If the animal groups involved in this issue succeed in halting bird shipments, one would assume herps are next. The involvement of PIJAC is a welcome sign that even the pet industry realizes wholesale destruction of wild resources cannot continue. [The Memphis Commercial Appeal, April 30, 1991, contributed by Bill Burnett.]


The latest target of animal rights activists cuts close to the heart of an animal keeper like myself. Unlike many readers of the VIVARIUM, I do not consciously attempt to breed animals, feeling that my writings and other deeds probably save more animals than I could ever hope to breed. Therefore I am a keeper, not a breeder. Until the late 1960's most zoos were in that same boat. Now, however, zoos are active participants in species survival projects and other efforts to breed animals, not just show them off to the general public. In England, a substantial movement to close the London zoo comes from a highly vocal animal rights movement, which claims that urban zoos are unnatural and conduct inhumane animal research. The anti-zoo movement is working toward the abolition of all zoos. In Chicago, this movement has been most obvious at the new Oceanarium at the Shedd Aquarium. Demonstrators may scream about "Jails for Whales" and get themselves on nightly television, but have they considered the implications? Zoo animals usually live longer than wild animals, and many come from impoverished countries that cannot afford to spend the money or the time to conserve them. While I acknowledge that, in the past, zoos were part of the problem, I believe that most AAZPA rated facilities are now part of the solution. Merrit Clifton, the news editor of "The Animals Agenda" magazine, published by the Animal Rights Network, was quoted in the New York Times (June 16, 1991): "I have yet to write about the self-evident cruelty of holding wild animals hostage in foreign, artificial environments, where at best they can only mimic natural behavior...In short, zoos are human entertainment. They do for animals what new car dealerships do for automobiles - importing and showing off what's in vogue, regardless of cost to the environment; providing service and maintenance while the bills are low; quietly disposing of older models on a back lot." As George Orwell wrote, there are some ideas so absurd only an intellectual could believe them. Zoos as evil or cruel places devoted to exploitation is one of the most absurd. Herpetologists beware! "Jails for whales" and other slogans can easily be turned against the private herpetoculturist as well as the public facilities now under fire. Keep your ears to the ground and your tanks nice and clean. Support your local zoo and aquarium with time, money and letters NOW, before it's too late. [Gleaned from 1.) New York Times, May 26, 1991 and June 16, 1991, contributed by P.L. Beltz, and 2.) Daily Commercial, Leesburg, FL, April 27, 1991, contributed by Bill Burnett.]


Kindergardeners raised money to pay for the care and release of baby turtles raised from the eggs of pregnant terrapins killed on New Jersey highways in May. Roger Wood, a zoology professor at Stockton State College incubated the diamondback terrapin eggs for the kids, said, "Turtles and traffic always represents a dead turtle." He managed to save about 100 of the 800 eggs found last June and July inside road-killed female turtles. The kids adopted the eggs and held bake sales and other events to raise the $150 to pay for the turtles prenatal care and release. [New York Times, May 16, 1991, contributed by P.L. Beltz]


With great fanfare, the White House announced that the Japanese government had agreed to reduce and possibly end their exploitation of hawksbill sea turtles. All sea turtles are on the endangered species list, but Japan had never acted to stop the import of turtle shell, just as it has never stopped so-called "scientific whaling" and the import of endangered lizard-skin for shoes. Dr. Michael W. Klemens, a specialist in turtle studies at the American Museum of Natural History in New York, says that the harvesting of hawksbill turtles is often cruel. poor people in developing countries commonly net or spear the turtles, or gather them while nesting on land. The live turtles are then placed on burning coals and heated until their top and bottom shells become malleable enough to rip off. The naked, still living turtle is then thrown back into the water in the belief that it will regrow its shell and can be harvested again. Turtle shells do not regenerate, of course, and the turtles die from infection or predation. Each turtle yields less than 3 pounds of usable shell, So, up to 1,000 turtles are killed for each ton of shell imported into Japan. Most hawksbill hunting is in direct response to merchants seeking shells to sell to Japan where the shell is used by approximately 2,000 traditional craft workers to make eyeglass frames, shoe horns, cigarette lighters and other absolutely non-essential items. Stop me if I'm wrong, but aren't the Japanese supposedly 99% employed, working long hours and making lots of money? Didn't the massive influx of Japanese products to the U.S. put an awful lot of Americans out of work and result in the the massive trade deficit we're always hearing about? And, didn't the Japanese government go back on their word on the whaling issue, the rainforest wood import issue, and many other environmental issues after getting good press with so-called "phase-out" plans similar to the "reduction in turtle-shell import" plans announced this year? Will the U.S. government stand firm on this issue? Has the U.S. stood firm on it's own regulations on Turtle Excluder Devices? Does anybody really care? If you care - and I hope you do - write George Bush and tell him to stop Japanese wildlife imports like pearls and goldfish if the Japanese don't stop importing turtle shells. His address is: The White House, 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W., Washington, D.C. 20500. While you've got your pen warmed up, you can write the Japanese ambassador to the U.S.: His Excellency Ryohei Murata, Ambassador to the U.S., Embassy of Japan, 2520 Massachusetts Avenue, N.W., Washington, D.C. 20008. [From several sources: 1.) Voice of the Turtle, May 1991, contributed by Mike McNeil; 2.) Earth Island Institute flier and full page ad, contributed by Todd Steiner; 3.) National Wildlife, EnviroAction, May, 1991; 4.) New York Times, May 17, and May 18, 1991, contributed by P.L. Beltz; and 5.) Commercial-Appeal, Memphis Tennessee, May 17, 1991, contributed by Bill Burnett.] Obviously a hot topic, but where are the animal rights activists?

Please join my active contributors... you'll know you've been involved, I print the name of every contributor involved in the creation of this column. Send your contributions in care of AFH to the address listed on the mast head! Thanks!

Volume 3, Number 4 - 1991

For the price of a small car...

The World Conservation Union (IUCN) has specialist groups working on plans to conserve many kinds of animals. The Tortoise and Fresh Water Turtle Specialist Group has developed an Action Plan for worldwide turtle conservation. Projects include establishing sanctuaries, working with governments and international organizations to curb trade in declining species, creating projects to conserve turtles without removing them from the economies of subsistence people, and initiating captive breeding programs to bolster depleted populations. We all know that the conservative life strategy of turtles has placed them particularly at risk in this fast-paced over-developing world.

But what does this have to do with the price of a small car? One important project is studying a river terrapin (--Batagur baska--), one of Asia's most endangered turtles. These inoffensive animals have endured centuries of exploitation and habitat destruction. They were even believed extinct in India, until rediscovered just a few years ago (see Zai Whitaker's 1989 book --Snakeman-- for the whole story). The project to study the last --Batagur-- populations has been started, then stopped for lack of funds to continue.

A mere $8,000 is stopping this project! The AFH has a membership of about 3,000 - so I figure if each of us sits down and writes a check for $2.50 (about the cost of two grown mice), this project will be able to go on. Since all donations to IUCN-Turtle Projects are tax deductible - you may wish to send more. Additional IUCN-Turtle projects include property acquisition for the benefit of the Bolson's tortoise (--Gopherus flavimarginatus--) and other North American species. Please make your checks payable to: "IUCN-Turtle-AMNH" and mail them to Michael Klemens, Director of the Global Turtle Recovery Program, American Museum of Natural History, Central Park West at 79th Street, New York, NY 10024-5192. The project manager of the --Batagur-- project is Edward Moll, from Eastern Illinois University. Dr. Moll has always been really supportive to regional herpetologists and terrarists and I would hope that we amateurs could save this project! Thank you for your support.

Pipe Bomb? No, Python!

Delta Airlines executive, Jeff Niven, related perhaps the most astonishing loose snake story I can remember recently. It started when his receptionist called and he didn't clearly hear what she said was onboard Flight 236 from Orlando to LaGuardia airports. At first he thought she said there was a 4-foot pipe bomb on the plane. He said, "I nearly died, then she tried to calm me down. She said, "It's OK it isn't poisonous." The python was discovered in flight by a passenger who nonchalantly opened the luggage compartment above his head only to find the 4-foot constrictor midair, so to speak. He did what non-herpetological passengers would do... he screamed "Snake! Snake!" Another passenger coaxed the snake into a shopping bag which was kept in a lavatory until the end of the flight. The snake was ultimately given to the New York Herpetological Society because no one claimed it. [New York Times, Long Island Section, June 16, 1991, contributed by Allen Salzberg, NYTTS]

Alligator stars in antiwar video

Students in Takamatsu, Kagawa Prefecture have used a presumed 70-year old Chinese alligator as a "narrator" in their school broadcasting class video titled "What the Oldest Alligator in Japan Saw." The script, actually read by one of the students, describes World War 2 air raids on targets near Ritsurin Park Zoo. Toward the end of the war zoo keepers killed most of the larger animals for fear that the bombings would damage cages permitting escapes. Zoo officials mentioned that the alligator arrived in 1933 from the Lower Yangtze River valley in China. The film is meant to show that animals, as well as humans can become victims of war. [The Japan Times, July 16, 1991, contributed by Scott J. Simpson, Tochigi-Ken, Japan]

But was it blond?

Los Angeles resident, Clifford Hooe was surprised by a 10-foot long python soaking up some rays on his lawn on Don Miguel Drive, near Baldwin Hills. Where it came from and how it ended up on a lawn was not explained. An officer of the Department of Animal Regulation and a Police Officer are shown hauling it away, one holding the head, the other the tail while the loop of the snake drags on the sidewalk. Ugh! Would an AFH member in LA please go show the police and animal control how to handle and bag up a snake? [Los Angeles Times, September 3, 1991, contributed by Brian Kend, Palos Verdes Estates, CA]


Steven Simpson, a natural history bookseller in Brighton, England, contributed the following from the London Evening Standard (September 16, 1991): "Terminating the turtle threat. They may look cute swinging swords and eating pizza, but real-life turtles may be causing an ecological disaster, say wildlife experts. The country's waterways are being infiltrated by rapidly growing numbers of voracious turtles whose tendency to eat anything that moves threatens the eco-systems in our ponds and rivers. In Hertfordshire, wildlife rangers are organizing turtle patrols to try to trap the creatures, which originally come from the Louisiana swamps, after they turned up in ponds containing threatened species like the great crested newt. Not surprisingly, last year's Teenage Ninja Turtle craze is being blamed for the wave of unwanted pet turtles. Turtles have been released all over the country - London already has hundreds, possibly thousands - including the ferocious Chinese soft-shelled turtle, nicknamed the Terminator. No predator exists in Britain to keep their numbers down, though ecologists believe our climate will prevent the turtles breeding." Please remember that wildlife --experts-- of the past have said that kudzu was a nice animal fodder and that African bees couldn't survive north of Belize! Just as a note, we have noticed a population of red-eared sliders in a disturbed environment in Chicago which I doubt is a less hostile environment than the British Isles.

Reptile Protection Trust speaks out

An article in BBC Wildlife Magazine (September, 1991) by Clifford Warwick, chairman of the Reptile Protection Trust, argues against the trade in tiny turtles: red-ears, each still instinctively struggling towards its native swamp or pond, arrive in quantities of four to seven million annually in pet shops around the world - in almost any place but the US, in fact. In the terrapins' native country, you can capture them, ranch them, export them, kill them by neglect and generally make money out of them - do anything you want to them, except keep them as pets. That's because they might give you salmonellosis, and your government, if you're an American, worries about your health." Clifford points out that between 78 and 99 percent of the baby turtles die, but this is no problem to the importers, they just send more tiny turtles. Some owners just flush unwanted turtles down the toilet, others are releasing them (see above). Clifford proposes that politics may be suppressing terrapin conservation: "One FWS official there [Louisiana] demonstrated his grasp of ecological issues by saying that if red-ears were disrupting ecosystems in some importing nations, it seemed to him that the US was doing the world a favour by allowing the reptile to be wiped out [by turtle farmers]." I met Clifford Warwick at the First World Congress of Herpetology in Canterbury, England in 1989. From my personal impression I would have to say that he is one of the most dedicated reptile rights workers I have ever met - and certainly one of the most creative. He's been on shrimp trawlers without their captains realizing there was a "serpent" in their midst. He's been inside rattlesnake roundups, accepted as a rather kooky, well-to-do Britisher. Every one of these experiences has resulted in articles, both scientific and popular. You can write him at R.P.T., College Gates, 2 Deansway, Worcester WR1 2JD. RPT has fact sheets on the Terrapin Campaign which seeks to ban the tiny turtle trade in the United Kingdom. [Contributed by James Harding, Michigan State University]

Jack Kemp versus Ambystoma tigrinum

The Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, Mr. Jack Kemp, recently wrote an article in the Wall Street Journal, (July 8, 1991) titled "Free Housing from Environmental Snobs." In that article he wrote: "In Bridgehampton, Long Island [NY], the discovery of a single, tiny tiger salamander crawling along the ground led to a one-year delay in construction of a 102-acre subdivision, part of which was set aside for low-cost housing. The costly interference by eco-bureaucrats eventually forced the developer to slash the number of affordable housing units by half... Environmental protection is another well-meaning public policy which wreaks havoc on the housing market...." About a month later (August 14, 1991), several people including Andrew E. Sabin, President of the South Fork Natural History Society, Amagansett, N.Y. wrote an letter in reply to Kemp. All the letters were published under the title, "It's not the salamander's fault." Mr. Sabin wrote: "Mr. Kemp says `one little salamander' was responsible for reducing the number of affordable-housing lots on a subdivision in Bridgehampton, Long Island by 50%. I was the one who discovered the endangered tiger salamander (--Ambystoma tigrinum--) on this site. At the time I was unaware of the proposed subdivision. The salamander and its breeding pond contained 500 eggs; had they all grown into adults they would have represented as much as 20% of the entire New York State population of tiger salamander - that's how low the state population may be! The subdivision with the salamander is within the boundaries of an area of Southhampton Town targeted for acquisition through the efforts of the town, Suffolk County and The Nature Conservancy... The developers knew about the acquisition program when they submitted their plan. Had they and their consultants done their homework, the plan would have been better conceived when first presented and the tiger-salamander habitat would have been put into perpetual `open space'... the presence of the salamander barely made a difference. The amount of open space preserved went from 52% to 55% - not enough to undermine an affordable-housing project as Mr. Kemp misrepresents. As it turned out, the subdivision has little to do with affordable housing; 10 lots have been developed, and they and their houses are priced from $169,900 to $219,900... It's just another expensive subdivision in the Hamptons." [Contributed by P.L. Beltz, Chicago, IL]

Stolen alligator returned - 4 years later!

Memphis State University professor, William Gutzke, recovered his stolen alligator in a bizarre nighttime rendezvous in a K-mart parking lot. It had been a cute, cuddly 18-incher when it was stolen in 1987 - but its now a 5-foot 4-inch, 40-pounder with big teeth! Dr. Gutzke had given up on ever recovering the gator when an anonymous phone call set the stage for the animal's return. He said, "This person called and said he had my alligator and that his conscience had been bothering him for four years. As we talked, I became convinced that it was, indeed, my gator..." The parking lot rendezvous was arranged and the animal returned to Dr. Gutzke and a student, Michele Krastins. They packed the beastie into Dr. Gutzke's Yugo. Miss Krastins remembered, "She had her head up and was looking out the window. I was afraid someone might look over and see her." Dr. Gutzke said, "She's had good care or she wouldn't be this big... She's grown a lot, but I wouldn't call her aggressive. I'd say she's pretty mellow for an alligator." [Memphis Commercial Appeal, October 5, 1991, contributed by Bill Burnett, Memphis, Tennessee]

The Mouse has roared!

The October, 1991 Newsletter of the Southwestern Herpetologists Society reports that the Walt Disney Company has agreed to stop selling rattlesnake products at its attractions. The change in Disney policy came about because people in the SWHS wrote letters and followed up on them. The Disney people didn't know that rattlesnakes are collected in ecologically damaging ways and they have a policy not to carry items that adversely affect the environment. Congratulations to Jeffrey Hewitt, President of SWHS and all its members for a job well done! [Contributed by Sean McKeown, Fresno, CA]

Tortoises beat the house again in Las Vegas

Due to our lead-time between writing and publishing - this paragraph may not be the last word on the struggles of people interested in saving 3,800 desert tortoises about to be made homeless in the Las Vegas area. An agreement worked out between developers and conservationists was reported on in papers across the US including the Las Vegas Review-Journal of August 29, 1991. At that time, it was stated that tortoises displaced by construction would be euthanized at Las Vegas County's Dewey Animal Care Center if they weren't adopted in five days. Apparently local people got very upset by this article! At latest report [David Lawrence, HerpWatch, Bull. Chicago Herp. Soc., October, 1991] no tortoises had yet been brought in by developers and any that may be will not be subject to a five day "dead"-line. Any tortoises received will be put up for adoption, relocated or otherwise kept alive. You can call Betty Burge, chair of the Tort Group, a tortoise conservation organization at (702) 739-7113 for the most up to date information on this situation. [Thanks to Bob Hansen, Bob F. Pierson, Sean McKeown, the Southwestern Herpetologists Society, Dave Lawrence and others for materials used in this paragraph.]

Homing lizards?

Two biologists from the City University of New York have established that if you remove a lizard from its home, it will find its way back there fairly quickly. Their "sense of direction" is apparently based in their parietal eyes, centered between the vision eyes on the top, or dorsal, surface of their heads. The researchers worked with Yarrow's spiny lizards (--Sceloporus jarrovi--) in Arizona. They covered the parietal eyes of 40 lizards, then put the animals in a bag and released them 450 feet away from the point of collection. They also had various control groups. The lizards with the third eye covered got home only 21 per cent of the time; lizards with all their eyes open got home in 61 percent of the releases. Radio tracking devices were used in both groups of lizards. The data confirmed the importance of the third eye. When it was covered, the lizards moved at random, while uncovered control animals began to move homeward within half an hour. Further work indicated that the lizards use the position of the sun to direct them home. [New Scientist, August 17, 1991, contributed by Kevin Connelly, Berkeley, CA]

Thanks to everybody who contributed articles for this issue! This is a reader-supported column. If you'd like to contribute, all you have to do is cut out articles from magazines or newspapers. Please be sure to include the publication name and date of issue. Write your name and town on the article so I can give you proper credit and mail it to me c/o the AFH, at the address on the masthead. If more than one person contributes the same (or similar articles), I'll give everybody credit! It's really neat to get letters and articles from around the world. Doing this column is just about as much fun for me as reading it is (I hope) for you. Until next time...

Volume 3, Number 5 - 1991


Remember the fuss a few months ago about the giant snake that supposedly has eaten people all over the world? Alert reader, Mr. A.J. "Mac" McBride, of Colchester, England, wrote: "As soon as I saw the two photos accompanying the story "snake gets bad rap," Volume 3, Number 1, I thought, hello, they look familiar. After a long while looking I found the set of three photos which were obtained from a friend of my fathers, the originals were sepia and as far as I can remember were postcards. I have enclosed a copy of these photos which I hope you will find interesting." The photos lay to rest any doubts we may have had about what the snake ate. Thanks, Mac, for recognizing the photo and taking the time and effort to have your set photographically reproduced!

Figure 1. Mighty hunters bring in dead snake securely tied to poles. Please note bearer of one end of pole is not Japanese, but significantly darker and barefoot.

Figure 2. Here's the old faithful of tabloid fame.

Figure 3. Upon examination, the snake is found to have eaten some form of hooved mammal, definitely not a Japanese soldier, mother of newborn baby, the babe itself - or any of the other impossible victims.


The Sun Magazine, not usually known for ultimate veracity, reports: "Dozens of friends and neighbors watched in horror as a young fisherman was grabbed crushed and swallowed by a monstrous, 35-foot long snake." The victim was allegedly a Brazilian fisherman, and the snake is allegedly a world-record sized anaconda. The snake supposedly bit the victim's shoulder first, the "wrapped itself around [the victim] and began breaking his bones, one at a time." I measured the snake in the photograph, using the car battery as a size reference, and determined that the snake was not longer than 27-feet. The bulge is uniform for 5.5 to 6 feet in length. Humans are not uniformly bulgy. The shoulders are a wide spot and the rest of the body tapers to the feet. I'd like to suggest that one of our readers can probably tell us more about the truck, the people or the location of this spurious "snake eats man" story. [The Sun Magazine, December 10, 1991 - contributed by Mike McNeil.]


  • A 10.5-foot-long python was discovered in a pharmacy in Red Lion, Pennsylvania. The poor thing had been run over by a car and had to be put down. The owner, in a burst of true intelligence, had let the snake loose in her living room while sealer was drying on the snake's new cage. Anti-snake legislation is now in the works for Red Lion. [York Daily Record, July 12, 1991 - contributed by Brad Bauserman.]
  • Police in Winter Springs, Florida shot a 15-foot python four times, but the animal had to be killed by lethal injection. Neither police officer was "available for comment" for the local paper, but an animal control officer said his agency should have been contacted to capture the animal without harm. [The Orlando Sentinel and The Leesburg, Florida Daily Commercial, December 3, 1991 - contributed by Bill Burnett.]
  • A 12-foot python belonging to Josette DeLeo-Siddoway, an exotic dancer, returned of his own accord after being missing for three days. Authorities in South Salt Lake, Utah believe "Mugsy" slipped under a door, then slithered up some pipes onto the ceiling. He reappeared through one of the holes punched in the ceiling in an effort to capture him. Perhaps he just missed the limelight... [Denver Post, August 11, 1991 - contributed by Roxanne Moore.]
  • Residents in a remote Siberian village reported seeing a giant green snake with the head of a sheep patrolling their local lake. Tass News Agency compared the sighting to Scotland's famous Loch Ness monster, "Nessie," and the Abominable Snowman or Yeti of the Himalayas. [Memphis, Tennessee Commercial Appeal, November 21, 1991 - contributed by Bill Burnett.]


Barry Hammer of the Hoosier Herpetological Society is urging herpetologists to write Titan Sports, Inc., 1055 Summer Street, Stanford, CT 06906 protesting the use of a King Cobra by Jake "The Snake" Roberts, a so-called "professional wrestler." I have not seen the "sport" myself, but Barry writes: [Jake] " is known for bringing large pythons into the ring where he proceeds to swing them around and generally handle them in a rough manner. Apparently this is no longer sensational enough, for Mr. Roberts has now begun to do the same things with cobras... I would tend to think that they [the cobras] have been rendered harmless in some way... The snake bit and began to chew the arm of Mr. Roberts' opponent... Mr. Roberts continued to brandish the snake as if it were a weapon, at one point stepping on its dragging tail. Close-up views of the bitten man's bleeding arm and crying children in the audience further enhanced the shock value... I am sending copies of this letter to over 50 different regional herpetological societies... Perhaps a concerted effort can bring an end to this." AFH members should also be aware that Jake was prevented from using any reptiles in his act while in Baton Rouge, Louisiana last year due to the efforts of Dez and David Crawford and the local animal control. Before the arrival of the wrestling spectacular, Animal Control decided that Jake's act involved cruelty to animals and informed him that he would not be permitted to perform with snakes during the Baton Rouge engagement. I would urge those living in areas on the wrestling circuit to politely meet with their municipal and county animal control officers well before the show comes to town.

The U.S. Department of Defense is spending $69,000 on a project at the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences (USUHS) that seems unlikely to produce any effect except 300 dead turtles from around the world. Dr. Joseph Ward, a USUHS anatomist, states his purpose as a study of "the human temporo-mandibular joint (TMJ) pain syndrome... [turtles] simpler, primitive form" will help him understand the more "complex human feeding mechanism." There is just one problem with this, eloquently stated by C. Richard Gilmore, D.D.S.: "Turtles are a uniquely poor choice to study if pursuing objectives of human evolution and derivation. Indeed, the remote kinship between turtles and primates renders turtles useless for studies of... TMJ relationships." Another dentist, Thomas K. Ingram, D.D.S. stated "I have... treated many cases of TMJ problems, and find the majority due to occlusal interference of teeth. Turtles do not have teeth." People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals produced a handout on this disgusting subject. They recommend writing to your congressional representative and asking him or her to withdraw support for funding this useless project.

A Moscow, Kansas man was fined $132 and held in jail for three days for being over legal limit after conservation officers visited his house twice in January, 1991. They found a total of 86 rattlesnakes in an old refrigerator tipped on its side. The man told the officers that the snakes were to be taken to Oklahoma to sell during the annual "rattlesnake roundup." Kansas law requires a hunting license to take snakes, and there is a possession limit of 5. [Kansas Wildlife and Parks, July/August, 1991 - contributed by Roxann Moore.] This brings up the subject of rattlesnake roundups in general, and animal rights in particular. People wishing to attend the protests in Texas are urged to write the Reptile Defense Fund, P.O. Box 16042, Baton Rouge, LA 70893. However, I am unaware of protests for any locations in Georgia or Oklahoma. Where are the bunny huggers, the whale watchers, the tree chainers and all the others who are effective at getting their message on T.V. and into print? Aren't rattlesnakes animals to them? Isn't pouring gasoline into burrows and poisoning cute little furry things in an effort to fume out the snakes worth their while? Do you know any animal rights activists? We will only shut these events down if every one of us does something to help. Bear baiting and cock fighting have been outlawed nationwide. Let's make 1992 the year that rattle snake roundups bite the dust.


Three Cambodian men from Garden Grove, California were fined $2,000 each and sentenced to up to four months in jail for removing 16 desert tortoises from their burrows in the Mojave Desert in June, 1991. Prosecutors believe the defendants may have planned to sell the tortoises as an ethnic food. Defense attorneys had stated his clients intended the tortoises for religious ceremonies, but a Buddhist priest told authorities that tortoises aren't used in temple, but on table in Cambodia. The tortoises were turned over to a rehabilitation facility prior to being returned to the Harper Dry Lake region where they were captured. [The Orange County Register, September 4, 1991 - contributed by John McNett and Tortoise Tracks, Fall 1991 - contributed by the Desert Tortoise Preserve Committee.]


to everyone who contributed to this column. Without you, there would be nothing for me to write about. Please send reptile items, letters, clippings, odd photos, postcards, etc. to me in care of the AFH at the address on the masthead. You will receive credit for all items used. Please write the name of the publication, the date printed, and your name on each clipping so I can give proper credit to both the source and to you. Have a happy and healthy 1992 and I hope all your eggs hatch!

Volume 3, Number 6 - 1991


Twelve people were fined a total of $27,000 for illegally importing rare and protected herpetofauna from Mexico to California. One member of the smuggling ring sneaked at least 68 live reptiles, including vipers, neotropical rattlers, boas, plumed lizards and iguanas. Wildlife agents seized 46 live reptiles and 87 preserved ones from one home. Wildlife agent Ken McCloud stated that five of the snakes were South Todos Island king snakes, a species considered extinct until recently. [Los Angeles Times, February 4, 1992. Contributed by Brian Kend, California.]


Kim and Kathy Bricker of Bethesda, MD sent a clipping showing a couple of firefighters who took the time to save some snakes after a fire in a pet store in Napa, California. A heat lamp apparently set the shop on fire. [Associated Press, January 9, 1992] Inspired by that clipping, the Brickers have typed up a notice and hung it on the outside of their reptile room: "To firemen, policemen, and anyone else with cause to enter this room when we are not here... Within live two non-poisonous pythons named Mario and Pivot. They are accustomed to people, can be approached slowly, and picked up gently. Please do not harm them. In an emergency call Trooper Walsh at National Zoo (phone number given)." I think the notice is an excellent idea. Perhaps some creative AFH-er will come up with a "reptiles within" sticker we can all use on our windows.


A Colorado chemist is experimenting with raising alligators in an environmentally controlled room on a hog farm. The gators eat dead animals and other byproducts of the farming business. The farmer regards the alligators as "nature's natural garbage cleaners." Additionally, the dead animals are kept out of landfills. [The Denver Post, December 1, 1991. Contributed by Roxanne Moore.]

A 700-pound alligator gained notoriety and the nickname "Wessie" after being spotted numerous times in Weston, a suburb bordering the Florida Everglades. The 13-footer was captured after a five-hour fight. The "nuisance" alligator was destroyed, an action made necessary by Florida law. Lt. John Kirkland, the Florida Game and Fresh Water Fish Commission Everglades-area nuisance alligator coordinator, said officials only remove gators they think are a threat. But he realizes the contradiction inherent in the program. He said, "We have destroyed their habitats and built houses and condominiums...People create the nuisance, the alligator doesn't." [The Orlando Sentinel, December 12, 1991. Contributed by Bill Burnett, Tennessee.]


It will be interesting to this author to see how quickly the latest "venomous snake bites innocent victim" story will take to spread around the world. The story was quoted by Michael Miner in the Chicago Reader [January 31, 1992]: "Rumor had it that a pregnant Filipino nurse was bitten by a snake hiding in the vegetable bin of Viet Hoa Plaza, a popular Asian grocery...[she] became sick, her husband led her out to her car, and she died. Police sealed off the store and found a snake - by some accounts a baby cobra - curled among the greens. The husband filed suit for $6 million..." Thus ends the legend. In real life, business at Viet Hoa Plaza dropped by 50 percent, prompting the store owners to call the director of the Chicago Advisory Council on Asian Affairs to quell the panic. The director called the police, hospitals, the medical examiner and animal control. None of these entities had any knowledge of the alleged cobra fatality. The story appeared to have been made up entirely to discredit the Viet Hoa Plaza. When these stories have gotten any press at all in the past, they spread like wildfire on wire service reports and end up repeated all around the world. AFH members should be aware that this is a hoax and should say so (firmly) if questioned about this story. Additionally, all herpetoculturists should try to inform the public that there are no "poisonous" snakes, only venomous ones. Poison is when you eat it, venom is when it's trying to eat you.


I received a photocopy of a page from "Sportsmans' Guide," Golden Valley, MN that shows various dead herp parts made into "decorator items." There's a freeze-dried rattler with a "life-like open-mouth, fangs bared, striking position that will definitely get the attention of you and your friends! No two are alike. Don't miss out on this fantastic conversation piece!" These poor dead creatures cost from $49.99 to $149.99. They also have decapitated alligators, freeze dried rattlesnake lamps and a ceramic buffalo skull wrapped by a genuine rattlesnake. They say the last "looks great on your bookshelf." The most disgusting item on the page is "A snake head key holding death in your hand. Closed mouth head measures... and has a metal key ring..." [Contributed by Tom Taylor, Arizona.]


A snake captured by animal control officers last July was produced in defense of a charge of cruelty lodged against its former owner, David Rodgers of Ottawa, Canada. The prosecution claims Rodgers flushed the snake down the toilet on purpose. The defense attorney denies the allegation that the snake was flushed with success, and told the court that the pet crawled into the toilet and out of the apartment on its own. What started the fuss was that the snake was found in the toilet of a downstairs apartment by a 10-year-old girl who was intending to use the commode. The python was injured in the ordeal and is being cared for at the Canadian Museum of Nature. [The Ottawa Sun, January 30, 1992. Contributed by O. Yaziciyan, Montreal.]


A bill filed in the Florida Legislature at the request of Secretary of State, Jim Smith, would prohibit anyone from keeping venomous snakes and lizards for personal use. FL House Bill 1625 was filed by state Rep. Peggy Simone and the companion FL Senate Bill 1476 by Sen Winston W. Gardner. The legislative liaison for Smith's office said the legislation is an attempt to tighten regulations on venomous reptiles and prevent them from escaping or being released. Permit fees would be raised from $5 to $100 and bonds to $5,000 from $1,000. Greg Longhurst, past president of the Palm Beach County Herp. Society said: "Many thousands of people every year are killed in automobile accidents. Why don't we ban cars?" [Ft. Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel, January 28, 1992. Contributed by Leonardo DeSouza, Ft. Lauderdale.] The measure is opposed by all of the Florida herpetologists I've contacted. They say that the state already has restrictions on owners and requires snakes be kept in locked containers. The impact of the proposed legislation on the Reptile Breeders Expo was apparently not considered.


The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle craze is believed partially responsible for the growth of a multimillion dollar international black market for pet turtles. Thousands of turtles and turtle eggs are being sold each year in a growing and lucrative illegal worldwide trade in pet turtles, according to the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency. A prime source of turtles is northwest Tennessee's Reelfoot Lake, where officials estimate 100,000 turtle eggs were illegally removed in 1991. Box turtles are selling in Europe for about $75. Bog turtles, one of the nations' rarest reptiles are sold for $400 each. Pete Wyatt, a state wildlife officer in East Tennessee's Unicoi County, said it wasn't too long ago that box turtles sold for 10 cents each. He said: "Most people think we have an unlimited supply of turtles... But that's not true. Due to the commercialization of turtles in Tennessee, we're at the point where certain populations are being depleted." He said that more than 7,500 box turtles illegally passed through Atlanta's Hartsfield International Airport in 1990 en route to Europe. Many were confiscated, leading to the arrest of dealers. The penalty for illegally shipping turtles can be harsh. Interstate transport is a felony under U.S. law and can result in fines of up to $20,000 and a five-year prison term. States may also have laws preventing possession or sale of turtles. Wyatt said: "There is a handful of people who are getting very wealthy off turtles. If a person sells 20,000 turtle eggs for $1 each, it doesn't take a mathematician to figure out that's a lot of money." [The Commercial Appeal, Memphis, Tennessee. Contributed by Bill Burnett.]


"We are currently researching the status of American box turtles which arrive in this country; a report on the findings of our survey will be issued in the next few months... We are anxious to highlight the plight of these imported turtles (most die within 6 months) and hope to receive support from responsible herpetologists in the U.S. for our efforts to ban their collection and export. Sincerely, Andy C. Highfield." The Tortoise Trust publishes several fine care booklets on turtle and tortoise care as well as a nifty multiple language poster. Write the Turtle Trust, B.M. Tortoise, London, WC1N 3XX, England, United Kingdom, for more information.


A study by Louis Guillette of the University of Florida and Brent Palmer of Ohio University shows that the ancient alligator-crocodile family has separated uterine chambers unlike those of modern reptiles. One chamber makes fibers for the egg shell and the other produces calcium to harden the shell and protect the egg from dessication. The crocodilian uterus is also very similar to that of birds. This finding supports an hypothesis that at least some species of dinosaurs used the same system. Alligator eggs look very similar to the few dinosaur eggs found. Guillette said: "Before we started our research, the only thing scientists knew about dinosaur reproduction was that some of them laid eggs. Now, we believe we know what a dinosaur's uterus looked like." Dinosaurs, birds and gators are considered to be descended from a class of reptiles called archosaurs. They branched off from other reptiles to form a unique group about 250 million years ago. [The Daily Commercial, Leesburg, FL. Contributed by Bill Burnett.]


In one of the most bizarre news articles this year, the strange case of the snake handling preacher and his wife was presented. Depending on who you believe, either the preacher tried to kill his wife by forcing her to put her hand in a cage of rattlesnakes, or she tried to commit suicide by the same means. The jury believed the woman who had been bitten twice. The preacher and his wife were members of the Christian sect of "The Church of Jesus With Following Signs" in Scottsboro, Alabama. During worship services, the preacher routinely handled venomous snakes, drank what was called strychnine and touched live electrical wires to prove his faith. The preacher had prior convictions for grand larceny and burglary before his ordination and so may face life in prison under Alabama's Habitual Offenders Act. The fate of the rattlesnakes was not mentioned in the articles. [The New York Times, February 15, 1992, contributed by P.L. Beltz and The San Francisco Chronicle, contributed by Mike McNeil.]


The Endangered Species Act (ESA) is up for reauthorization by Congress in 1992. Some members of Congress, and some members of the Executive Branch have suggested weakening the ESA to permit more development without consideration of threatened and endangered species. Conservationists oppose weakening the Act. Representative Gerry Studds has introduced House Resolution 4045 to reauthorize and strengthen the ESA. This package is a good beginning according to the Center for Marine Conservation. It would encourage early planning to reduce unforeseen conflicts with development, establish deadlines for recovery plans, clarify federal authority to enforce the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), and increase funding for the ESA. Write your Congressional Representatives to let them know how you feel about the ESA: The Honorable (his or her name), U.S. House of Representatives, Washington, DC 20515 or call 202-224-3121 and ask for your Rep. by name. The Wall Street Journal [January 15, 1992] pointed out that there are considered to be 100 million species world wide, of which only 1% are known and named. We are losing up to 50,000 species a year. In the U.S., we may lose 4,000 species from now to the end of the century. Kinda makes you stop and think, doesn't it?


The Bush administration is failing to enforce the law designed to save sea turtles from drowning in shrimp nets. Although many U.S. shrimpers are now using turtle excluder devices (TEDs) to prevent by-catch and turtle mortality, the Commerce Department has not issued appropriate regulations to cover imported shrimp even though the 1989 law mandated a May 1991 deadline for the rules to take effect. About $1.8 billion worth of imported shrimp is imported from over 80 countries every year. In late February, the Earth Island Institute filed suite in U.S. District Court in San Francisco to make the federal bureaucracy obey the laws passed by the U.S. Congress. [San Francisco Examiner, March 1, 1992. Contributed by Mike McNeil.] As a personal aside, when Carole Allen of H.E.A.R.T. first told me of the turtle drownings (in 1984) I resolved to eat no shrimp until TEDs were on every boat. I used to enjoy shrimp, and eat a lot of it, but I haven't eaten one shrimp since 1984. I'm still waiting for enforcement of the TEDs laws we fought so hard to have passed.

Thanks to everyone who contributed to this column. Special thanks must go to two major contributors, Bill Burnett and P.L. Beltz. Become a contributor, too! If you should happen to see a herp related item in a newspaper or magazine, please cut it out and send it (with the publication's name and the date attached) to me in care of AFH. Vale, lacerte!

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