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

Herp News Around the World
by Ellin Beltz

Volume Four

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

This was the third 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 4, Number 1 - 1992


A 25-year-old resident of Emmitsburg, Maryland died in late May after being bitten by his pet cobra. Brian Leslie West had been keeping 50 snakes, about half of which were venomous, in cages in his basement. His father said that the venomous animals were kept in locked cages in a room designed to contain the snakes. The 6-foot-long black Indian cobra was delivering eggs when it began to have difficulty, according to West's father. He said his son had taken the snake to a veterinarian and injected it with medicine to help the delivery progress at home. About an hour later, the snake suddenly bit the victim on the toe of his left foot. He managed to put the cobra in its cage before rescue workers arrived. He went into cardiac arrest within ten minutes of being bitten. He was remembered at his memorial service as a man who loved nature and wildlife, who was dedicated to educating others about misunderstood wildlife, and who served on the same volunteer emergency ambulance corps that responded to his call. He was vice president of the Western Maryland Herpetological Society. His snake collection will be placed with zoos or other herpetologists. [The Washington Post, May 30, 1992, The Frederick MD Post, May 30, 1992 and June 1, 1992. Contributed by D. Curry.]


Tom Crutchfield of Bushnell was convicted of conspiring to smuggle four endangered Fiji banded iguanas into Miami, Florida in 1989. There are only 34 of these lizards legally in the US. Crutchfield is one of the largest importers, wholesalers, and breeders of exotic reptiles - dealing in Galapagos tortoises, crocodiles, large snakes, and albino cobras. The San Diego Zoo was among his best customers according to Jeff Jouett, a spokesman for the zoo. He said that 60 percent of their animals are wild caught and that only a small percentage of the 6,000 known reptile species can be found in zoos or in private collections. [Leesburg, FL Daily Commercial, June 23, 1992. Contributed by Bill Burnett.] A source told me that Crutchfield will probably be given jail time and fined for this conviction. This trial was conducted under a "gag order" which prevented anyone involved in the case from speaking about it while it was in progress. Apparently several other cases like this are occurring - or will occur - around the country.


US President John Quincy Adams kept an alligator belonging to General Lafayette in the East Room of the White House for a few months! [Honolulu Star-Bulletin and Advertiser, August 30, 1991. Contributed by Dr. Jon Pegg.] More people are eating crocodiles in Zimbabwe now than there are crocodiles eating people! Crocs used to kill 20-30 people a year, but the nation has turned them into an economic asset through sustainable use. Reportedly tasting like a chewy lobster tail, nine tons of meat a year is eaten by tourists, or exported to Europe. "We don't eat creatures that eat us," said one African, "You don't know what you might be eating." [Los Angeles Times, March 22, 1992. Contributed by Bob Pierson.] Male alligators make a sound too low for human hearing to attract females according to University of Florida biologist Kent Vliet. The low- frequency noises prompt the females to rest their chins on the males' throats or necks and close their eyes. Vliet said this is a sign that they are enjoying the vibrations passing through their bodies. "So much energy is produced from this accoustical vibration that water spews up as much as a foot off the surface of the water and dances around the alligator like jets of water from a fountain," Vliet said. [Orlando, FL Sentinal, May 8, 1992. Contributed by Bill Burnett.] I wonder if the Lovin' Spoonful had quite this in mind? The Saint Augustine Alligator Farm is looking for good homes for about 1,000 young gators. The yard-long gators are about 25 pounds each and eat about a half-pound or so of gator and chicken chow a week. Curator Greg Lepera said, "Our problem is if we feed them a lot, they'll grow very fast." If you have an alligator permit, and want one, please call the Farm. [Leesburg, FL Daily Commercial, April 29, 1992. Contributed by Bill Burnett.] Between 818 and 1,901 alligators are missing from Hunt's Alligator Breeding facility in Bushnell, FL. Kyle Hill, of the Game and Fish Commission said, "The alligators should be there. He has not been able to explain to us where those alligators went." Not only do the numbers of alligators counted not match the number reported by the owner, every time Game and Fish goes out, there is a different number of gators! [Leesburg, FL Daily Commercial, May 8, 1992. Contributed by Bill Burnett.]


North Korean dictator, Kim Il-sung, received a container of the blood of 800 snapping turtles for his 80th birthday from his son. The contents are supposed to have an aphrodisiac effect. [The Sacramento Bee, June 7, 1992.] Contributor, Dirk Creighton, also sent a letter. He wrote: "I realize this aphrodisiac bologna has seriously underestimated environmental consequences. It seems that typically, the exploitation seems to occur in underdeveloped nations where control mechanisms are limited and such sizable profits can be very influential. But, how is it possible that this many solely native North American reptiles can be procured for a foreign government especially for such a ridiculous purpose? I think it is very commendable that our government and so many citizens have been working diligently with foreign nations to eliminate this threat, but frankly, there is no excuse fo being so oblivious to what activities are impacting the native creatures within our own backyard. Besides, this guy is 80-years old, a penile implant would probably be the only thing capable of helping...Mayby they could surgically attach it in some prominent position (perhaps centered on the old coot's forehead) so that no one could possibly question his virility."


A 21-year-old man from El Cajon, CA suspected of committing more than 150 residential burglaries was arrested by police who noticed he was driving with two chameleons on his shoulder. Two similar lizards had been stolen from a home earlier in the day. [San Diego, CA Union, March 5, 1992. Contributor forgot to write his/her name on the clipping, but our sincere thanks anyway!]


The Michelin tire company wants to build a test site on 1,000 acres of coastal plain just north of Cannes in the south of France. Ian Swingland, founder of the Durrell Institute of Zoology at the University of Kent, England, said, "This is probably the most important tortoise site in Europe and one of the most successful and active conservation projects in France." Before Bibendum, Testudo hermanni was found around much of southern Europe and is the oldest living vertebrate in France. It is included in the famous prehistoric cave paintings. With the arrival of the Industrial Age, the population plummeted to about 10,000. Environmentalists appealed to the Environment Minister of France, Brice Lelonde, to stop the project; 2,000 pro-tortoise letters have been sent to decision-makers. Michelin tire company has said that the test tract is "indispensable" to them and a spokesman at their Paris office had no comment on the tortoises. [Tortuga Gazette, May, 1992. Contributed by Mike McNeil.] Another good reason to buy American, eh?


Efforts to weaken the US Endangered Species Act (ESA)are on the list of bills before the US Congress and Senate in 1992. The "reasons" given not to reauthorize the act include the cost of saving species, and other short- sighted and typically Congressional ideas. The worst anti-ESA bill, according to Tortoise Tracks [the newsletter of The Desert Tortoise Preserve Committee, Spring, 1992] is House Resolution 3092, called the "Human Protection Act." It requires that "the potential economic benefits under ESA outweigh potential economic costs." This bill uses an economic yardstick to justify extinction and ignores successful recovery plans that could never have been justified on a economic basis. Good legislation was introduced by Gerry Studds (D-MA), chairman of the Fish and Wildlife Subcommittee, who introduced the ESA reauthorization bill, House Resolution 4045. The bill includes some changes from the first ESA, but these changes will streamline the listing process, improve critical habitat designation, enhance recovery planning, strengthen enforcement provisions and insure adequate funding for conservation activities. People wishing to help reauthorize the ESA are encouraged to write their Senators and Congresspeople; call your local League of Women Voters for names and addresses. Also, call or write the campaign headquarters of both your current Congressperson and whoever is running against him/her to tell them just how important the ESA is to you. Ask for their position paper on the ESA (don't be surprised if they don't have one - but ask "why not?"). Also, Gerry Studds is up for re-election. He is one of the best friends of the ESA, the conservation movement, the sea turtles - you name it. If you live in Massachusetts, you might consider volunteering to help his campaign and urging your friends and neighbors to vote. [Article contributed by Mike McNeil. Political comments mine.]


The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) held its eighth meeting in Kyoto, Japan March 2-13 and adopted a number of resolutions regarding reptiles and amphibians including listing the bog turtle, Clemmys muhlenbergii on Appendix I. The reason given was that the species is "highly sought after in the pet trade and had been illegally exported." The proposal to list wood turtles, Clemmys insculpta was withdrawn, as was the US proposal to list Goliath frogs, and a German request to list 16 Asian frog species exploited in the frog-leg trade. An Appendix II listing for the prehensile- tailed skink, Corucia zebrata was approved. [The Tortuga Gazette, June, 1991. Contributed by Mike McNeil.]


A Gaston County, NC man who always stops to help turtles cross the roads, found a bog turtle, 100 miles east of the nearest known bog turtle population. Bog turtles are secretive, living deep in the muck of mushy Appalachian bogs. They are also listed as threatened by the State of North Carolina and are on the list of species to be considered for listing as endangered by the Federal Government. Researchers located the captured turtle's nearby home boggy home and the landowner has agreed to protect the turtles on his property. Dennis Herman, assistant curator of reptiles at Zoo Atlanta, estimated that fewer than 3,000 bog turtles remain in the NC mountains - the rest were lost to wetland draining, development and barriers to migration - like highways. He also mentioned the illegal collection and sale of this species as a cause for the turtles' decline. Three cheers for Scott Williams, the man who cared enough to stop his car for this chelonian wanderer. [Charlotte, NC Observer, June 3, 1992. Contributed by Peter Nikolich.]


Ten years after a California desert tortoise, named Myrtle, disappeared from a pen in the back yard of a Long Beach, CA home - it was returned to the family by Donna Waddell, a volunteer turtle keeper for the state's Department of Fish and Game. The turtle had been found plodding down a street in Santa Maria, 191 miles away. It is presumed that person or persons unknown transported the tortoise from Long Beach to Santa Maria. Desert tortoises are considered a threatened species because fewer than 60,000 live in the wild. Permits are required. The turtle had a permit decal, number 15567, glued to her lower shell, as required by law. And that is how Myrtle returned after 10 years, to find the kids grown (one became a vet), and a new sturdy pen in the Long Beach yard. [Grand Junction, CO Daily Sentinel. Contributed by Larry Valentine.]


"Dear AFH: I see a lot of things in the Weekly World News about reptiles, unfortunately they are all bad! If they aren't bad they are ridiculous. It makes people afraid of these interesting animals. In this edition it says, "Space probe finds dinosaurs on Mars. Huge beasts are 40 feet long!" If you look at them, they bear a striking resemblance to the Galapagos marine iguanas, Amblyrhynchos cristatus. I have a photograph in a book called All About Iguanas that is almost identical to this one. The iguanas are in a large basking colony. I would like you to review this article. Please send me the outcome you come to. In another newspaper called the "Las Vegas Sun" they show people the good side to all exotic pets. In this article, they show reptiles and other exotic pets' beauty. I think you should review this article for pure enjoyment. Your devoted 12-year-old reader, Thomas Cass." Dear Thomas: I would have written you personally, but somehow between AFH and my desk your address was separated from your letter. About the Weekly World News piece, this type of "journalism" is also called "tabloid style." Some tabloids print sleazy facts, some just make them up and print any old thing whether it is true or not. Many of the stories in this paper do not appear to be true, but you and I buy it because the stories are so outrageous. I agree with your diagnosis of marine iguanas and applaud your checking a reference to be certain. Do be sure to write again and write your address right on your letter, I would like to send you a more personal note. Best wishes, Ellin.

Thanks to everyone who contributed this month. If you know you've sent in articles, but you haven't seen them yet - that's because of the long lead time from when I write this column to when it is printed. Rest assured, I use 99.95% of everything I receive and acknowledge 100%. This is a reader- supported column, without you - it wouldn't exist. Send your contributions, with the date of publication and your name attached to or written on the clipping itself, to the address shown on the masthead.

Volume 4, Number 2 - 1992

Fatal year for herpetologists

  • The clippings keep coming in about the 25-year-old man who died after being bitten by his pet cobra. He had wide experience with various herps, and was vice president of the Western Maryland Herpetological society. The man also presented programs concerning herps to the general public and served as a volunteer for the local ambulance corps. Even so, one mistake with a venomous animal unfortunately cost him his life.
  • In a second, frighteningly similar incident in Vancouver, Canada, a snake handler who founded a group to dispel the fear and misunderstanding of snakes was bitten by his pet Egyptian cobra and died as he pleaded for help. Larry Moor of suburban Langley reportedly asked pedestrians to take him to hospital before collapsing on the sidewalk. Moor was the 45-year old founder of the British Columbia Association of Reptile Owners and had frequently visited schools to teach children about the proper care and handling of reptiles. [August 3, 1992, Memphis, TN, Commercial Appeal, sent by Bill Burnett; and The Hammond, IN, Times, sent by John Mac Leod.]
  • Another death, that of 17-year-old Quincy Calaway, resulted in an electrical short in the attic of his home in East Memphis, TN. The attic was home to several snakes, four dogs and many birds and was fitted out as an animal lab. Several animals were killed in the fire, those that survived were taken to the zoo. Most of the snakes were in their cages when firefighters arrived, however, one loose rattlesnake was killed by a fireman with an axe. Neither the house or the reptile room had smoke detectors. [Memphis Commercial Appeal, April 30, 1992. Sent by Bill Burnett.]
  • Add these to the death of Mark Nevilles who was crushed by his pet python in Brampton, Ontario, and it has been a bad year for herpetologists with what are considered by non-herpetologists to be dangerous animals in home captivity. [San Francisco Chronicle, April 7, 1992. Contributed by Elyse Duckett.]
Desert tortoises stop construction Bob Pierson of Las Vegas is one of the most dedicated clipping collectors contributing to this column. His most recent contribution is from the Las Vegas Review-Journal [June 29, 1992], and details how five tortoises have halted construction of a 90-home subdivision in Utah. The tortoises appeared at the site in early May of this year, but cannot be removed from the area. The developer is understandably upset and claims he stands to lose his $1 million investment in the project. [Also from the Orlando, FL, Sentinel, May 28, 1992, sent by Bill Burnett.]

Rare shell game alleged

A lawsuit was filed in Lantana, Florida accusing an airport concession owner of secretly moving rare gopher tortoises onto a plot of land to try and keep a competitor from expanding. Merely disturbing gopher tortoises is a second-degree misdemeanor. [June 2, 1992 USA Today and Orlando Sentinel, both sent by Bill Burnett.]

Maybe it was an emissions monitor

A 6-foot Asian water monitor lizard was discovered wrapped around the engine of a car in Miami, FL. The owner of the car called state game authorities who called Todd Hardwick of Pesky Critters Nuisance Wildlife Control. The lizard was sedated and part of the engine had to be removed to extract it. [Sacramento Bee, July 9, 1992, sent by Bruce Hannem. From other papers, thanks to Wendy Carter and Sandra Barnes.] Bob Pierson of Las Vegas subsequently sent a clipping from the Miami Herald which continues the tale of the lost lizard... It was adopted by Todd Hardwick, and will now be the mascot of a local movie film company, Gecko Films. Hardwick said, "He went from almost being killed inside this car to living a life of caviar dreams and champagne wishes. He gets anything he needs." Only in America...

Adders multiplying

A Swedish research team found that when female Swedish adders, Vipera berus, mate with four to eight males she has fewer stillborn young. The scientists suggest that females set up a "sperm competition" by storing semen from her various partners and enabling the sperm to compete with each other to fertilize her eggs. Thus, the siblings in a brood may have different fathers. The research may have implications for those breeding reptiles in captivity. [New York Times, February 4, 1992, contributed by P.L. Beltz.]

Invasion of Paradise

The Nature Conservancy and the Natural Resources Defense Council have joined forces to urge the state of Hawaii to close its borders to foreign plant and animal species. As in other tropical areas of the U.S., including Louisiana and Florida, high international traffic and proper climate permit animals to become established far from the original - and proper - ranges. However, Hawaii is presumed to be more susceptible to pest damage because of its smaller land area and lack of predators. In 1992, customs inspectors in Hawaii have seized 37 piranhas, 32 snakes and several intentionally imported scorpions. Wildlife officers have captured piranhas that had been released into Oahu reservoirs. Non-native insects have, so far, had the most devastating economic impact. Fruit flies, cornstalk borers and yellow sugar cane aphids are the worst invaders, although non-native plants and vertebrate animals have contributed to the damage. [USA Today, August 10, 1992. Sent by Bill Burnett.]

Reefer to this decision if you're tempted

An iguana's alleged passion for pot, Cannabis sativa, ended when its owner was arrested for possession. However, the case was dropped by the prosecutor due to improper search procedures used by the police who had posed as condo buyers and peeked into every nook and cranny after receiving a tip. The iguana refused to eat any other kind of food after the officers confiscated the pot plants and subsequently died. [The Grand Junction, CO, Daily Sentinal. Contributed by Larry Valentine.]

We knew this...

A survey taken by Dale Marcellini, a reptile curator who has done a study of zoo visitation, found that visitors to the National Zoological Park in Washington, D.C. spent more time in the Reptile House than in observing the monkeys and great apes. He also found that visitors spent twice as much time watching a Burmese python lying motionless in a sterile concrete enclosure as they did watching active poison-dart frogs in a more natural display. Male visitors preferred venomous snakes, but females were more attracted to hatching eggs and baby animals. [International Wildlife Magazine, March/April, 1992. Sent by Fred Buettell.]

Letter of the month

"We have enclosed ads from `The Sportsman's Guide' 1991 year-end clearance catalog. These people are truly sick because they advertise rattlesnake head ornaments and python skin boots. That's bad enough! But it's their attitude that is truly repulsive. They describe the rattlesnake head as `something straight out of a Voodoo Village!' They also state that reticulated pythons are `so plentiful in Indonesia that they are considered pests!' How can we stop habitat destruction and protect wildlife with these ignoramuses hanging about? We thought you might find this type of arrogance of some interest. The address, fax, and phone number of this company are as follows: The Sportman's Guide, 965 Decatur Avenue North, Golden Valley, MN 55427-4398, fax 1-800-333-6933, phone 1-800-888-3006. Sincerely, Mark and Adela Zimmerman."

Asklepios' staff explained

As anyone who had been to a doctor knows, the various branches of the medical professions have as their logos designs based on the physician's staff entwined with snakes. The original of this design dates back to Asklepios, a healer in Greek mythology, who was posthumously worshipped as the god of medicine. Although the legends vary, many agree that the healing ritual apparently consisted of a visit to a sacred cellar. There a priest with a serpent would receive the patient, whose wound would be healed after contact with the snake's mouth. Researchers in Italy have found evidence that this snake healing may have been more than legend. In the July 25 issue of the Lancet, a British medical journal, they wrote that a chemical in the saliva of the four-lined snake of southern Europe, contains epidermal growth factor (EGF) which promotes growth in the outer layer of skin sells. Ironically, mice have more EGF than many other animals, and have traditionally been associated with disease - not healing. [Wall Street Journal, July 24, 1992, contributed by P.L. Beltz.]

Iguana-section in Miami Springs

Dr. Leslie Gerson of Miami is treating a four-foot iguana found in the middle of a suburban street for a mouth infection and a cataract in the right eye. The animal is estimated to be about 10 years old. It is also pregnant, but it appears that one egg is malpositioned and will not permit the rest to come out. At last notice of this story, Gerson was planning a Caesarean section to remove the eggs. [Birmingham News, May 3, 1992, sent by Todd Moore; Orlando Sentinel, May 3, 1992, contributed by Bill Burnett; and Lakeland, FL, Ledger, sent by Melody Smith.] Several days later (May 9), the Leesburg, FL Daily Commercial reported that the mother died after 25 viable eggs were removed and placed in an incubator to be hatched. Dr. Gerson said the iguana's uterus was twisted and blocked. She was provided with painkillers and proper medical attention until her death according to the doctor. [Contributed by Bill Burnett.]

Iguanas and Salmonella

While it is commonly known that baby turtles carry the Salmonella bacteria, recently cases of this infection have been detected in iguanas. Several people have sent me clippings from around the world, all apparently derived from an initial article or press release. The most recent was received from Aaron C. Fisher. The article appeared in Infectious Disease News, May 1992 and recapitulates the known iguana case reports from the Center for Disease Control (MMWR 1992;41:38-39 and Salmonella Surveillance Report, 1989, Atlanta) as well as a review article in the American Journal of Epidemiology (1981;113:494-499). Mr. Fisher stated his desire to learn more about Salmonella in iguanas and wondered if there was anything he could do to protect himself and his animals against this bacterial infection. How about it, readers? The two most recent cases were both about iguanas from different pet stores, but from the same pet distributor. Does this make an airtight case for not buying wild-caught reptiles, or what? Are the iguanas becoming infected in transit, or in the dealer's possession, in much the same way as the poor baby turtles were being made sick by the unsanitary conditions in which they were kept and shipped? I'm looking forward to hearing from readers knowledgeable on this subject.

Florida Herp Bill dies

The Compromise Bill (HB 1476) written by herpetologists and state legislators in June died in the Florida house of representatives, a victim of a deadline for new legislation. The bill would have raised fees for wildlife permit holders, and allocated additional funds for the Florida Game and Freshwater Fish Commission for increased inspections. The League of Florida Herp Societies members were effective in communicating opposition to the law as originally written, but it is expected that the American Humane Society will lobby for restrictive legislation and fee increases next year in an effort to reduce individuals rights to maintain live collections of amphibians and reptiles. [Pet Product News, July 1992, contributor unknown but appreciated.]

Loose reptiles, continued...

  • The press seems to particularly appreciate loose snake stories, and - as usual - the slow news summer brings a slew of slithery escape tales from around the nation. Bruce Hannem sent a clipping from the July 9, Sacramento Bee which describes how a "150-pound snake" frightened campers near the Salton Sea in California. Officials at the camp ground said the snake escaped from a camping trailer two weeks ago. Its owner returned home to Tennessee after he was unable to find it.
  • The next story from the Orlando Sentinel, April 28, 1992 contributed by Bill Burnett reports on every reptile owners nightmare - an escaped snake injured while AWOL. It seems as though a 10-foot python escaped or was stolen from a pen in Longwood, Florida. Eight days later, a neighbor awoke to her daughter's screams, and discovered the snake with a death grip on the family cat. Her husband beat the snake with a broom and a shovel until it let go of the kitty, then threw it out into the yard. The cat survived, but lost its vision after the encounter. The snake also lived, but was covered in scars and burns as well as having mouth rot and losing a tooth. Its owner speculates that it stayed someplace too hot while gone.
  • An unsuspecting car renter had the surprise of her life when she discovered a 4.5-foot python wrapped around the steering wheel after a 2,000 mile trip. She turned the animal over to the New York State Police and rented a different car for her return to Florida. The previous renters of the car had purchased the snake while on vacation. It had been left in a covered aquarium near the car, but had disappeared before they left for the airport. How they planned to get a covered aquarium with a 4.5-foot python on an airplane was not mentioned in any of the stories. The snake losers did not call police or search for the animal before they left Florida. Fortunately, a New York State trooper, Daniel G. Tordy, also keeps pythons and was making arrangements to ship the snake to the owners in Michigan. [News Herald, Port Clinton, OH, July 10, 1992, contributed by Kathryn Bricker; the Orlando Sentinel, July 11, 1992 and the Leesburg Daily Commercial, July 10, 1992, sent by Bill Burnett.]
  • The final story, from the Memphis Commercial Appeal, July 23, 1992, from Bill Burnett mentions that a 5-foot ball python pushed the lid off its cage and slithered away. The report is careful to say that the animal is neither dangerous to humans or venomous and will only survive on its own until freezing weather arrives. At this point, I would like to remind all herpetologists that there is no such thing as an "escape-proof" cage, unless it is properly closed and secured. The screen tops sold in pet stores are useless and people who leave snake tanks with two boards and a brick on top ought not to have snakes. (They probably won't either, if they don't get proper lids.) I do not usually plug products, but if you are concerned about keeping your snakes where they belong, the molded plastic cages with the sliding fronts often advertised in herp journals are just about the best design ever sold. You can put bolts with wing nuts or locks in the little holes in the cages and then - if the tanks are properly closed - they may be considered reasonably escape-proof. The only escape which occurred under my roof was occasioned by a guest not properly securing a cage after he had - without permission - removed and handled a milk snake. The snake vanished, the guest later secured the tank, and we were left with a "locked room mystery" until the guest finally (two years later) confessed in shame. The milk snake did reappear about two and a half years later, much longer and plumper than it had been when it escaped. We also no longer had a wild mouse problem in the house!

Thanks to everyone who contributed to this column! In addition to the articles used super stuff was received from: Bob Sears, Melody Smith, Tom Corp, Scott Haynes, Philip S. Venditto, Gordon M. Burghardt, Mike McNeil, and Kellie Houston. If you'd like to contribute to this column, please send clippings with the name and date of publication as well as your name and address (firmly attached to the clipping) to me in care of the AFH. I apologize to the unknown contributor. When the clippings are forwarded to me from the AFH office, sometimes they become separated from notes, envelopes or whatever had the contributor's name attached. (I think it is from being banged around by the Post Office.) If you recognize your clipping, drop me a line and I'll acknowledge you more properly in my next column.

Volume 4, Number 3 - 1992

Do you know who these men are?

We've received a photo published in the Ex-CBI Roundup in July, 1992 with a request from the China Burma India WWII pilots association to help identify the five white and one Indian man in the photo According to the caption, the photo was taken during WWII and depicts members of the "Room and Board" group stationed at a location near Loran at Char Chapli India which is a small island in the Ganges Delta and may be part of present day Bangladesh. The photo was taken by Henry M. Dittmer. I'd also be interested if anyone can idetify the snake. [Contributed by P.L. Beltz.]

Letters, letters, letters

"Dear Ellin: I found a small useless bit of information in the infamous supermarket tabloid Weekly World News (Oct. 20, 1992 "Super Toads are Bulletproof!" page 29). It's an interesting little bit of fiction. I suppose it's referring to Bufo marinus, but I never knew they were bulletproof. I have a friend who got some mailed to him from Florida and most of them died en route. Perhaps they should send the U.S. Postal Service over to Australia to take care of the problem...You've probably got a dozen or so (copies of this article)...Adios. Steve Christman, Cincinnati, OH." Dear Steve: I didn't know that U.S. Snail was tough on toads. I had a marinus once that died because it wouldn't eat! Perhaps it was anorexic, or had some parasite it got from living with a bunch of other toads in the pet shop. Anyway, I didn't get a bunch of these articles - just yours, and thanks for it! "Dear Ellin: I just read your always-interesting `herp-news' column in the latest Vivarium magazine (Volume 4, Number 1). There was one error (under `CITES Meeting Results'), as you inadvertently repeated a mis-statement that appeared in the Tortuga Sincerely, Jim Harding, East Lansing, MI" Dear Jim: Thanks for the correction!. "Dear Ellin: ...I shudder when I hear about snake owners carrying them around in public (as was discussed in the enclosed article from the Daily Local News, West Chester, PA, Sept. 30, 1992). I guess they just don't realize that this kind of insensitivity to other people's fears about snakes does nothing to help the fearful, and may well eventually result in more of the restrictive legislation that seems to be on the upswing. I though about writing a letter to the editor of the paper, voicing the above, but was afraid that I might give someone the legislation idea! By the way have you ever heard of a `boa-python' (which is what the snake is called in the article)? Is this the boid version of a `jungle corn' or a `gopher corn'? ... Keep up the good work. Mark Witwer, West Chester, PA." Dear Mark: The first time I saw someone on promenade with a snake was before I was "into" snakes as household items and I thought it was rather cruel to the animal since it wasn't a really warm day. I still don't think that shopping wrapped in your boa or whatever is anymore sanitary than shopping with your cat or dog and it would be a lot harder to tie the boa to a parking meter to wait for you!

Major contributor outdoes himself

Regular readers of this column will no doubt recognize the name of Bill Burnett, of Memphis, TN one of the most prolific contributors to this column, and the person responsible for sending all of the following items:
  • Tom Crutchfield says he plans to fight his June 15 conviction by a federal jury in Tampa on charges of conspiring with a Malaysian shipper to smuggle four banded iguanas from the Fiji Islands into the U.S. He says, "We were railroaded. We were the victims of the system. We were paws in a political game." He was also convicted with his wife of transporting the smuggled reptiles for resale in knowing violation of the Lacey Act of 1900, which outlas trafficking in illegally taken animals. At the time of the smuggling event, Crutchfield owned Herpetofauna Inc., with offices in Bushnell and Fort Myers, FL. He now does business as Tom Crutchfield's Reptile Enterprises Inc. in Lake Panasoffkee and has an alligator farm in Bushnell. He faces a maximum fine of $1 million and a term of up to 20 years in federal prison, while his wife faces half of each penalty. The Crutchfields have already paid $4,000 in fines levied by the Fish and Wildlife Service in a separate action against them in 1989. They allege the current charges are the result of vindictive former business partners who supposedly owe the Crutchfields $100,000. [Leesburg, FL Daily Commercial, Sept. 7, 1992]
  • Loggerhead sea turtles nested on Brevard County, FL beaches in record numbers this summer along a 13 mile sand strip from Melbourne Beach to Sebastian Inlet State Park. Over 12,300 nests were counted up to the date of the article from the Orlando Sentinel, August 13, 1992. During the 1980s only about 9,500 nests were counted every year. Another 6,000 loggerhead nests were counted along a more heavily developed section from Melbourne to Satillite Beach. Green sea turtles have also laid a record number of nests. The area is part of the Archie Carr National Wildlife Refuge, where officials are trying to buy 14 miles of undeveloped beaches for a turtle nesting preserve. The same paper pointed out that the Volusia County Council banned driving along a 2.3 mile section of Daytona Beach because they were concerned about liability issues of people being injured in a turtle/auto accident. [June 17, 1992] Volusia officials also requests that beachfront property owners dim or turn off lights in an effort to encourage females to nest and to prevent hatchlings from going to the lights, instead of to the ocean. [May 2, 1992]
  • Mysterious gator deaths in Lake Apopka, FL are being studied by Greg Masson from the University of Florida. He said, "We started opening nests...everything was dead. Reproduction is Lake Apopka is significantly lower than anywhere else in the state." However, lethal levels of natural or artifical toxins have not been found in the lake, and fish suffer from no gross physical deformities, although some fish are rare, and some vegetation has died. Masson's study will include sophisticated lab analysis and maintaining 25 hatchlings in captivity to study growth rates. [Orlando, FL, Sentinel, Sept. 12, 1992]
  • A member of the Hi-Way Holiness Church of God was bitten on the hand by a poisonous snake while handling it for a Sunday service. Hw eas in serious but stable condition at the hospital. [Orlando Sentinel, Sept. 8, 1992]
  • The headline read "Lake Mess Monster" and referred to the efforts of a Eustis, FL woman to try and have a deceased gator removed from the lake in which he was floating for weeks. The Director of that county's Water Authority was quoted, "No one in his right mind wants to (pick up a dead gator). The grossest thing I ever saw was a dead alligator. The problem is their thick skin. In 100-degree weather, they can get real ripe in a hurry and they just kind of puff up." He added that they may explode eventually. A variety of state agencies claimed removing dead gators was not in their mandate, but Game and Fish decided to help after learning of a reporter's involvement. Ah, the pen is mightier than the bureaucrat... [The Lake Sentinel edition, Orlando, FL August 14, 1992.]
  • A gator farmer in Bushnell, FL is accused of letting some of his stock escape. Clyde Hunt has run Hunt's Alligator Breeding since 1965. He raises, slaughters and skins gators, sells gator byproducts and live gators. Hunt claims the current charges are merely another effort by the Game and Fish Commission to pick on him. Authorities pointed out that if farmers allow alligators to escape or keep inaccurate records, they could illegally take other gators out of the wild to supplement their stock. [Leesburg, FL Daily Commercial, Aug. 3, 1992] Earlier this year three adults and a 17-year old who worked at an alligator farm were arrested on 262 charges of poaching alligators, collecting wild eggs and illegally hunting deer. They called what they did the "St. Johns River Easter Egg Hunt," and took nearly 4,000 eggs from airboats after an aerial reconnaisance in a Piper Cub airplane. Wildlife officials became suspicious of the farm when the inventory showed no change in the number of alligators supposedly present. [Orlando Sentinel, March 3, 1992]
  • American crocodiles are increasing their range from the mangrove swamps at the Everglades National Park, Key Largo, and the cooling canals at a power station on Biscayne Bay to western Broward County, and in and around Fort Myers. Frank Mazzotti, a University of Florida wildlife scientist said, "They are attempting to reoccupy areas they formerly lived in." Only about 300 to 500 crocodiles live in Florida, compared with about 1.5 million alligators. Crocodiles are shy animals that eat turtles and fish. [Orlando Sentinel, March 17, 1992]
  • An undescribed species of tortoise with a striking yellow shell was found in a recent survey of the Vu Quang Nature Reserve in a remote section of Vietnam by a government team and a group from the World Wildlife Fund. [Memphis, TN, Commercial Appeal, July 28, 1992]
  • Last, but not least, Bill sent the only article I've received to date on the Reptile Breeders Expo in Orlando. From the Sentinel, dated August 11, 1992, it mentions that the event is "like the closing day at a major department store for people who collect, breed and sell snakes and other reptiles." The article reports that 5,000 people attended the event which is sponsored by the Central Florida Herpetological Society.

Hurricane Andrew bad news for wildlife

Several articles have come in suggesting that not all of Andrews victims were human. There were 215 dealers in the area affected who report that thousands of exotics are missing and may eventually compromise the delicate South Florida ecosystem. Three hundred monkeys are missing from a lab at the University of Miami. However, the 23 Florida panthers wearing radio collars are all reported alive and well. [Leesburg Daily Commercial, September 11, 1992 guess who? and The Detroit News, September 6, 1992 sent by Cheri Hosley]

Please release me!

VaraNews [May 26, 1992] passes along some readers tips - and the editor's replies - for getting monitor lizards to release various parts of your anatomy accidentally (or on purpose-ly) injested by said animal: 1.) "Submerge the animal's head in water." The reply pointed out that monitors can hold their breath for a very long time and that this may not be an ideal method to make them let go. 2.) "Set the animal down allowing it to sense freedom and it will let go and run." The reply said that many monitors with thrash and twists on the ground and implying that they may cause more damage to you if you put them down. 3.) Put "a drop of rubbing alcohol on the monitor's gums." This method apparently worked. [Sent by Mike McNeil, Morro Bay, CA.]

Ontario collection at home in Quebec

A collection of reptiles from the defunct Reptile Breeding Foundation in Picton, Ontario has been relocated to the Granby Zoo in Quebec, Canada. Pierre Cartier, the director of Granby, said, "We make every effort to maintain the natural characteristics of all animals in the zoo...It is the animals that are our first priority." Several displays in their reptile house are confiscated goods made from illegal reptile skins. [The Granby Record, June 23, 1992, contributed by Kellie Houstin of Lennoxville, Quebec.]

Thanks to everyone who contributed for this issue and also to Liz Zorn, Mike McNeil, Bill Burnett and others who sent materials that were not used. Please be sure to include the name and date of the publication with clippings. This column is reader supported. No new material - no column. I hope to receive your contribution soon.

Volume 4, Number 4 - 1992


Volunteers are needed immediately for five, fascinating herpetological projects around the world. Sponsored by Earthwatch, a non-profit organization that provides funding to field scientists worldwide, the projects are led by scientists and last from 10 days to three weeks. You must be 16 years or older, and project contributions of $800 to $2,200 are tax deductible and include food, lodging, and field equipment. Transportation to and from the site is not included. There are several departure dates for volunteers in the range of times listed below. Please mention the Vivarium when you contact Earthwatch at Box 403, 680 Mount Auburn Street, Watertown, MA 02272, or phone 617-926-8200 for more information. The projects are: 1.) Monitoring nesting habits, tracking migration, and assisting with metabolic and reproductive studies of the leatherback sea turtle in Costa Rica, from December 1992, to February, 1993; 2.) Beach-walking to locate females, measuring nest temperatures, and chaperoning hatchling leatherbacks to the sea on St. Croix, U.S. Virgin Islands, from April to July 1993; 3.) Determining the effects of lizards on spider abundance and diversity in communities on Baja Island, Baja California, Mexico from June to August, 1993; 4.) Capturing and tagging rainforest animals including the endangered broad-nosed caiman in Mata Atlantica, Brazil from January to July 1993; and 5.) Surveying, weighing, measuring, photographing and observing the behavior of Madagascar's amphibians and reptiles in October, 1993.


Part One:

According to University of Colorado researcher, David Chiszar, drug dealers are using rattlesnakes, cobras, and other venomous snakes to guard or booby trap money or illegal drugs. A Burmese python was confiscated by Denver police. The dealer that formerly owned it had deliberately wounded it to make it more aggressive. Another widely publicized incident occured when drug dealers released a gaboon viper in their premises after hearing of a potential raid by police. In the import end of the business, drugs have been force-fed to reptiles which are transported across borders and subsequently killed to remove the merchandise. [Rocky Mountain News, October 27, 1992, contributed by Monte McEntee and Seattle Times, October 26, 1992, contributed by John R. Stebbins.]

Part Two:

Steve Frantz of Mount Vernon, Ohio wrote: "At the last Reptile Swap Meet in Columbus, Ohio, workers at the Ramada Inn found a snake cruising the hotel several days after the swap. They put the snake in a bucket and called T-turtle Pet Shop, just down the road. R. Fraker came, identified the snake as a California Kingsnake and took it to his pet shop. He called the Columbus Zoo to look at his new find. He also called the media to inform them of his `heroics.' The hotel workers had a `gag order' [it] is now residing at the Columbus Zoo. The [ads for] the swap meet states `No Venomous Animals' ... boneheads insisting upon having a `hot room' which I've never seen, but have heard about, at these events, will only ruin our opportunity to keep and enjoy our own animals in our homes. It only takes one person to cause legislation which will affect us all. I'm sorry I don't know who brought the krait. It would be nice to crucify him [by publicizing the name] ... At any rate, I feel people should be informed to look out and stop these boneheads, before they stop us." Agreed, Steve, but crucifying is too good for anyone dumb enough to lose a venomous snake in a hotel, at an event where `hot stuff' was prohibited. As I wrote in an article with Tom Anton that was published in a League of Florida Herp Societies January, 1991 Bulletin, venomous animals must be maintained in locked containers. Anything less is totally irresponsible. For reprints of "About Venomous Snakes in Captivity" please write Wayne Hill, c/o the Central Florida Herpetological Society, P.O. Box 3277, Winter Haven, FL 33881. Don't forget to send a self-addressed, business size envelope.

Part Three:

A man was arrested after a traffic stop when police found 48 rattlesnakes, a Gila monster, 45 nonvenomous snakes, 67 scorpions, several tarantulas, some lizards and a parrot in the car. The 35-year-old Arizona man was charged with four counts of illegal possession of wildlife and venomous reptiles. The police said he had been weaving all over the road before they stopped him. [New York Newsday, October 13, 1992, contributed by Melicia Phillips.] Is it possible this dude was on his way to the swap meet?


Brenda Frye of Hopewell, Virginia wrote: " ... As a lesson in the costs of apathy, as of January 1st, it is illegal to buy or sell or keep more than five specimens of a number of reptiles native to Virginia including Lampropeltis getulus (all subspecies) and Elaphe guttata. I fail to see the purpose of a law that forbids the buying and selling of captive bred animals but allows people to collect wild specimens of species threatened with extirpation over much of the state. It is unfortunate that more people did not object."


The Southwestern Herpetologists Society (SWHS) their 11th Live Reptile and Amphibian Exhibit and hosted 2,407 people, including 795 children. The Education Committee had a table, and 266 taxa were exhibited by SWHS members. [Newsletter of SWHS, November, 1992, contributed by Mike McNeil.]


Another item of interest from SWHS was a letter I received from Melissa Kaplan: "I am on the Education Committee of the SWHS. A few weeks prior to our exhibit in October, several people in the society expressed concern about the major iguana-related salmonella outbreak in Los Angeles. In every instance, these individuals were unable to provide concrete information substantiating their statements. I decided, therefore, to contact the Los Angeles Health Department. I was put in contact with Dr. Roshan Reporter who emphatically stated that there is no epidemic or outbreak. In 1992, they have had only 5-6 cases referred to them. As a result of my interview with Dr. Reporter, I wrote [an article which will be published in an up-coming SWHS publication] and created a poster on salmonella for our interactive education corner at our exhibit. Liz Baronowski of the Pasadena Humane Society saw it and asked for a copy to give to the Pasadena Health Department; one woman there was most insistant that Liz stop taking her iguana around because of the "slime" it "oozes" - and incorrect interpretation of "shedding virus." Dr. Reported stated that she notified surrounding health departments about the iguana-salmonella issue to try to help them save time and focus their investigation when they receive reports about unusual strains of salmonella ssp. She stated that the iguanas in her cases did no come from the same pet stores nor from the same dealers." Melissa included a copy of her article. Readers interested in a copy can contact SWHS, P.O. Box 7469, Van Nuys, CA 91409. As always when writing a not-for-profit group, enclose a self-addressed business size envelope and a friendly note.


Florida state inspectors contacted about half of the 240 dealers, breeders and importers who held exotic-animal permits in Dade County and compiled a list of what those people said they had lost during the storm. One reptile dealer reported 60 boa constrictors missing, while others have lost reticulated and Burmese pythons. Lizards are also on the loose, from geckos to monitors to tegus. And the list doesn't include people who lost pets. Some of these animals may establish themselves as did the south American cane toads, the infamous Bufo marinus, which live and breed in Florida after hopping away from a broken shipping crate in Miami Airport during the 1950s. Native animals may have also been affected. American crocodiles have used canals near a nuclear power plant to build nests and lay eggs. Parts of the facility were damaged, although the reactors themselves are fine, and biologists have been trying to determine whether the baby crocodiles survived the storm. There are only about 450 American crocodiles left, and they are on the endangered species list. [Orlando Sentinel, September 13 and September 20, 1992, contributed by Bill Burnett.]


An endangered Kemp's ridley sea turtle was found alive on a beach in western Ireland. It was taken to an Irish aquarium where it is said to be recuperating prior to being returned to the Gulf of Mexico, according to Irish officials. [San Francisco, CA Chronicle, November 5, 1992, contributed by Matt Aikawa.]


Local officials in New Jersey voluntarily halted construction work on a sewer project that only had ten days left to completion to allow wood turtles to breed without interruption. Their constituents were moved by their action, many telephoned or wrote letters of thanks to members of the borough council. The council's action was not prompted by a threat of adverse publicity, and state law did not require it. Instead, the council decided to wait based on the environmental concern of its members. The wood turtles liked it, too. They bred and have gone to higher ground where they traditionally overwinter. Borough Councilwoman Rose Murphy said, "As utility chairwoman, I couldn't go out of my house without people stopping me, saying they saw the turtles. People took videos of turtles. We got a letter from someone out of town who is a fan of turtles who sent our mayor a turtle out of [sea] shells." Even the construction company cooperated. The delay was not billed because the company had previously worked for the borough and had no problem with the delay. Murphy said, "We're just surprised that people are reacting the way they are. We don't feel as a council that we did anything extraordinary... We didn't even discuss, `What happens if we wait?'" [Asbury Park, NJ Press, September 30, 1992, contributed by William P. Mara.]


A police officer stopped to see why a car was parked on the side of the road near Clermont, FL and found a man sleeping with a dead alligator in the front seat. The man was charged with driving under the influence and underage possesion of alcohol, and illegal possession of an alligator. [Leesburg, FL Daily Commercial, September 27, 1992, contributed by Bill Burnett.]

Thanks to all who contributed to this column, including Ed Twedt, and S. Haynes who sent duplicate clips of items previously used (I love `em!). I have only a very few items left in the file, so if you've been waiting to contribute, now's your opportunity. Please attach the name and date of the publication as well as your name directly to the clipping and sent to me.

Volume 4, Number 5 - 1992

Snake speculations

Two readers have responded to the request a while ago for information on airmen with a large snake. The airmen are still unidentified but Mike Dloogatch of Chicago suggests the snake may be an Indian ratsnake, Ptyas mucosus, and Greg Longhurst of Loxahatchee, FL thinks it may be a King Cobra, Ophiophagus hannah.

Letters, letters

Mark Bayless writes: "I almost choked to death when I read the `Ontario collection's new home in Quebec' piece, especially the statement `...We make every effort to maintain the natural characteristics of all animals in the zoo... It is the animals that are our first priority.' I know for a fact that the Bengal Monitors (Varanus bengalensis) ... are kept in 6-foot rectangular metal drums completely covered and heated with french fry lamps at one end. Their previous enclosure was a roomy 12-foot square cage where [they] had room to engage in reproductive behavior (and had been observed doing so!)... I understand the animals are in the care of the Pachyderm keeper, who has not as much experience with these animals as would be optimistically preferred... A large Varanus salvator is also kept at this zoo in this manner. I believe the Monitors should either be moved to larger quarters, or perhaps to USA zoos that have larger facilities and persons who can properly care for/possibly breed them." John A. Rybak writes: "My friend and I just saw a TV show on rattlesnake roundups and were completely infuriated by the ignorance and destruction of these gatherings. The roundups MUST be stopped, not only for the innocent snakes, but the other fauna in the areas that are gassed by these people (not even mentioning all the danger the people are in). There is Save the Whales, and other similar projects with all that hype, but no Save the Snakes. Aren't snakes important, too? These things need to be hyped in The Vivarium so concerned herptile enthusiasts can make donations and be aware of the deliberate destruction that is happening RIGHT NOW! And hopefully we can stop it!" Nathan P. Gursky writes: "I am a pre-vet student in my fourth year at UC Davis... Enclosed is an essay that I discovered in my English text (Comely, Hamilton et al., Fields of Writing, 3rd edition, St. Martin's Press, New York, 1990) which is based on Isak Dinesen's reflections after killing an iguana. The last paragraph of the essay delivers a powerful argument worth sharing. ` was as if an injustice had been done to a noble thing, as if truth had been supressed... In a foreign country and with foreign species of life, one should take measures to find out whether things will be keeping their value when dead. To the settlers of East Africa I give the advice: for the sake of your own eyes and heart, shoot not the Iguana.' I've ... spent a considerable amount of time researching the species. Not once did I come across mention of a species that lives in Kenya. Any insight into this dilemma that you might be able to provide would be greatly appreciated." Two other letters deserve comment but not quotation: 1.) I stated that there was a gag order in place on a Florida trial. That statement was taken directly from a newspaper article and I stand by my use of that article as a source. 2.) I will most probably continue to use the word "pet" when referring to animals maintained by individuals in captivity. The word dates back to the Middle Ages according to my dictionary and is not incorrect in the above context. Personal to T.V. who asks how to get letters to editors published: be brief, be interesting, and be patient!

Somali snakes win first round

A U.S. Marine was in sick bay aboard the USS Tripoli for treatment of a snakebite inflicted by a mole viper in Somalia. The Marine was the first casualty in the humanitarian campaign currently underway in that African nation. The bite reportedly occurred when the man rolled over in his sleeping bag. [Delaware State News, Dover, DE, December 19, 1992. Contributed by Jim Merli.]

Australian herps in news

Euan Edwards of Queensland sent a clipping from the December 17, 1992 Courier-Mail which mentioned the recent rediscovery of the blue-tongued pygmy skink in the stomach of a road-killed brown snake (Pseudonja terctilis). This species of skink was last noted by science in 1959. He also sent a clipping from the November 22, 1992 Sunday Mail which reports that a lizard, new to science, has been discovered in Queensland. We look forward to hearing more about this animal which is reputed to live in burrows in a semi-evergreen vine thicket in a forestry reserve.

And they wonder why?

Bryan I. Lorber of Vermont sent a copy of an article sent to him by a friend in Sri Lanka. Attached to the article which notes that Sri Lanka has the highest death rate from snake bite in the world (5.7% per 100,000 population) was a letter from his friend describing a fashion show that "had a live snake `exoticia' in cages around the runway. There were kraits, vipers, and cobras. The most amusing point was that one cage was empty... men were poking around the tables and chairs!"

Can pythons eat people?

Roger Syriste of Alberta, Canada sent a clipping from the Edmonton Journal [December 31, 1992] and a letter wherein he asks if large snakes really do eat humans. It seems that a provincial judge fined a man $300 after convicting him of keeping a Burmese python over 8-feet long without an exotic animal permit. Testimony was taken from John Accorn, identified as a snake expert which indicated that pythons can eat humans.

Snakebite venom extractors ineffective

According to a letter to the editor in the New England Journal of Medicine [October 29, 1992, contributed by William Gurske], investigators have found that claims made by the manufacturers of suction type snake-venom extractors are "misleading at best and potentially dangerous to the unwary. Venom extractors have not been scientifically evaluated, and their increasing use is unmerited... The extractor's unintended effects include spreading venom if the device is used incorrectly, exacerbating tissue damage, and possibly infecting wounds made by nonvenomous bites... Antivenin is the only specific proved treatment of snake-venom poisoning and should be used for all severe bites."

Possible "new" marine reptile

Two scientists presented a report of a long-necked, small headed "marine reptile" which they named Cadborosaurus at the annual meeting of the American Society of Zoologists in Vancouver, British Columbia according to an article published in The Morning News-Tribune of Tacoma Washington [December 28, 1992, contributed by Marty Marcus]. The reseachers compiled 80 published sightings and accounts of sightings of the animal described by some as a sort-of Pacific Northwest "Loch Ness" monster. One of the reseachers believes it is probably a cold-blooded air breathing reptile. Other scientists pointed out a lack of specimens. One said, "There's not a single bone of any of these animals, or a piece of skin."

But how do you plow `em?

Fred Millard, a farmer in Birmingham, Iowa has recently appointed himself "America's turtle king," as he starts his third decade producing turtle meat. He began catching turtles as a youngster, later he began the farming system which now produces 30,000 to 40,000 turtles a year at the Millard Turtle Farm. The meat is distributed around the nation and live turtles are shipped overseas. He said, "I'll fight harder than anyone to keep the turtle from becoming extinct. I'm the last one who would want to see that happen. Turtles are my business and I think the more turtles there are, the better off all of us are." [The Des Moines, IA Sunday Register, November 22, 1992, contributed by Tom Weidner.]

Field notes:

  • Researchers have released more than 400 captive-raised Orinoco crocodiles into Santos Luzardo National Park since 1990. Some have been outfitted with radio transmitters which have revealed that most crocs stayed in the release vicinity or moved upstream of the site. [Wildlife Conservation, January/February 1993, contributed by Candice Novitzke]
  • India's flesh-eating turtle release in the Ganges has generated an enormous amount of press in recent months. The turtles were released with the stated intent that they would help clean up the river by eating any leftovers from partially cremated corpses thrown into the Ganges. Newspaper writers and editors apparently just can't resist "turtle bites man" stories and have offered this grisly morsel in many guises. In answer to several inquiries... Yes, the story is true. Thanks to everyone who contributed this story, including Dorothy DeLisle, whose envelope bore the earliest postmark.
  • Sea turtles with their throats cut are washing up on southern beaches, a possible "retaliation" by shrimpers for the Bush administration's surprising, last-minute order to begin enforcing Turtle Excluder Device (TEDs) implementation late in 1992. "Under this new rule, shrimpers can be immediately punished when they have not been given any prior notice that they would have to begin using TEDs in their nets on December 1," complained D-LA Representative Billy Tauzin in an angry letter to Commerce
  • Secretary Barbara Franklin. He has proposed a sweeping change of the Endangered Species Act which will be up for a vote in Congress in 1993. He hopes to get the TEDs rules overturned at that time. [Memphis Commercial Appeal, December 27, 1992 and Leesburg, FL Daily Commercial, December 6, 1992]. Meanwhile, in Nicaragua, armed soldiers patrol turtle nesting beaches to prevent poaching of eggs and laying females. [Orlando Sentinal, November 7, 1992, all from Bill Burnett.]
  • Researchers at UC Berkeley have found a "frog goop" used by Mayorunas Indians in the Amazon which may have useful properties for medical applications. Researchers at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, MD say that someday many people may be "taking frog." The research team isolated a new class of peptides in the frog mucus which interact with the adenosine system in the human body that may protect the body against seizures and strokes. [The San Diego Union-Tribune, December 20, 1992, contributed by Brian Burkman.]
  • Fewer alligators were killed in this year's commercial harvest in Florida than during 1991. Only 1,491 alligators were killed in 1992, compared to 2,402 in 1991. The market for hides and meat is depressed leading officials to speculate that economic reasons were responsible for the decline in participation. Alligator farmers are also facing tough times due to overproduction and a weak market for meat and leather. [Orlando Sentinel, November 11 and December 7-13, 1992, contributed by Bill Burnett.]

Loose snake roundup:

  • A 4-foot ball python who had slipped out of an Oceanside, NY pet shop was recovered by Nassau police. [Newsday, July 29, 1992, contributed by Paul J. Kayser.]
  • A dead reticulated python was pulled from Biscayne Bay, FL by a lifeguard who said it was the "biggest snake I ever saw." Ron Magill, assistant curator of reptiles at Miami Metrozoo speculated that Hurricane Andrew may have been at fault. He said, "A lot of people in South Florida have strange, exotic pets. A lot of their enclosures were blown away in the hurricane and they [the animals] escaped." [The Miami Herald, November 13, 1992, contributed by Alan W. Rigerman.]
  • Burglars stole two baby boa constrictors but left two pythons in a Uniontown, PA home while their human family slept. [The Daily News, Lebanon, PA, January 3, 1993, contributed by Bonnie C. Kreiser]
  • A 6.5-foot python slithered out of a pile of wood-chips in South Jordan, Utah. Police have asked the owner to come forward and claim the animal. [The Salt Lake Tribune, November 11, 1992, contributed by L.D. Gritton.]
  • The growth of the exotic-animal business is prompting calls for tighter controls by wildlife and agriculture officies. The Missouri Wildlife Division reports that it is studying proposals to ban dangerous animals including big cats, wolves, bears, poisonous reptiles and constricting snakes as pets. [Iron County Spectrum, November 29, 1992, contributed by Russ Slack.] Does anyone out there still wonder why there are so many calls to legislate ownership of large, venomous, or "dangerous" reptiles?

Thanks to everyone who contributed this month. In addition, I'd like to thank those who sent articles that I've either used before, or couldn't use this time: Robert Sprackland, Chip Miller, Bill Burnett, Ernie Liner, K. Thom Slack, Matt Aikawa, Bruce Hannem, Tom Devitt, Mike McNeil, Dan Adams, Melody V. Smith, Alan Rigerman, Dennis Sheridan (thanks for the cartoon!), Theron E. Magers, Steven L. Frantz, Paul J. Kayser, and Sue Black of the Upstate (NY) Herpetological Association. To become a contributor, send clippings with the name of the paper, date of publication and your name firmly attached to me in care of the AFH.

Volume 4, Number 6 - 1992

Ribbit & weep - frogs in the news

  • The story of the apparent decline in amphibian populations worldwide has appeared in so many guises and publications [New York Times Magazine, December 13, 1992, contributed by P.L. Beltz; The Express, July 31, 1992; contributed by Matt Aikawa; The Lakeland FL Ledger, March 14, 1993, contributed by Melody Smith; New City, May 6, 1993, etc.] that I begin to suspect that the frogs have a master public relations person pounding the pavements on their behalf. Is this the case, or are the folks at the Declining Amphibian Task Force generating all this p.r.? I look forward to hearing from readers with information on the topic.
  • An anthropologist at the University of California at Berkeley carried frog mucus from Brazil to the National Insitutes of Health (NIH) in Bethesda, MD. Scientists found adenoregulin, a peptide, in the frog secretion which means the mucus may help create drugs to treat depression and stroke accoring to THomas Spande, an NIH organi chemist. [Brazosport, Facts, 79(345), February 16, 1993. Contributed by Michael Colligan.]
  • Take one frog and call me in the morning? A chemist at the National Institute of health is working with dendrobatid frog toxins to develop a new painkiller which may be more potent than any analgesic previously developed. One alkaloid, known as epibatidine was isolated from poison dart frogs from the Ecuadorian rain forest. It blocks different receptor sites in the brain where pain signals are processed than does morphine and may be 100 to 400 times more potent than the classic painkiller. Researchers hope to synthesize the compound in the lab since it is not feasible to extract sufficient quantities of epibatidine from the tiny frogs themselves. [Longevity/December 1992, contributec by Alan W. Rigerman.]
  • The New York Times [March 15, 1993] reports that Thekkedajh Menon, the owner of a large seafood importing company, was conviced for trafficking in tainted shrimp and scheming to elude Federal food inspectors. His offenses reported included labeling protected species of Bangladesh bullfrog as shrimp. Contributor Alexander Semencic asked about the origin of the protection for the Bangladeshi bullfrogs. To the best of my knowledge, most species of frogs in that nation are now protected. The government recognized that overcollecting of large frogs in that country was having a negative impact on human health, since mosquito-borne diseases increased as frogs decreased.

Squirming panda found by many

No it was not a case of ophiphagy by panda, but rather an attempt to smuggle the animals into the U.S. The animals included: two Indian star tortoises, three monitor lizards, a yellow-foot tortoise, a red-foot tortoise, three Nile monitor lizards, two hingback trutles, and an elongated tortoise. [March 21, 1993: The Washington Post, Bryan McCarty; The Provo UT Daily Herald, David Webb; The Akron OH Beacon-Journal, Fred Buettel; The Hayward CA Daily Review, Mike Kilby; and March 23, 1993, The Jefferson City News and Tribune, Phil Jones.]

Maybe it was looking for the windshield viper?

A student at the prestigious Northwestern University in Evanston, IL lost his pet snake somewhere in his Subaru after releasing the animal from "his usual cage, a violin case" while driving back to school from his parent's home in Kentucky. Somewhere along the way, George the python did what snakes do best, find a nice warm place to hide and stay there. To get George out, however, took a Subaru dealer the better part of a day to strip the car before finding the python in what was left of the dashboard of the Legacy. The student wasn't even there to retreive George having left on a skiing trip to Colorado during the search! So a mechanic at the dealership set George up in an escape-proof box with a heat lamp to await his owner's return. [Stars and Stripes, March 25, 1993, Brian A. Potter; Chicago Tribune, March 23, 1993, Eloise Beltz-Decker.]

More legislation...

Carroll County, Maryland legislator Richard N. Dixon recently propsed a ban on the importation of animals that eat other live animals on behalf of animal-rights activists. It would extend the prohibition curently in effect against skunks, foxes, raccoons, bears, alligators, crocodiles, wild cats, and poisonous snakes as house pets to virtually all carnivorous snakes, reptiles, amphibians and fish which many people keep at home. Bill opponents said domestic breeding and raising of snakes must be permitted to perpetuate certain species. "It's not like we're feeding people's pet bunnies to snakes," said Michael Gulley a resident of Washington County reported to keep 200 snakes. A 19-year-old who testified before the representatives said, "Not very many people know the joys of owning a snake. People who don't own snakes want to make up rules about snakes, and I think that's very unjust."

But how would such a ban work in Florida?

Officials say that rat populations have increased tremendously in the debris left by Hurricane Andrew August 24, and snake populations are on the rise as well. Todd Hardwick, owner of Pesky Critters said that he is not going after the snakes because they are not threatening to people and they will help keep the rats under control. [Stars and Stripes, March 31, 1993, contributed by Brian A. Potter.]

Hiss-ticky-ticky, ha!

A suitcase found unattended at a food market in Clovis, CA was taken to an empty parking lot and opened by means of a small explosive charge. To officials' surprise, no explosives or old clothes were found, merely a 4-foot python. Micheline Beeson, the Clovis police spokesperson said authroities had no idea who planted the suitcase at the store of why, but added, "We do know there's a yo-yo out there somewhere." [Fresno CA Bee, April 6, 1993, contributed by Bill Bruce.]

A-commode-ating articles

AFH reader George L. Foster sent a clipping from The New Paper [February 22, 1993], from Thailand which tells the horrifying story of a python which has stuck its head out of a toilet in an old folk's home five times in the last five months. Finally, in desperation, the management tied a live chicken by the leg to the sink in the hopes the python would emerge, eat it and be trapped. It is suspected that the mother python could have laid her eggs in a canal, and the baby entered the plumbing system through a manhole cover according to Singapore Zoo supervisor Francis Lim. He added that the snakes are not aggressive. Why can't a story like this ever break in Flushing, New York? On a similar note, a clipping faxes by D'erdra Smothers from the Daily News [October 25, 1992] finishes the story first reported by Dave Barry a few months ago. It seems a man in Canada was brought to court for flushing his four-foot-long ball python down the toilet after it appeared in his neighbor's commode. The man was accused of cruelty to animals because the snake suffered abrasions and "a bad case of snake pneumonia." The defendant explained he had left the snake soaking in the tub from which it must have crawled into the toilet and pointed out that it would be impossible to flush the python since it rolls into a ball when threatened. The defense lawyer brought a toilet filled with water to prove that the snake would enter it freely. However, the snake slithered away from the commode and towards its snake sack in court. the defendant was cleared of the charges anyway.

Skullduggery in Virginia

Two headless pythons were found by children playing in Fairfax County, Virginia. According to contributor Caroline Seitz of Annandale, a headless raccoon was also found and the snakes were incorrectly identified as reticulated pythons when they were, in fact, Burmese. Why on earth someone would decapitate three animals and leave the remains in a suburban area is unknown at present. [Washington Post, April 1, 1993, also contributed by Donielle Grabner.]

Not a mark on it

A dead 16-foot python was found in an alley in Lowell, Massachusets by a man taking his daily walk. The man said, "He seemed dead, but he wasn't squished or anything like that." The snake was estimated to weigh about 125-150 pounds. Officials speculate that the snake was someone's pet and was just dumped in the alley after it died of natural causes. [The Lowell Sun, no date, contributed by Alan LaFreniere.]

And now for something a little different

A reader requesting anonymity sent a copy of the coroner's report on the Canadian man who was asphyxiated by his 10-foot pet Burmese python. Contributing factors were listed as: "1.) The snake was in the process of shedding its skin, an event which temporarily opacities [sic] the eyes and blinds the reptile. This may have made the snake more irritable. 2.) The snake may have been an irritable reptile anyway. 3.) The snake could have smelled food on (the deceased's) hand (since he had) been playing with a friend's cat, bit the deceased on the hand, and then coiled around (the deceased's) body. 4.) (The deceased) had been drinking, ethyl alcohol level 209 mg./100ml. blood) and this may have slowed his relexes in dealing with the reptile."

Tortoise news

  • The Salt Lake Tribune [March 23, 1993, contributed by David A. Webb] reports that the plan to divide land between tortoises and developers has run into more trouble. After discussing how the Las Vegas agreements already reached may become a model for new methods of saving species proposed by Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt, the article states that a permeanent conservation plan to double the conservation acreage may be bitterly contested. The article is titled, "The tortoise and the share: enough land for all"!
  • A March 23, 1993 article from the San Francisco Chronicle [contributed by Matt Aikawa] reports that ranchers have agreed to limit sheep grazing in the Mojave Desert until a federal judge can hear the case. AT stake is about a million acres of federal land in California, the economic interests of a dozen or so family-owned sheep ranches in the Central Valley and the well being of the federally endangered desert tortoises who live in the desert the ranchers want for their sheep. For additional information on this issue contact: the Desert Tortoise Council, P.O. Box 1738, Palm Desert, CA 92261-1738.
  • Grumman World employee newsletter [January 29, 1993, contributed by Fred Ledermann] describes a recent gopher tortoise relocation at the Melbourne Florida airport. "Doing the right thing was not the easiest way to go. It involved a mountain of paperwork... from four different agencies..." The relocation was performed by an environmental firm and will be monitored to see how the tortoises are doing next year.
  • Walt Disney World will expand over an area inhabited by gopher tortoises near Orlando, however, they have agreed to contribute money toward the study and conservation of the species to The Nature Conservancy and the University of Florida. The tortoise trade-off is a "new-style" environmental deal where the needs of the few are sacrificed for the presumed benefit of the many. [The Orlando Sentinel, February 1, 1993, contributed by Dennis Uhrig.]

"How to revive a reptile" no longer a joke.

An eight-year-old boy in Whittier, CA saved his iguana's life by administering his best effort at CPR (cardiopulmonary rescesitation) after the creature was discovered lying inert at the bottom of the family's swimming pool. The boy's father, a doctor, said, "Water was draining out of its mouth and it wasn't breathing. I told my son `It's no use, he's a goner.'" The boy said he learned CPR techniques from the movie "Alien" and he and his brother blew and pumped until the lizard was up and hissing a few minutes later. Readers may be familiar with the cartoon "How to revive a reptile" which shows waterlogged lizards being shaken and given air to survive. Well, this young man just proved that technique works! [Whittier Daily News, April 29, 1993, contributed by David Wright.]

Gecko agression makes the news

Thank heavens William Proxmire (WI) never heard of this! Scientists staged "wars between lizards" in old airplane hangers in Hawaii in a effort to learn why sexually reproducing geckos have displaced asexual lizards in urban settings throughout the South Pacific. The native lizards, Mourning geckos, are about three-inches long and are all female, laying and hatching eggs without any male contributions. Since the second World War, House Geckos, native to the Philippines and Indonesia have displaced the all-female geckos in urban homes as the sexual geckos invaded the islands of Fiji, Samoa, Tahiti, and Hawaii. The gecko battles proved that the sexual lizards are bigger, hog the dinner table and without over aggression displace the smaller, all-female species. [The Grand Junction, CO Daily Sentinel, January 15, 1993, contributed by Larry Valentine.]

Nebraskan turtles can rest easy

A three-year effort by Angie Byorth, a Lincoln, NB real estate agent has paid off. Governor Nelson signed Legislative Bill 830 which eliminates commercial trafficking in native Nebraska amphibians or reptiles. He said it will "help people live in harmony with our friends in nature." The bill makes it unlawful to buy, sell, import, or export any native amphibian or reptile in or from the state of Nebraska. The director of Omaha's Henry Doorly Zoo stated concern about the removal of animals including milk snakes and western painted turtles to markets in New York and elsewhere. The bill will not affect youngsters or hobbyists, but is aimed at people who take animals for commercial trade. [Omaha World Herald Editorial, April 18, 1993 and article April 14, 1993, contributed by Jeff Elting.]

Thanks to this month's contributors! Also, several people deserve notice for sending items previously used (danged lead time!): Melody V. Smith, Mark Miller, Anonymous Sharp Health Care, Fred Ledermann, Aaron Mattson, Mike McNeil, Bill Burnett, Candice Norritzke, William Espenshade, Don Winton, Tom Devitt, Kenneth E. Lauser, Jr., Mike Hazey, C. Max Watson, Brian Burkman, Melicia Phillips. L.D. Gritton of San Diego is the winner of the most decorated envelope of the month award. You canbecome a contributor, too. Send the clipping with the publication name and date (you can use the date slug from the paper), and your name firmly attached (tape preferred to staples) to Ellin Beltz, c/o AFH at the address on our masthead. The long lead time (60-120 days) may result in you being scooped, but your contribution will be acknowledged! This is my sixth year of writing this type of column, and my thirteenth column for AFH. The clipping collection of items used has now expanded to a third drawer of my four drawer, extra long file cabinet. If anyone knows how to get these things transferred to CD-ROM, please let me know. The clippings are an interesting overview of reptiles in the American psyche. Believe it or not, attitudes are changing for the better in many places!

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January 10, 2008

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