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

Herp News Around the World
by Ellin Beltz

Volume Five

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

This was the fourth 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 5, Number 1 - 1993

Python found behind sofa

"Killer python" screamed headlines around the U.S. in mid May. I received a slew of articles about the 47-year-old Jefferson Parish, Louisiana man who was found dead with his favorite python Ebanezer, slashed and stabbed, cowering behind a sofa in their home. At first, police announced that William Bassett had been crushed to death by Ebanezer, however the coroner found that Bassett had a heart attack. Why Bassett stabbed the snake through the mouth and out the top of the head is unknown. The wounds required over 100 stitches and hours of veterinary time. Pythons are illegal in the parish, so authorities impounded the snake. News reports led to hundreds of people calling from all over the country seeking to adopt Ebanezer. Final custody was awarded to a licensed snake dealer in Hancock County, Mississippi. The newspapers also overreacted on the snakes weight in the early stories reporting that the animal weighed 200 pounds. The later stories amend this (without mentioning the mistake) and describe the animal as 16-feet 36-pounds. A fascinating clipping [May 23, 1993 The Times-Picayune, New Orleans, LA, from Ernie Liner] was from the editorial page. Written by David Meeks, it describes the situation clearly and calmly. Meeks wrote: "So when you hear someone say, `The only good snake is a dead snake,' remember that you are talking to the uninformed. What you should learn from this episode is that people who keep reticulated pythons, anacondas or other dangerous, large snakes just aren't too smart. In many places, they're also breaking the law. What you also can learn is there is nothing wrong with snakes... So if you see a snake in the wild, resist the urge to kill it first and identify it later." How times change! The other clippings and their contributors are: May 18, 1993- The Times-Picayune, New Orleans, LA, Rick Dietz and Mary E. Behrens the grandmother of an AFH member; Herald Wire Services, Alan W. Rigerman/ May 19- USA Today, Lillian Cowdrey and Bill Burnett; Orlando FL Sentinel, Bill Burnett; The Times-Picayune, Ernie Liner/ May 20- USA Today, Lillian Cowdrey and Bill Burnett; Memphis, TN Commercial Appeal, Bill Burnett; The Baton Rouge, LA Advocate, Ernie Liner/ May 21- The Times-Picayune, Ernie Liner/ May 23- Utica, NY Observer Dispatch, Sue Black/ June 10- The Houma, LA Courier, Ernie Liner. (This is the most clippings on any one story I've ever received! EB)

Letters, letters

  • "I was gratified to see an excerpt of my letter in 4.5, but there are two corrections I must make. First, the title `Virginia Legislation Takes Effect in 1993' is incorrect; the legislation went into effect in 1992. It has been a year since I sent you the original letter. Second, the vociferous, if belated, outcry of reptile enthusiasts resulted in an amelioration of the original legislation. As it now stands, only `wild type'specimens of native subspecies are regulated; i.e. you may keep or breed albino Lampropeltis getulus getulus, but not normally marked individuals. The same applies to Elaphe guttata guttata and all other species regulated by the 1992 legislation. Thank you for printing the original letter and for allowing me to set the record straight now. Sincerely, Brenda Frye, Hopewell, VA."
  • "This note is to let you know there is a dedicated handful of herpetoculturists here in Maine and we have gathered together to form `The Maine Herpetocultural Society.' We meet monthly and got our first printed newsletter off the ground in August, 1992. Douglas Kranich, Millinocket, ME"
  • "Last year, when I still lived in southern California, I visited the World Museum of Natural History at La Sierra University in Riverside, as part of a field trip with the Southwestern Herpetologists Society. The Museum houses the world's largest collection of crocodilian species, the famous Komodo Dragon from the St. Louis Zoo, and one of the largest museum freeze-drying systems (lyophylization) in the world. This method was formulated by Dr. Billy Hankins and Dr. Ron Zame and took several years to develop... You should let others know about the Museum. It is a pleasant drive to Riverside and an interesting place to visit. Very truly yours, Marcia Rybak, Lake Forest, IL"
  • "In reference to the excerpt `Letter of the month' in 4.4, I shook my head in disgust, not only at the sick mentality of The Sportsman's Guide, but also a little at myself. Three years ago, for a brief time, I worked for them as a telemarketing representative. We all make mistakes, don't we? I was repulsed by what I saw in the catalogs, most importantly at the manner that they exploited herps, but also all animals in general. From my experience with then I have found that they have absolutely no respect for our scaled and four legged brothers and sisters, and the only thing that matters to them is the size of their wallets. This, I must stress, is my opinion of them.

    In the excerpt, they are quoted as calling rattlesnake heads `something straight out of a voodoo village.' This alone shows their ignorance. Voodooism is a Haitian religion, and there are no known rattlesnakes in Haiti. The other quote referring to reticulated pythons as being `So plentiful in Indonesia, that they are considered pests.' This again shows their ignorance because it is a well known fact that the reticulated python is an internationally endangered species. Another ad in their catalog was for freeze-dried rattlesnakes mounted in an attack position. The disclaimer at the bottom of the ad reads, `The harvest of these snakes in no way threatens the species. The principal reason for their harvest is for "milking" their venom to make antidotes and to control their numbers.' I don't think I have to say much more.

    I think it's time we control the numbers of the sick-minded individuals that think this stuff up to make a buck while taking our very valuable natural resources to the gallows. We can all benefit from my experience at The Sportsman's Guide. The excerpt lists an 800 number to call. Don't bother. This is the number to the order department where you will reach an order taker that will probably hang up on you after discovering the basis of your call. Call ... Ask for ... the president of the company. Hi name is Gary Olen. I know that this is a long distance toll call for most of you, but I'm sure you'll agree that the cause is well worth it.

    I must stress that we here in Minnesota are plagued with the presence of this company, and the decrepit mentality that they possess in no way reflects the mentality of Minnesotans, especially Herpetoculturists. I am a proud member of the Minnesota Herpetological Society, and we like other Herp Societies, are a responsible and intelligent group of people, dedicated to learning and teaching the truth about these beautiful creatures.

    Unfortunately, there is a war going on here. Us against ignorance. If we lose this war, we lose everything. Call Gary Olen not with malicious intent, or to point a reprimanding finger at him, but to teach him about the fragile perimeter that encircles herps and stands between them and complete destruction. Let him and others know that we won't let that perimeter break. United we stand, my friends. Dav Lydon, Minneapolis, MN"

Gator killed 10-year-old boy

Bradley Weidenhamer, a 10-year-old Little Leaguer, was killed by an alligator during a canoe outing with his team and his parents. It is the first gator fatality since 1988, and only the sixth since the Florida Game and Fres Water Fish Commission began keeping records of alligator attacks on humans in 1972. No one on the canoe trip had seen any alligators, and the victim had gotten out of the canoe he was sharing with his parents to pull the boat over a log. While he was knee-deep in water, the alligator grabbed him and bit into the right side of his head, then pulled him under water, according to a sheriff's deputy. Bradley's father Gary jumped out, and pulled the boy away from the gator, but the gator yanked the boy back and kept the child under water for up to five minutes. The gator released the boy after the father and several adults on nearby canoes hit the animal with their paddles. Twenty minutes elapsed from the time of the boy's rescue until the group of canoes reached a visitor stopping point where the Palm Beach County's trauma helicopter could pick up the boy. Help had been summoned by a canoe which had left the scene when the attack began, so the paramedics were waiting when the rest of the canoes arrived. The father performed CPR on the unconscious boy most of the way from the attack scene to Trapper Nelson's house. The boy was pronounced dead on arrival at Jupiter Medical Center. The 11.5 foot alligator was killed by a professional hunter, and a necropsy was conducted. [Miami, FL Herald, June 20, 1993. Contributed by Mike McNeil.]

The ultimate in halitosis

Now I know where that deadly saliva quote came from that I used in my other column from the Grand Junction, CO Daily Sentinel! Linda McIntosh sent a copy of an article from International Wildlife [May/June 1993, 23(3):30-35.] which has a subhead that reads: "Why worry if you're a giant lizard with scalpel teeth and killer saliva?" Writer Jane Stevens was fortunate enough to actually visit the island of the Giant Drago Lizards in Indonesia last year. Some quotes: "The numbers tell the story. Over the last 65 years, the score is Komodo dragons - 280 killed by people and 500 captured; humans - at most 12 killed or injured, none captured. Population of humans - 5.5 billion. Komodo dragons on Earth - no one knows exactly, but perhaps 5,000... In their extreme ugliness, Komodo dragons are beautiful. Knobby skin drapes like gray chain mail over their elongated bodies... On goat-free days, the monitors' hungry stares reduce us to walking body parts... Monitor saliva is chock full of deadly species of bacteria and most bitten prey that escape die from a fast-moving bacterial superinfection... [After the goat show, I] put down my notebook and crunch into a banana chip. Seventeen pairs of yellow eyelids flip up... Komodo dragons have demonstrated that smart lizards have no rules."

Tales of two iguanas

  • "Wayward iguana saved" screamed the headline of the Clarksburg, West Virginia Telegram [May 1, 1993] contributed by Boyd "Buddy" Simmons. Apparently "Goliath" a 2-foot iguana had escaped his home and climbed a 35-foot tree from which he refused to budge. The police tried. The firemen tried. A male WVU cheerleader climbed halfway up the tree and tried a Super Soaker squirt gun. Then, while two people held a sheet below the tree, two other male WVU students climbed as far as the branches would hold and shook until Goliath fell out. He was caught in the sheet and given a clean bill of health after the fall. (Perhaps he should now be renamed Adam? EB)
  • "Iguana Causes 3 Car Crash" cries 18 point type in the Oil City, PA Derrick [April 26, 1993]. Contributor Mike Smith of Tucson, AZ wrote, "On a recent trip to western PA to visit family, this article appeared. I could not help finding this coincidental to say the least. A good title for your article would be "the night of the iguana." I hope you enjoy this as much as I did..." The article is datelined Pittsburgh and reads: "A pet iguana leaped onto a driver, causing him to lose control of his car, which crashed into another car stopped at a traffic light. A third car collided with the first two. The three drivers and one passenger were slightly injured." The iguana was not however wearing a seat belt and was uninjured. These stories point out even more reasons for not letting animals of the herp flavor run around loose in your house, car, yard, etcetera.

Oriental reptile tales

  • One clipping received recently from P.L. Beltz is entirely in Chinese, but was translated by Ping Xu, a friend of my family currently visiting in Chicago. The picture shows a drawing of a very scaly snake surrounded by Chinese characters and an English phrase: "Six slithering snakes sliding silently southward." Ping Xu says that the snakes represent detectives in movies and mystery books because they are thought to be smart, quiet and because they move at night. She added that snakes are considered good animals by Chinese people, probably because Mao TseTung was born in the year of the snake... and who would argue with him?
  • The second clipping is from the Japan Times [January 21, 1993] and was sent by Pat Wise of Calgary, Canada. Writer Stephanie L. Cook suggested that the 1990s might be declared the decade of the reptile in Japan. "The evidence is mounting that creepy crawlies are slithering their way into a higher profile than ever before... Last year, a zookeeper confirmed that snakes have become haute couture pets in the Japanese show biz world. An now another zoo official confides that pet lizards are all the rage particularly with urban apartment dwellers. They apparently suit crowded city life to a T. A no-mess, no-smell, no-noise creature, the lizard slides by even the most emphatic pet bans... The latest news of our scaly friends is Tennoji Zoo's plan to complete a state of the art reptile house next year to commemorate the Osaka municipal facility's 80th anniversary."

American snake stories

  • Contributor Andy Zaayenga wrote: "Enclosed you will find an article clipped from the Asbury Park NJ Press [June 1, 1993]. It details an incident which could have been lifted right out of The Vivarium 4.4 article in which the causes for this type of accident are explored. Unfortunately the python paid the ultimate price for its owner's mistakes." A slightly more detailed account was published in the Houma, LA Courier [May 31, 1993, contributed by Ernie Liner] Both articles are datelined Pinehurst, NC and says that a local police officer was feeding a chicken to his 12-foot Burmese Python at his home when the snake bit his hand and began to wrap around his arm. The police officer said he didn't panic, but was handed a knife by his roommate's girlfriend and slashed the snake. The 7-inch gash had no effect. Next the woman retrieved one of the officer's guns and he shot the snake in the head. After that he was able to pry the python off. He said his hand swelled to about the size of a soft-ball and he went to the hospital where doctors gave him antibiotics to prevent infection. When he returned home 1.5 hours later, the snake still wasn't dead, so he took it behind his home and finished killing it.
  • Animal Control Officers in Auburndale, FL are trying to discover who dumped four dead python carcasses in a ditch, and why. The four were discovered by Polk County Animal Control Officer Vince Bazemore. He said that an alligator has been sunning itself on the banks of the ditch for the last several weeks, so "When I'd drive by there, I'd look over to see if the alligator was there. I'd usually go by there a couple of times a day. Something just didn't look kosher, so I went back to check it out." Thus he found the snakes. Three appeared to have had their heads bashed in, the fourth - found wrapped around a tree - wasn't as badly beaten. AFH member Wayne Hill was quoted, "Somebody may have thought it would be a good prank for fishermen, to scare them. It's certain they didn't get there on their own." [The Lakeland, FL Ledger, May 20, 1993, contributed by Melody Smith.]
  • Contributor Marty Marcus wrote "Is this a fatal accident waiting to happen?" The clipping from the Tacoma, WA Morning News Tribune [April 4, 1993] presents the story of an Alligator Farm employee in Homestead, FL who casually walks around with an African gaboon viper around his neck, picks out cobras from wooden boxes and taps them on the head to get them to flair their hood, and presents "an encyclopedic amount of information" in his shows to the general public. Albert Kilian is a 36-year-old native of Brooklyn NY who says he's been bitten seven times and identifies the cause of his permanently crooked finger as the result of the corrosive effects of snake venom on skin tissue. He said that he kept about 90 percent "poisonous" snakes in a barn in Stamford, CT where his family lives. I would again remind our readers that "poison is when you eat it, venom is when it's trying to eat you." Therefore, there are no poisonous snakes! It is also highly unrecommended by me or any other serious herpetologist with the sense God gave an echinoderm to walk around in public with any kind of venomous animal loose. Actually, I don't recommend loose animals of any kind (see iguanas above). We can do a lot more damage to the image of herpetology by acting like yazoos than will ever overcome by educational programs.
  • Actor George Plimpton is recovering from a cobra bite he received during a bird-watching expedition to India. His arm is in a sling, and he is apparently mostly recovered from the experience, but he said that he got dizzy and temporarily lost his sight when it happened, according to a news bite from the Providence, RI Journal-Bulletin [April 26, 1993] contributed by Joe Sousa of Bristol.
  • Snakes are the only unwelcome pets at the annual Green Forest Park Pet Show in Scotch Plains, Nevada. Contributor Philip S. Venditto wrote "I guess some people in Nevada need a little enlightenment on snakes as pets."

Excellent essay on C.B. herps

I was delighted to receive a note that read "Ellin Beltz is welcome to use anything from my herp trivia column in Vivarium. Roy Pinney." Roy is a world famous herpetologist who writes the "Herp Trivia" column for the New York Herpetological Society. With his imprimatur then, I present a thought provoking essay he wrote for their March/April 1993 Newsletter. "Captive-born? The surprising proliferation of herp expos where specimens are sold, swapped, or purchased, usually have the proviso that the vendors offer only captive-born or captive-bred animals and no wild caught or native specimens. The stipulation is to be applauded, but what exactly is captive born? Bill Love, owner of Glades Herp Inc. in Fort Myers, FL explains that many people consider captive-born and captive-bred one and the same, and in many cases the quality of offspring produced by either `method' will be identical or nearly so. Thus the abbreviation C.B. as used on price lists and in articles has become understood to generally imply that the desired animal is healthy and free of parasites. It is very likely to acclimate to captivity and thrive, at least with greater likelihood than a wild-collected animal.

The difference between - born and -bred comes when two common assumptions are made by some buyers of captive-born animals. First, they often think that no animals are being removed from nature, thus not contributing to the loss of wildlife. If they are captive-bred this may be true, but the offspring born in captivity from recently imported gravid herps is certainly a loss to the native population.

The second assumption is that -born and -bred are the same thing. Dedicated herpetoculturists, who work hard to propagate animals in captivity, frown when they see someone take credit for breeding when they know (or strongly suspect) that the offspring were the lucky dividend of getting already-gravid adult animals. A variation of this type of `cheating' is introducing recently collected herps that instantly copulate. They were caught at about the time they were cycled to mate in the wild anyway. The `breeder' may get a false sense of accomplishment with such an easy `victory.' Years later, are they able to repeat the event with either the original adults or the now mature offspring?

To truly captive breed a species, Bill Love believes "The breeder must either start with immature animals or maintain the adults for a period of time prior to propagation equal to or greater than the duration of the species' nature reproductive cycle to demonstrate that he/she has indeed simulated the conditions necessary to induce successful captive breeding." Ideally, a prove `recipe' is recorded and can be repeated by others in the future. What do you think?"

About me

In response to several letters wherein my contributors have asked about how this column is created, and other questions, please indulge me a few lines about myself. First question... I just graduated college after 20 years of working on a B.S. in Biology and have applied to graduate school in Earth Science with the hopes of (someday) getting a Ph.D. and teaching college or university students. I work under contract for our Department of Conservation and other agencies studying the distribution and status of Illinois reptiles and amphibians. I presented some results of my work at the Toronto Massasauga Symposium, and I will present some Illinois Chorus Frog results at the Bloomington, IN SSAR meeting in August. The best book on Illinois herps is Phil Smith's 1961 classic, still in print from the Natural History Survey, 607 East Peabody Drive, Champaign, IL 61820 ($5.00 ppd). The state of Illinois prohibits the collection of reptiles and amphibians for commercial purposes. The best field guide for the U.S. is the Peterson (#12, by Conant and Collins) available at most bookstores. Other than than, I can't tell you where to "get" any particular type of herps, and I would suggest that anyone considering collecting wild animals contact the state in which they plan to collect and find out if it is legal. There is no one source for up-to-the-minute reptile laws, although somebody sure ought to get than info on HerpNet. Second question... This column began because I was doing a similar column for a local herp society and I saw the opportunity to become involved in A.F.H., and to get in contact with so many wonderful fellow herpetologists worldwide. You see, I love to travel, and being in school, and having a daughter in college, I didn't have much time or money to indulge my wanderlust. So I traveled by mail. Each time I receive clippings, letters, postcards (I collect `em - hint, hint), photographs, it is almost as if I could actually be there. I used to respond to every contributor personally. Time and the volume of clippings received no longer permits this. However, I do pick one contributor every month, usually one with a letter, and write to that person. Third question... I'm sorry that I've had to turn down offers to do presentations for various groups for the last few years, but money (and time) have not permitted. That is also why I've not been able to go to the Expo and other events. Fourth question... Yes, I keep herps. My critters range from "FrogKing" who arrived in our house as a tadpole in 1985 and is now a gloriously plump Pig Frog to a large black rat snake (who really belongs to a friend) that eats all our extra mice. I named him "Malthus" because he solved our population problem. We have many salamanders, several frogs, a lizard or two, three turtles, and a few snakes. All our animals are domestic, U.S. herps. I don't keep exotics (or know much about keeping them), or venomous animals (even though I WORK with rattlesnakes), nor do I breed herps, just mice (many mice). Fifth question... I cannot advise anyone what kind of herps they should keep, nor can I suggest which ones would be "worth most." You see to me, "worth" is not necessarily monetary. I have gained the greatest pleasure and knowledge from some unlikely critters, so to me they were "worth" more than all the piebald pythons in Pittsburgh. Sixth question... I'm married, to a fellow herpetologist who works for an engineering company. Seventh question... Tape is preferred to staples because I can see what it covers and it doesn't destroy the clippings the same way as a staple does. To do my column, I first sit down with all the clippings forwarded by the staff at AFH (which is why everything must be firmly attached) and unfold everything, cut and paste big articles down to manageable sizes, and read `em all. I used to photocopy all the articles and highlight what I wanted to use, but since that meant going to a copy shop and I'm almost always late getting around to writing, I've been omitting that step. (Blessed, however, are those who send photocopied clippings!!!) Next, I sit down with the source material and type into my old PC-XT, save, spellcheck, and print. Then the column is mailed on disc to the AFH where they work their magic and get it to you. Last question... I'd be delighted to come and speak to any herp society most any Thursday through Sunday, but you'll have to figure out how to get me there. Any more questions? I look forward to hearing from you.

Thanks to this month's contributors for some wild and wierd tales. Also, thanks to contributors Barry Nielsen (dead snake in alley), Basil Valle (tunnels of love), Mike McNeil (arm removed by croc), Bob Pierson (desert tortoise post card), JoAnn Dalein (don't move tortoises!), Paul J. Kayser (Zoo nutritionist), Douglas Kranich (shell repair in turtles), John A. Rybak of Parachute, CO for a multi-year multi-state collection of clippings, Wayne Hill for a huge envelope full of clippings from years past, and very special thanks to Brian A. Potter who sent me the entire Cayman Island Turtle Farm brochure along with a clipping previously used. You too can become a contributor! Simply send clippings with the date/publication slug and your name firmly attached (tape preferred) to the AFH at their new address on the masthead. We have a 60-120 day lead time plus the time it takes for the clippings to be forwarded to me by the office, so if you don't see your contribution right away, don't despair. Also, I confess, I occasionally hold onto items and use them in later columns when I have several of the same thing (e.g. tortoise tales). Your understanding and patience is most appreciated!

Volume 5, Number 2 - 1993

Python may have killed boy

A 15-year-old was apparently strangled by "Sally," an eight year old 11.5-foot python kept as a pet by the victim's brother. Police reported that the animal was "aggressive, hissing and reacting" when they arrived. The boy had bites on his body and the autopsy listed the cause of death as suffocation. Commerce City, Colorado Police Captain Michael Maudlin said, "The snake had been allowed to run free in its residence since it was first owned about eight years ago." The Captain added that one of the family told police that the snake had been fed within the last week, and that they fed it a rabbit every month or so. The story was an instant sensation with the news media and was picked up by many of our members. From July 21, 1993 editions: Provo, UT Daily Herald, from David Webb; Grand Junction, CO Daily Sentinel, from John Rybak who wrote, "I really feel bad for the kid and the family, but I wonder what was the situation that the Burmese would constrict and asphyxiate the boy?"; Denver, CO Rocky Mountain News, from Monte McEntee with a note: "All of us here in Colorado who keep snakes, large constrictors especially, are concerned about the increase in negative public relations effects generated by such incidents."; Deseret News, from David A. Webb, Provo, UT; and the New York Post, from W.P. Mara. From July 22, 1993 editions: Lancaster, PA New Era, from Michael Shrom; Rocky Mountain News, from Monte McEntee; McKinleyville, CA Times-Standard, from Dan G. Wake; computer printout of news stories from Dave Rotheroe, Dallas, TX; and The Potomac News, from Daniel Riley, Woodbridge, VA.

Other snakes in the news

  • Virginia Day, the owner of a reptile farm in Maribel, Wisconsin, was bitten in mid-July by a cobra she was handling. The 45-year-old woman was flown to the Milwaukee County Medical Complex in Wauwatosa where she received antivenin and was reported in satisfactory condition. [The Milwaukee Journal, July 16, 1993, sent by Andrew Alefsen]
  • According to a report from the Indian Express, a snake charmer bit a cobra to death after the serpent attacked him in a town 320 miles southwest of Calcutta. [Tacoma Morning News Tribune, July 19, 1993, contributed by Marty Marcus]
  • Venomous snakes bit four people in Tennessee in mid-July. A hiker on Signal Mountain was bitten by a timber rattlesnake. The other three victims, a homeowner gardening, a child playing on a trail in the Great Smoky Mountains, and a little girl chasing a lizard at the Big South Fork Recreation Area, were bitten by copperheads. Hot, dry weather is apparently bringing more snakes and people into the same recreational areas. [The Memphis Commercial Appeal, July 19, 1993, sent by Mark Masco]
  • "If the guy lives, I'm gonna call Rescue 911... and get them down to do a show on this," said Floyd Moorhead, an emergency medical technician who helped rescue Kenneth Carter after an auto accident. Moorhead said that Carter was alone in his truck when he drove off Mississippi Route 8. He was thrown from the truck into a ditch full of snakes, and was bitten at least nine times, mostly between his right knee and right ankle. None of the rescue workers were injured, but Moorhead said, "We didn't count the snakes, but there was a bunch of them." [The Memphis, Commercial Appeal, July 29, 1993, from Mark Masco]
  • Rattlesnakes bit three amateur handlers at an annual snake hunt in West Newton, Pennsylvania and local doctors had to scramble to find enough antivenin. "Everybody has a few vials, but when there's an acute need like a rattlesnake roundup, it becomes scarce," said Dr. John Reed of Westmoreland Hospital in Greensberg, PA. Reed treated and released one man who had been bitten on the left thumb. The other two were taken to the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center and treated for chills, fever, and delirium. [The Provo, UT Daily Herald, July 26, 1993, from David Webb]
  • According to the Kenya Times, a two-year-old child from a town near Mombasa was saved from the mouth of a 10-foot python after being swallowed up to his waist by a quick-thinking watchman who attacked the snake with a stone. The snake regurgitated the victim unharmed, but the snake was then beaten to death. [The San Francisco Chronicle, May 1, 1993, contributed by Matt Aikawa]
  • A rattlesnake kept in captivity in a Martinez, California home apparently killed a 41-year-old man. Authorities reported finding bite marks on the victim's neck and right wrist as well as a decapitated 30-inch snake in the home. [The San Francisco Chronicle, May 5, 1993, sent by Matt Aikawa]
  • A man from Prince William County, Virginia was in fair condition after being bitten by his pet forest cobra between his left thumb and forefinger. The snake is known to be highly venomous and is native to an area in South Africa. Within an hour of being rushed to the hospital, Drew Yeager became delirious and had difficulty breathing. Doctors scrambled to get dozens of vials of antivenin from as far away as Pittsburgh to combat the effect of the venom. [The Northwest Herald, Niles, IL August 21, 1993, contributed by K.S. Mierzwa]

Bacteria responsible for turtle deaths?

A Milwaukee man filed a $2,240 claim against the city after six of his exotic turtles died. The water system in that city had a highly publicized infestation of Cryptosporidium. This bacterium is apparently dangerous to reptiles as well as humans. The turtles became sick when the man added tainted city water to their tank. The City Attorney had no comment. [The Milwaukee Sentinel, May 27, 1993, from Mike McNeil]

Ugh of the month

An ad published in Father's Day editions of Seattle, Washington papers by Sears-Robuck and Company shows several small boys wearing Jurassic Park logo shirts and shorts bashing plastic lizards with rocks. Contributor Jeff Asher wrote: "I called Sears and complained and they said they were sorry I was upset but they really didn't have anything to do with the ad."

Does it walk on water too?

Steve Newman, in his widely syndicated "Earthweek: A diary of the planet" column [Tacoma News Tribune, July 26, 1993 wrote "Israel's Jordan Valley council has offered a $1,000 reward for the capture, dead or alive, of a crocodile terrorizing bathers in the Sea of Galilee. Several hunters attracted by the reward gathered around the lake where swimmers and fishermen have seen the 5-foot reptile. "More than 2,000 crocodiles are being raised in farms around here," said an official of The Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel. "Sooner or later one had to get out." Contributor Marty Marcus wrote, "Crocs in Israel? I didn't know they were kosher."

Lost and found department

  • A 4-foot python slithered onto an Olathe, Kansas kitchen floor after hiding in the apartment for two months since its owner moved to a larger unit in the same complex. [USA Today, June 4, 1993, from Angel Rivera]
  • A 15-pound Burmese python who had disappeared from a concert at City Park in New Orleans was found sprawled on the steps of an apartment building by a 74-year-old neighbor who said, "I hit my chest and said, `Oh my God.' It was the biggest old thing, and real big around, too. Eight cops came out and got him in a garbage can with a long stick." The capture site was 20 blocks, 1.25 miles straight line from where the snake disappeared. Elapsed time was from Saturday night to Wednesday. Another python reported missing in New Orleans is still at large. [The Times-Picayune, June 17, 1993, sent by Bernard Hayman]
  • The Daily News of Anchorage, Alaska reports that their longest day was apparently too tempting to an iguana that broke out through a screen door and perched in a three 30 feet above a fairly busy road. Traffic was stopped while the fire department and the iguana's owner tried to figure out how to get him down. After recapture the paper notes: "[the owner] said his pet, purchased for $30 when it was 6 inches long, is now inside, roaming the house as usual and watching television." [July 24, 1993, sent by new contributor Sam Goldman of Palmer, AK.]

Comments about boa/cocaine story

From Brandon Malure: "This just proves how crazy people get when it comes to drugs. It's really bad that these snakes died, and the people that did this will only get five years at the most. If it was up to me, they would all get the death sentence." From Lance Gritton: "Why are we still importing boas?"

Colorado considers changes to endangered list

Two Western or boreal toads (Bufo boreas) were spotted high up in the West Elk Mountains. One was near a pond and the other was in the outflow from a hot springs. Boreal toads used to be so common in the Colorado high country that biologists surveyed them with a shrug, according to naturalist Lauren Livo of Denver. But the state's only high elevation toad has all but disappeared in the last 10-15 years. "We need to find out what they're telling us about our environment," said Cynthia Carey, a biology professor at the University of Colorado in Boulder. The boreal toad will be presented to the state Wildlife Commission as a candidate for inclusion on the state's endangered species list. Carey was working with the toads when the population she was studying went extinct. The culprit was "red leg disease," caused by a bacteria that attacked the toad's circulatory system. Environmental changes appear to be weakening the toads' immune systems, making them more vulnerable to fatal diseases, according to Carey. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has pledged to give the Colorado Division of Wildlife $15,000 a year for the next five years to reintroduce toads to their old habitat. [The Grand Junction, CO Daily Sentinel, July 4, 1993, contributed by loyal reader John Rybak]

Baxter an epithet in parts of Wyoming

The Wyoming Toad, Bufo hemiophrys baxteri, was named after George Baxter, an emeritus professor of zoology at the University of Wyoming. However, the prof is persona non grata in Laramie these days after a proposal by the federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to prohibit the use of any of 43 chemicals within one mile of standing water in a 970-square-mile region. The problem is just about everywhere in the County matches that description and no one has conclusively proven that any of these pesticides harm the toads. Residents fear that the chemical ban will permit even more mosquitos to hatch, decimating ranching and an incipient tourism industry, and create a bad name for Laramie at a time when the city is trying hard to attract businesses and jobs. One resident said, "I wish I could get some of those EPA guys out in my fields naked when the mosquitoes are thicker than hair on a dog's back." Fully dressed and DEET-covered county and city officials will send teams of volunteers into wetlands and pastures at night to search for the toads. Toad-free zones may be permitted to spray. As these posses comb the outback, the Wyoming Toad Task Force will try to draft a compromise protecting the amphibian and allow for mosquito control. Only about 100 toads still live in the wild about 12 miles southwest of Laramie. Many of them are suffering from an Aeromonas bacterial infection ("red-leg") as well as a fungus disease and unseasonably cold temperatures. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service biologist Steven Corn said, "They are virtually extinct. The population [there] did not reproduce last year. This year we have not seen or even heard one." Another 55 toads live in captivity and reproduced this year. "It's sad," Corn added, "But it's entirely possible that this captive-breeding population will be the only Wyoming Toads left by the end of the year." [Los Angeles Times, June 16, 1993, sent by John Holmes]

Hop to it and shell out some bucks...

As gift planning and gift season approaches, I would remind all our readers that supporting conservation is among the most worthy things that we as reptile-keepers and breeders can do. Here are two organizations very worthy of support... 1.) Join Frog's Leap Vineyards of California in providing support for FROGLOG, the newsletter of the World Conservation Union (IUCN) Species Survival Commission Declining Amphibian Populations Task Force by sending a check to James L. Vial, EPA Environmental Research Laboratory, 200 SW 35th Street, Corvallis, OR 97333. You can request a subscription to the journal at the same time; 2.) Michael Klemens is the tireless director of the Tortoise and Freshwater Turtle Recovery Program, a joint initiative of the American Museum of Natural History and the IUCN-World Conservation Union. In 1992, they marked their "third year of operations by launching new initiatives in the old world tropics, expanding... economic and public policy activities, and providing training and technical advise to conservation practitioners, government agencies, and the private sector," according to Klemens, who added, "Our best hopes for ensuring the survival of turtles and the ecosystems upon which they depend are programs which enable humans to both appreciate and sustainably use the ecosystems which they inhabit." New projects are planned in Burma, Madagascar, Tanzania, and the Galapagos Islands. Your donations will be most sincerely appreciated. Make checks payable to "AMNH-IUCN-Turtle" and send to: Dr. M.W. Klemens, Director, Turtle Recovery Program AMNH, Central Park West at 79th Street, New York, NY 10024-5192. Please mention your affiliation with AFH when contributing.

Time to work for reauthorization

The Federal Endangered Species Act (ESA) is up for reauthorization and you can help it get passed! Write or call your state's Senators at "U.S. Senate, Washington, DC 20510; 212-224-3121" and ask them to cosponsor and support S-921. Contact your state's Representatives at by writing "U.S. House of Representatives, Washington, DC 20515," or using the same phone number as above to call them. Ask them to cosponsor HR 2043 and to support it when it comes to the floor for a vote. Also ask your politicians to support the ESA at funding time. ESA funding is not automatic; it is set by Congress every year. Listed species can be imperiled by stingy appropriations, too - just think where the Wyoming Toad would be without the captive breeding program! I hope every AFH member takes a moment and writes a note or a postcard (put it in an envelope so the U.S. Snail can't slime it up) to their Rep. or Senator. Americans who participate in the political process are the exception rather than the rule, but I've found reptile people to be exceptional in many ways before!

Thanks to all of you who sent clippings... In addition to contributors listed above: Bernard Hayman, Mike Scoville, John C. Young, "M.E.B.," Richard Flippo, Brian Bankowski, Keith Neff, Mason Daniel, and Melody Smith sent clippings which covered stories I used in previous issues. The cutest photo of the month was of a two-year-old iguana sent by Mark Masco. The critter sure looks happy! Unfortunately, two envelopes were received without contents, so Mark Paul Henderson and J. Huff have my thanks for trying to contribute, but their clippings apparently became separated from their names somewhere. Also, one mystery clipping about bog turtles from the Lancaster, PA Sunday News was received with no clue as to who it was from. Please... when you send in clippings write your name on it, or put your address label on it, don't forget the "credit slug" from the top of the page with the date and publication name, and attach any loose pieces with tape (not staples) before sending it to the AFH office!

Volume 5, Number 3 - 1993

Unhappy reader writes...

"I have a few comments regarding `Can Pythons Eat People' (Vivarium 4.5:7), in which I was quoted out of context, with my name misspelled. [However, there was no quotation in my paragraph, and the misspelling came from the Edmonton Journal clipping. I don't think there was any bias in the account. EB] The news item ... had to do with a man who was fined for keeping a Burmese python without a permit, and had his snake confiscated. The tone of your brief account implied that he had been unfairly convicted. It might interest you that this case began when police were called to protect the man's girlfriend... When asked if he had a permit for the snake (necessary in the province of Alberta), the defendant first hesitated, then later produced a permit for a different snake, registered to a different owner. On the stand, as an expert witness under oath, I was asked if a fully-grown Burmese python could eat a newborn human. I answered yes, as any informed zoologist would. The prosecuting attorney then presented evidence that large pythons had, in some instances, accidentally killed their owners. Another part of my testimony indicated that the snake in questions was healthy and docile, and the judge took this into account when he decided on a less-than maximum fine for the defendant. Sincerely, John Acorn." Curiously, when cases of large snakes eating babies are sincerely investigated in the third world, the usual conclusion is that the snakes are being blamed for female infanticide. Is there anywhere any incontrovertible proof (articles from Weekly World News will NOT be accepted) that large snakes eat Homo sapiens, of any size? I have a four drawer file cabinet full of clippings since 1985, and have no verifiable "snake eats man" stories therein.

Snakes everywhere in the news

  • A live brown tree snake (Boiga irregularis) was found in a cargo container of household items shipped from the Guam Naval Station when it was unpacked in the town of Ingleside, according to the Texas Department of Agriculture. The snake was identified by the military transferee since he had seen them on Guam. [West Hawaii Today, October 12, 1993 from Paul Breese]
  • Plans by San Jose, CA officials to install a sculpture of the Aztec and Toltec god Quetzacoatl, represented by a plumed serpent, to honor Mexican heritage in their city have been attacked by Christian fundamentalists who claim the statue will lead to human sacrifice, with the city's homeless population the first victims. The sculptor said "Part of the beauty of the Plumed Serpent is the mythology. His rulership included the philosophy of love, beauty, duality, poetry, flowers, life and death." [Chicago Tribune, October 10, 1993, from P.L. Beltz]
  • An Edmonton, Canada snake owner took a ball python and a boa constrictor for a walk in the park and received two $40 tickets because he didn't heed warnings from a city bylaw enforcement officer. The snake owner admits he has taken his snakes to the park and permitted them to swim in the kiddie wading pool many times. The tickets were later cancelled since the ordinance specifies only poisonous snakes. [The Edmonton Sun, August 11, 1993 from Roger Syriste]
  • Changes in Colorado's game laws may make it illegal to kill midget faded rattlesnakes in Delta, Mesa, and Garfield counties, except in emergencies. Jim Bennett, the assistant regional manager for the Colorado Division of Wildlife said that rattlesnake numbers are declining and research is needed. He said, "We need much more information on their range, distribution and abundance. In the meantime, we need to put a moratorium on collection." [Grand Junction, Co Daily Sentinel, July 10, 1993 from John Rybak]
  • Point Pleasant, NJ Police searched for a 7-foot python which escaped from its home in August. The owner who has six other serpents is the tenant in a building which is up for sale. Apparently the realtor left the front door open, and clips which should have held the tank shut were released. [Asbury Park Press, August 11, 1993, from Mike Dunphy]
  • A 56-year-old Maryland man died after he accidentally shot himself in the face with a .12-gauge shotgun while trying to kill a snake outside his home according to the sheriff deputy's report. The detective reported, "[the victim] was struggling to move the slide [of the gun's] pump action. While the victim was chambering the second round into the shotgun ... the trigger was accidentally pulled while [the gun] was in the upward position, pointed toward his head." [The Lexington Park, MD Enterprise, July 28, 1993 from Caroline Seitz]
  • A python lost by a previous tenant was found by the new tenant hiding under a furnace in an Orem, UT basement. Animal control officers spent more than an hour extricating the 4.5-foot snake prior to transporting it to the Orem Animal Shelter [The Provo, UT Daily Herald, August 13, 1993 from David A. Webb]
  • Kansas City, KS Fire Chief John Bergman watched dozens of snakes slither away from the spreading waters of the Missouri River during this summer's record breaking floodwater rise. Emergency workers fleeing broken levees climbed into trees and were followed by dozens of water snakes which they threw back into the water. The snakes climbed the trees again and wrapped themselves around the workers' legs. "Tacoma Morning News Tribune, August 2, 1993 from Marty Marcus]
  • Suburban Nassau, NY police were called to assist a citizen who had found a 3.5-foot canebrake rattlesnake on the street. Police sprayed the snake with cold carbon dioxide from a fire extinguisher to lower its body temperature and slow it down for capture. The animal later died and police are still trying to figure out where it came from. Police are investigating whether the snake escaped from the home of a resident known to own exotic snakes. Canebrakes are protected under the state's Endangered Species Act, and are illegal to posses without a permit. [Newsday, August, 11, 1993, from Paul J. Kayser]
  • The city council of Burlingame, CA reportedly planned to vote on whether to ban all animals from parks except dogs. The city had received complaints about men strolling with boa constrictors draped across their bodies. Although snakes under six feet are otherwise legal pets in the town, many residents do not appreciate snakes in public. [Los Angeles Times, September 17, 1993 received without contributor's name attached]
  • If terrified by snakes in Baton Rouge, call Snake Busters, a division of the Reptile Defense Network. Dez Crawford, the 32 year old founder of the group said that she had received calls from people with lizards and snakes in their houses since 1987. Crawford said that many of the callers are incredibly and unreasonably frightened. "It's something that's so culturally conditioned. It's appropriate female behavior to act ridiculous" when a reptile is around, she said. [Monroe, LA News-Star September 19, 1993 from Martha Ann Messinger and George Patton]
  • Dozens of illegally kept snakes were confiscated from the home of a Tucson, AZ man who was bitten by a puff adder. The rare and dangerous African snake struck him on the right finger while he was trying to transfer it with tongs from one cage to another in his home, according to the victim. In a hospital interview, Layne Hendricks said that he knew he was in danger the instant he was bitten, but he delayed seeking medical assistance because he feared his home would be raided by game officials. Wildlife officials seized the puff adder, 19 diamondback rattlesnakes, 16 Mojave rattlesnakes, a saw-scaled viper, a scolecophis snake, 52 Colorado River toads and four frozen snakes. [The Salt Lake Tribune, September 4, 1993 from David A. Webb]
  • Two bold teenagers stole a 5- to 6-foot long Burmese python from the North Bay Aquatics pet shop. One youth apparently picked up the animal, draped it around his neck, and walked out of the shop. [San Francisco Chronicle, July 31, 1993 from Matthew Aikawa]
  • A cook, a clerk, and a 17-foot python were among the many individuals evacuated from stores in a Prince William County shopping plaza when fire erupted at a restaurant there. As smoke poured out, the manager of the Pet Service Center in the plaza amused passers-by by letting them pet her 17-foot Burmese python while another employee held a 10-foot long female python. [Potomac News, September 3, 1993 from Daniel Riley]
  • The co-director of a Grand Rapids, MI poison control center and author of "The Underground Zoo - The problem of exotic venomous snakes in private possession in the United States," John Trestrail, said that there are a lot more people keeping exotic and poisonous specimens in their homes than previously believe. "It's a very secret group," Trestrail said, "I call the Mr. Machos. They want to control danger." Dale Marcellini, the National Zoo herpetologist characterized underground snake collectors "childish and irresponsible," because "They use all our [antivenom] which puts us at risk." Marcellini said that he didn't know how two western Maryland collectors obtained their own antivenom because it is considered an investigational drug and special permission from the U.S. government is needed to purchase it. National Zoo biologist and reptile handler Bela Demeter said, that in some ways exotic poisonous snakes are more hazardous than guns: "Guns can't get out of their cage and walk next door and bite someone. Snakes are escape artists." [Potomac News, August 31, 1993 from Daniel Riley]

Gators good and bad

  • A record number of rare and endangered American crocodiles hatched at the Turkey Point nuclear plant in Florida City. The crocs use the protected area around the cooling canals to build nests. This year 175 babies from 9 nests were tagged. In 1992, 155 baby gators were tagged from 12 nests. [USA Today, September 3, 1993, from David A. Webb]
  • A 70-year-old female resident of Wildwood, FL who enjoyed taking early morning walks around a local pond was apparently attacked and eaten by alligators. The Sumter County coroner said that a large alligator had killed the woman by biting her head and breaking her neck although there were no drag marks on the band and no bite marks on her feet or lower legs. He said, "She would have had to have been prone or up to her neck in the water for them to grab her head and neck." The woman's body was discovered after neighbors reported seeing three alligators playing with what appeared to be a body. Four alligators were shot and killed by state agents, and the woman's hand and arm were found in the stomach of one of the dead animals. [Idaho Falls, ID Post Register, October 5, 1993 from new contributor DelRay S. Davenport]

Caiman soon to a place near you?

The San Juan (PR) Star had a multi-page feature article in the September 7, 1993 issue [sent by Kenneth Orth] about the natural history and management implications of the caiman in Vega Baja, Puerto Rico. Experts and biologists at the Department of Natural Resources claim that the estimated 2,000 caimans in the lagoon have affected the ecology, because caimans eat fish, native turtles, birds, frogs, and toads. The DNR classifies caimans as a destructive pets, like rats and mongooses. The caimans arrived as a pet craze in the late 1960s, and owners who were afraid of the animals apparently released their pets into the lagoon. A few years ago, residents began noticing caimans in the streets, in backyards, and near the lagoon. Resident Angel Natal said, "Suddenly they were all over, then we remembered... those are the weird pets we used to have." Caimans have been spotted in Caparra, Puerto Nuevo, Hatillo, Aibonito, and Corozal. Residents have taken to hunting the caimans and stuffed caimans are available in shops as well as being offered as a food item. The meat is sold for $9 to $13 per pound.

Critter-nappers caught

  • An illegal frog-selling ring that captured frogs in California's Central Valley and sold them in San Francisco markets was broken by the State Department of Fish and Game. On September 22, two agents culminated a lengthy investigation by confiscating more than 800 live bullfrogs at residences and markets in San Francisco, Modesto, Firebaugh, Fresno County, and Delhi in Modesto County. The retail value of the seized frogs was estimated at more than $2,750. Charges will be filed against 12 people for illegally trafficking in wildlife. One agent said that for the last 6 months, "They marketed between $70,000 and $80,000 in illegally obtained frogs. When you figure frogs sell for about $5 a pound, you're talking a lot of frogs." He added, "They'd drive a pickup along the levees at night. A guy would sit on a plank suspended from the truck's bed over the canal and blind the frogs with a spotlight, then scoop them up with a net." The animals seized by Fish and Game were returned to the water to eat bugs. [San Franciso Chronicle, October 7, 1993 from Matthew Aikawa]
  • Thousands of baby turtles were seized by agents for the ASPCA in a Chinatown alley in New York City. Exactly 2,612 red-eared sliders were confiscated. Five men have been cited or arrested and more than 3,360 baby turtles were confiscated in a week-long series of surprise seizures. However, The New York Newsday [August 19, 1993 from Melicia Phillips and Allen Salzberg] reports that two hours later, a woman sold a pair of baby turtles to a woman and her daughter. With container, the price was $10. A few minutes later, the woman sold two more turtles to a travel agent. The baby turtles are raised on Louisiana farms and are legal if for export or educational institutions. Distributors have realized that they can get $5 for a turtle on New York streets, and only a dime overseas. A New York Daily News article [July 4, 1993 also from Allen Salzberg] outlined the search that one of their reporters made in search of illegal turtles. That week, all he was able to find was fireworks, although one of the people interviewed for the article was disappointed in not getting a turtle for his granddaughter's birthday. It has been illegal to sell turtles with a carapace (top shell) length of less than four inches for over twenty years. The sales of baby turtles were prohibited because it was believed that turtles transmitted Salmonella bacteria and that children became ill after placing the turtles in their mouth. Subsequent reports have identified Salmonella from other animals, and it is commonly found in chicken meat.

Oh, yuck!

A fifth grader in Manchester, N.H. discovered a frog baked onto a pretzel his mother had put in a bowl for his snack. He said, "I though someone might be playing a joke on me, but it was stuck right to the pretzel." The snack was prepared at a Reisman plant in Pennsauken, NJ. Company Vice President Barry Reisman said, "We get plenty of complaints from too crunchy to not crunch enough. Too salty, not salty enough, But a frog? That's pretty strange." Reisman ships 35 tons of baked snacks daily. Reisman said, "It's virtually impossible to imagine how it could happen." He's hoping that the find won't affect his business too much. The child said, "I'll still eat pretzels. I like pretzels. It's just frogs that I don't like." [The Trentonian, June 18, 1993 from Angel L. Rivera]

Lost and found

Residents of Lancaster, PA can sleep easier knowing that two of their reptile mysteries have been solved. The 2-foot-lizard found in a bathtub by a distraught grandmother turned out to be the surly pet of a neighbor which had disappeared two months before but had not been reported to police. It apparently arrived in the tub through a window, not up the drain as was first reported. The other lost lizard, a caiman was found in a backyard near where it was lost. The caiman was quite plump and had apparently been eating. The owner said, "I'm just glad she didn't bit anybody, and I'm really glad she's home. [Lancaster, PA New Era, August 23 and 24, 1993 both from Michael J. Shrom]

Thanks to everyone whose contribution I used for this issue! In addition, Mark Masco, P.L. Beltz, Daniel Riley, Bryan McCarty, Allen Salzberg, Casey Hendley, Rick Welcher, Mike Kreger, David A. Webb, Melody V. Smith, Rick Young, Paul J. Kayser, Gordon M. Burhardt, Jim Trainor, David Smith, John Rybak, Matthew Aikawa, L.D. Gritton, Robert Sliwinski, and Michael J. Shrom. You can contribute, too! Send clippings with the publication name, date slug, and your name firmly attached to Ellin Beltz, in care of the AFH at the address shown on the masthead. The most blessed contributors (you known who you are) send photocopies of the article, masthead, date, and write their name directly on each copy. If you see an article, don't delay! This is a reader supported column and the file folder is now empty.

Volume 5, Number 4 - 1993

Victim of El Niño?

A resident of Homer, Alaska found a dead green sea turtle washed up on a local beach and reported it to the Pratt Museum. Betsy Webb, the collections curator believes that the 103 pound "teen-aged" turtle may have ridden a warm current to Alaska, but then been killed by the icy waters of Kachemak Bay and added, "There have been a lot of interesting things showing up, like schools of sharks." Another theory is that the turtle could have been caught in a fishing net since she said, "There are some abrasions on the front flippers." Webb will perform a necropsy after which the animal's remains will be placed on display. [Anchorage, AK Daily News, October 27, 1993 from Sam Goldman]

Can the turtle save a valley?

Residents of Leona Valley a relatively undeveloped area in Los Angeles County, CA are determined to keep development away, so they've enlisted the help of the once plentiful Western pond turtle (Clemmys marmorata). At present there are only six known habitats for this species. Dan Holland of the Western Aquatic Turtle Research Corp said, "To be candid, we're just trying to create emotional interest here. We'd like to get a bunch of environmentalists shook up over this and put pressure on the city." There are only 700 home in the 18-square-mile valley, but a 7,200 home development was approved by the Palmdale City council despite heavy protest and court battles instituted by the Leona Valley Town Council. [October 31, 1993: San Francisco Examiner, from Matt Aikawa; and Fresno Bee from Wendy McKeown]

Iranian frog jam

A three-mile section of highway in the Hamadan province of western Iran was blocked by millions of frogs according to Steve Newman's syndicated column Earthweek [The Tacoma, WA News Tribune, November 8, 1993 from Marty Marcus]. The report indicated the amphibians may have been "flushed out of their usual breeding grounds by several days of heavy rains. However, some unconventional Iranian researchers have speculated that major changes in the earth's strata and faults may have increased underground temperatures, making some subterranean habitats too warm for the frogs."

Don't try this at home department

An Egyptian villager visiting the town of Desouq, a delta town 135 miles northeast of Cairo, died after trying to imitate a traditional snake-handler. He put a venomous snake's head in his mouth and was biten twice, once on the lip and once on the tongue. [San Diego, CA Union from William Wells]

No fire for this salamander

A student committee in charge of planning Stanford University's annual Big Game bonfire cancelled it because the nearly-endangered California tiger salamander has taken up residence in the dry bed of Lake Lagunita which is the usual site of the event. Way to go, Stanford students! [San Francisco Examiner, October 10, 1993 from Matt Aikawa] An ecologist of my acquaintance informs me that this site is probably a vernal pool which is the actual habitat of Ambystoma californiense.

Splat-free zone

Sensitive, kind, caring city officials in the enlightened town of Berkeley, CA have closed a one mile stretch of South Park Drive to protect Roughskin Newts (Taricha granulosa) during their annual migration to and from their breeding ponds. The road will remain closed to cars and bikes until the conclusion of the newts' breeding season in March. [San Francisco Chronicle, October 27, 1993 from Matt Aikawa] Next some enterprising entrepreneur should come out with Alfred E. Newtman shirts... "What me worry?" Send me one, ok?

Bet it never heard of the 2nd amendment...

A Delray Beach, Florida man shot and killed a seven foot alligator inside his house with a .357 Magnum. His wife had first seen the animal while it was strolling on the lawn outside their lakefront home. As she began to call the Florida Game and Fres Water Fish Commission when the alligator crawled through their screen door and across the living room floor. The man said, "[My wife] heard the screen crinkling or crunching. He opened his mouth wide, I mean wide, and that's when she went hysterical." [Tacoma, WA News Tribune, November 20, 1993 from Marty Marcus]

New way to get Salmonella

A Utah resident was diagnosed with Salmonella irumu after she had lost 10 to 15 pounds and experienced nausea, vomiting, abdominal cramps and diarrhea. County nurses interviewed the woman and found that she had trained her pet iguana to defecate in the bathtub everyday. A specimen from the iguana revealed the same strain of bacteria in its feces had had been identified from its owner. State epidemiologist Craig Nichols said, "The key point really is in handling and keeping any of these large lizards, people need to know they can be a helath risk. An they need to be extremely careful about their own personal hygience and also in cleaning cages and terrariums. You really have to disinfect and sanitize after you have an animal in a tub or anything else that used for human use or food preparation. The same thing would apply if it were a kitchen sink." [Idaho Falls, ID Post Register, August 12, 1993 from DelRay S. Davenport]

Feds propose increase in tortoise habitat

The Interior Department plans to protect 6.2 million acres of mostly federal land in California, Nevada, ande Utah to provide habitat for the threatened desert tortoise (Gopherus agassizii). If the proposal is finalized, mining, grazing, off-road vehicle use and other activities harmful to the tortoises could be banned. Utah officials have been negotiating for less than the proposed 137,000 acres of land to be set aside in Washington County and have proposed that less that half that amount be saved. State and local officials contend that the Endangered Species Act has thwarted economic growth around St. George. [The Provo, UT Daily Herald, August 29 and September 1, 1993 from David A. Webb]

"Mambaphobia" strikes Palo Alto

AFH members Valerie Haecky, Mike Kilby, Matt Aikawa, and Al Colby just about filled my mailbox with their contributions about the infamous "mamba" lost in Palo Alto; or was it lost? It seems as though a man called city animal control officers about 5 p.m. on October 13, 1993 and reported his 7-foot black mamba missing. He said he feared arrest for not having the proper license to keep the snake and said he'd warn his neighbors with posters. He also said that he had a collector's permit in Arizona where he used to live according to the Palo Alto police department. Immediately the reaction (or overreaction) began... The mayor went on tv to ask people to stay at home and call the police if the snake was seen. Officers went door to door in the area where the snake was reported missing. School officials and neighborhood watch groups organized. The poison control center tried to have antivenin moved from Los Angeles Zoo to Stanford University Medical Center. Pet owners carried their cats inside, parents slammed windows shut. Police detectives conferred in a makeshift "war room." Over 1,000 residents jammed police switchboards, most asking if the mamba had been captured. Neighbors described a special gait, "The Palo Alto Quickstep." Newspapers published info boxes about the black mamba and called famous herpetologists including Madge Minton and David Chiszar for comment. The San Francisco Examiner printed the magic incantation to ward off venomous snakes from the Atharva Veda of ancient Hinduism ("O, serpent, die, do not live; back upon thee shall thy poison turn"). Edward O. Wilson of Harvard was quoted: "The good people of Palo Alto are more likely to be hit by a car than bitten by a black mamba." Police appointed two shooting range masters as snake sharpshooters. "Snakes" were reported everywhere. One was actually a squirrel rustling tree branches and leaves, another was determined to be a sprinkler head in a local park. A cafe added black mamba filet with peanut sauce to the top of their daily specials list. By the third day, a group of children dressed in turbans and veils gathered at a park and danced while their ringleader played the flut in an effort to tease the unseen and unfound mamba into a wicker laundry basket. The snake did not attend. The next day, one firefighter was seen wearing a t-shirt which read, "I survived the quake, I'll survive the snake." Local snake owners came out against the owner of the missing mamaba calling him everything from "irresponsible" to "a bozo." Residents placed a rubber snake and a toy duck in a hardware cloth cage decorated with a sign "Caution! Black Mamba Snake Trap!" By the fifth day, the papers were beginning to suggest the whole thing could have been a hoax. One interviewed Peter van der Linden who studies urban legends. He said the snake story has serious credibility problems: "Its right before Halloween, people are expecting to be scared. It looks to me more like a hoax, but the jury's still out." No "reliable" reports of the mamba were received by police although several callers had themselves convinced they'd seen it. Arizona Game and Fish Department provided the Palo Alto police with the names of 28 people with deadly snake permits who had moved to California, but none of the leads panned out. Police said that the costs of seeking the snake were not considerable. One officer said that it seemed as though everything else in town stopped for mambaphobia. [October 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, and 21 San Jose Mercury News; October 14, and 15 San Francisco Examiner; October 14, San Francisco Chronicle; October 13 San Mateo Times; October 14 and 15 Hayward, CA Daily Review]

Viginia response and reaction to venomous bites

AFH member Daniel Riley of Woodbride, Virginia has clipped out a plump envelope full of stories which follow up on the widely reported pair of venomous snake bites suffered by Virginia snake keepers earlier in 1993.
  • At least 28 venomous snakes were reported taken into the county of Stafford after one of them bit a Prince William County man. County Supervisors passed an amendment to their ordinance on exotic reptiles which prohibits the keeping of non-indigenous poisonous snakes. [Potomac News, October 13]
  • DeLynn Holden commented in the Washington Post [October 2, 1993]: As a reptile owner, I am disappointed at the way your paper has reported the recent cobra bites... A cobra bite is a rare occurrence; one per year is the East Coast's average. Compare that with the average for native snakes (1,200 bites per year), and this shows me I have a thousand times better chance of being bitten in a public park than by my neighbor's pet... In some cases, loosely worded ordinances outlaw `exotic' animals, a term which encompasses a variety of fish and bords, as well as monkeys and ferrets. Another catch-all term is `harmful' animals. Are we giving our county governments the right to impound our Dobermans, pit bulls, or poodles...? Let's not forget about the bee keepers... Many more people are stung by bees than bitten by snakes..."
  • Snakebite victim Drew Yeager was convicted of a misdemeanor for possessing the African spitting cobra which bit him and paid a $100 fine. He had kept 41 venomous snakes in his home which officials originally planned to kill by freezing but which were spirited out of his house by another snake keeper. [Potomac News, September 29]
  • Norm Tennant, a Potomac News columnist wrote a column titled "Needed: protection from lawmakers, not snakes" in the September 27 issue which included: "Local government can sometimes get out ahead of its syntax as well.. I have personal knowledge that there are several people in Staffor County who are harboring dictionaries. I'm not sure this includes the people in the courhouse. If so, I wonder how they can allow into their lawmaking a sinuous, slippery word like `exotic.' I would rather allow a poisonous reptile loose in the public law than such a subjective term as that. About the only animals that couldn't be called `exotic' are dogs, cats, cows, horses, and some humans. Put that word on the prohibited list and one of several things will happen. You'll need a letter-day Noah to roust out all the ant farms, iguanas, ferrets, tropical birds, pet fish, goats, toy turtles, and perfectly harmless reptiles in the county... Or you'll have one more uneforceable statute... Poisonous reptiles can cause a lot of trouble, expense and danger. But probably not as much as the slipshod statute writer. Snakes are usually penned up and don't live all that long. A loose and long-winded law however, can live about forever."
  • Pennie A. Davy commented in the Potomac News [September 24]: "I am so fed up... Drew is a respected, long-time resident of Haymarket who has been handling snakes since he was about three years old. He loves snakes; they are his hobby as well as his pets. True, his hobby is dangerous, but so are many other hobbies - drag racing, bungee jumping, power boat racing, hunting - just to name a few. If we all had the same, safe hobbies and lifestyles, this would be a very boring world indeed."
  • The head of the animal control department in Prince William County was interviewed about his role in capturing one house full of venomous snakes and his visit to those owned by Drew Yeager which were later removed by other snake keepers. He said that the cobra was at least a "known quantity. If you get out here at night in your cruiser and stop a car with tinted glass and out-of-state plates, you're walking up behind it and you don't know what you're getting into." He described his first experience with a houseful of snakes: "There were 25 cobras in [the bedroom], a total of 36 poisonous snakes in a 12-by-12 room. There were Egyptian cobras. He had spitting cobras... they don't even have to bite you. I didn't have any snake cages to keep them in, and the doctor... had warned us about the scarcity of antivenin serum. He said, `Don't move them unless you're ready to die.'" [Washington Post, September 15]
  • William F. Meininger expressed his opinion on the September 12 Potomac News: "In discussing the incidents with friends, no one... felt sorry for the men who were bitten. Several thought that the snakes should be given inoculations against any human disease they may have contacted and that the owners should be destroyed."

Thanks to everyone who contributed clippings for this column and to Michael J. and Nancy R. Shrom, David A. Webb, David Wright, Alan R. Mills, P.L. Beltz, and Daniel Riley for stories previously used. You can contribute, too! Send newspaper or magazine clippings with the publication slug with date and your name firmly attached (tape preferred to staples, glue, or paper clips, please!) to me at the address on the masthead of this publication. VIVARIUM 5.5 MY NUMBER 19, JANUARY 18, 1993

Volume 5, Number 5

Greetings! I hope the Vivarium office wasn't too badly shaken... Tried to put this in your CompuServe mailbox and received "unspecified error message (1)!" I suspect that means their phone lines are down somewhere. Please contact me and let me know that everyone is ok. Even though we've never met, I feel as if I know you folks. Also, got a 486 55-MHz DX for Xmas. Let me know if you have any problems with the column, now. It's being produced on WP 6.0 WIN. It makes it a lot more fun than an amber monitor XT with 5.25" floppies!

Letters, letters, letters

  • "... I wish to thank [the AFH] for ... making the show a first time five star event. Over 3,500 people attended the first Mid-Atlantic Reptile Show during the two days in September and a total of $18,000 was raised. One hundred thirty-one acres of prime rainforest habitat has been purchased in the Talamanca/Caribbean Biological Corridor in Costa Rica through the Ecosystem Survival Plan. I recently received the honorary deed ... In addition, The Mid-Atlantic Reptile Show has become the Ecosystem Survival Plan's (ESP) biggest individual fundraiser! To date, ESP has raised more than $550,000.00 for the purchase and protection of tropical wildlife and wildlands... Tim Hoen, Founder and Show Coordinator."
  • "You are also fortunate to be married to a herpetologist. I just recently got out of a four year relationship and reptiles played a large part of the dissolution. I often hear, "Maybe if I had scales you'd pay attention to me." In fact, the exact same thing happened to my best friend. We speculated that a invisible line is crossed at the 30 animal mark where non-her spouses flee. Anyhow, both my friend and I are happy and the cages are back in the living room where they belong... I don't care for the popular term `pet' but each of my herps have enriched my life in ways nothing else could. To hear my frogs calling is a little piece of heaven. They are wonderful, interesting, and precious creatures for whom I have the privilege of caring... Sincerely, Drew Newsman, St. Paul, MN."
  • "Vice President Gore picked the wrong example of earmarked funding to ridicule in his `reinventing government' report... I'm referring to the $100,000 the Interior Department will spend to train beagles in Hawaii to sniff out brown tree snakes (Boiga irregularis). When (they) were accidentally introduced to Guam, they increased in numbers and proceeded to eat almost every bird species on the island to extinction. These poisonous, arboreal snakes became so common that they reached densities of up to 15,000 per square mile. In 1990, they caused 74 power outages by crawling into electrical transformers atop utility poles, at a cost of millions of dollars. No method of controlling them has succeeded so far. Brown tree snakes have been unwittingly carried aboard cargo planes bound for Hawaii where, if established, they could wipe out many of Hawaii's unique birds and cause similar power problems. Federal and state agencies have already spent millions of dollars trying to save Hawaii's vanishing wildlife; much of that money will have been wasted if the snakes take over. Snake-sniffing dogs may seem like a silly idea, but they could prevent the extinction of many species, protect the investment that has already been made in parks and conservation programs and eliminate the need for costly snake-control programs. The Post and the vice president are barking up the wrong tree. David Wilcove, Senior Ecologist, Environmental Defense Fund. [The Washington Post, October 4, 1993 from Daniel Riley]
  • "An article I found in the paper the other day really ticked me off. I do not understand why people take reptiles for a walk out in public. My understanding is that snakes can catch cold of prick up ticks and mites from such excursions, causing stress in the snake, weakening its ability to fight off bacteria and infections. On top of that, people with a fear of them would not appreciate having snakes around. Letting the snake swim in the pool with kids was like giving dynamite to all the people and organizations who are against our reptilian friends, thus blowing up our chances of keeping them in the future. I really enjoy having snakes as pets and very rarely say no to any child/adult that wants to come in with their friends and see my snakes. It gives me a chance to guide future herpers to go about it the right way and not make mistakes like this... My wife Linda (and I)... are trying to teach people about reptiles and snakes ... Tell the staff of the Vivarium to keep up the good work... Sincerely, Roger Syriste, Alberta, Canada."
  • Letter to the Editor of the Rocky Mountain News [Denver, CO August 1, 1993 sent by Roxann Moore]: "There are three things in this life that put fear into my aging mind: 1.) The Internal Revenue Service; 2.) Democrats in the White House... or anywhere for that matter; and 3.) snakes of any size. Well, the Rocky Mountain News sure put me into orbit with its July 22 front-page picture of an 11-foot python. This was just the dessert I needed following my bacon and eggs. After I had a shot of bourbon and a couple of Hershey bars, I felt better. But then came page 4, and a darling closeup of this `family pet.' Gentlemen, please star my day off on a high. Show me kids in the park having fun, closeups of puppies, little babies, scenic shots... but no more 11-foot pythons on my breakfast table. I'm sure nightmares are now in order and I may bill the News for my therapy. Robert Scott, Littleton, CO"
  • "Dear AFH: While I understand that the ["Herp News from Around the World"] column is a collection of summarized news clippings etc. which are not necessarily representative of Ellin's personal opinion, I feel, that the inclusion of this particular item in her column was questionable at best. To begin with as Ellin pointed out, the excerpt is not of an article but rather of a letter submitted to the New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM 327, 18: October 29, 1992)... the letter makes negative statements regarding the safety and effectiveness of [venom] suction devices, but provides no research results on which to base those claims... Of particular interest is the inaccuracy of Dr. Gellert's statement; "venom extractors have not been scientifically evaluated, and their increasing use is unmerited..." which was also quoted in Ellin's column... Unfortunately no mention of the second NEJM letter or of any publication representative of a different opinion than Dr. Gellert's has appeared in subsequent editions [of your publication]... and this obviously has presented a very one-sided view of the subject to the Vivarium's readers... Sincerely, John Levell, Minneapolis, MN" Dear John: This is a reader supported column and reflects the contributions of its readers. I received the clipping in question from an AFH member and am curious why you did not just send me the other clippings you mention in your letter and let me have a go at them, too. If the only line from the letter I quoted is one you feel is inaccurate, is it not possible that I was trying to call the attention of my readers to that portion of the letter? By the way, congratulations on your successful recovery from an envenomation from a timber rattlesnake during which event I understand you used venom extractors. Best wishes, Ellin.

Police confiscated reptiles in Norfolk, VA

Mr. Robert Parks, 63, was known to neighbors as a soft-spoken, retired telephone worker with "GABOON" license plates. In 1984, he'd had a brush with the law concerning his reptile collection which was settled by building larger containers for his alligators. Parks dreamt of moving himself and his collection to Florida to open a tourist attraction. All that changed in mid-September after police raided his house and removed 33 venomous and 37 nonvenomous snakes, 12 alligators, crocodiles, and caimans, 171 rats and mice, 10 turtles, two iguanas and many dead reptiles and rodents. "We are in way over out heads," observed one animal-control worker after surveying the collection. A worker at the Virginia Zoological Park said there were probably more varieties of snakes in the wooden one-story house than in the collection at the National Zoo in Washington. Authorities said that Parks' snakes were kept in dirty aquariums and wire cages and charged Parks with cruelty to animals and failure to perform duties of ownership. The health department declared his home a heath hazard. The Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals received 142 rats and mice from the home. Eight canebrake rattlers (Crotalus horridus) were removed by Virginia game wardens because they are on the state's endangered species list. Gary Ochsenbein, superintendent of the Norfolk Zoo said, "I have seen some large (private) animal collections, but mostly they were of mammals. I have never seen a private residence with this many reptiles, and this many poisonous reptiles, kept in such an unsecured manner." Mr. Parks said, "I'm trying to be a decent law-abiding citizen who has a hobby much like collecting stamps. I have a hard time saying no when somebody wants to give me something or I have an opportunity to collect something." Mary Lamb, who lives across the street from Mr. Parks, said, "He's a good neighbor. Everybody likes cats and dogs. He likes reptiles." At a court hearing testimony was heard that authorities found two snakes, a caiman, and an alligator in freezers, 12 mummified, decomposed, or maggot-ridden reptiles, dozens of dead mice and rats either mummified or partially eaten by other rodents, cages and dry aquariums caked with feces, cages without food or water, alligators living in water "sludgy with feces and decomposing animals parts," and an encyclopedia and a picture frame covering a hole in the top of a cage containing three venomous vipers. The city later dropped some of the charges but presented Parks with a bill for more than $21,000 for the time and equipment used by city workers to remove the animals. Parks said that he intended to sell his home quickly and leave Norfolk as soon as possible. [September 18,19, and 25, 1993: The Virginian-Pilot from Mike Schmitt; September 18, 1993; The Winchester Star by Brad Ross; Potomac News October 20, 1993 and The Washington Post October 21, 1993 from Daniel Riley; November 24, 1993 USA Today from David Webb]

Can more legislation be far behind?

As if two non-fatal envenomations and the sad tale of Mr. Robert Parks were not enough, firefighters in Fauquier County, VA discovered nine nonvenomous snakes dead after battling flames on the second story of a residence. The two human residents, a mother and her 5-year-old son had escaped. The dead snakes included six pythons, four indigos, and one type which was not identified. [The Washington Post, September 28, 1993 from Daniel Riley] The Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries has begun to require permits for the collection of snapping turtles, certain captive bred snakes, and frogs as well as permits to sell certain snakes and frogs. Pet stores, bait shops, or "any other person or facility wanting to deal with any of the species listed in the permit packet are required to have a `Hold and Sell' permit" according to an article in the Old Bridge Observer [October 23, 1993 from Daniel Riley]. Additional information can be obtained on the new regulations by calling 804-367-1000.

Zoned agricultural, but...

Mark Bell of Michigan wants to found a commercial snake breeding farm in an area near Naples, FL zoned agricultural, but neighbors are up in arms. According to the county's planning manager, Ken Baginski, there are a number of permitted uses in agricultural zoning such as animal breeding, livestock, bee-keeping, and kenneling. Upset residents have besieged county commissioners with phone calls even though a permit for the farm has not been issued. A resident said there are at least 500 homes and an elementary school within one mile of the site. Contributor Alan W. Rigerman wrote the editors of the Naples Daily News which ran the original story on page one [November 26, 1993]: "Residents have purchased homes built on land they knew was zoned for agricultural uses. Lets look at the residents' concerns with regard to what they would consider `normal' agricultural uses. Bee-keeping is allowed. I am sure some residents are allergic to the stings of these animals; some people have actually died as a result of a sting. Livestock are subject to many diseases and must be checked constantly. Where there is livestock there are rats and mice. Kenneling is allowable. Don't we read often about adults and children bitten by dogs? As for the aftermath of a hurricane, the aforementioned livestock will be a greater threat than snakes and other reptiles housed according to regulations enforced by the state of Florida Game and Fresh Water Fish Commission. I certainly understand the concerns of the neighbors. I would be more concerned, however, about buying a home next to someone who legally kept stud bulls, stallions, or a guard dog kennel. The breeding and/or keeping of snakes and related reptiles (animals) will not affect property values." [December 2, 1993, page 5A]

Tank too small, says reader

Contributor Larry Gorecki sent a clipping from New York Newsday [December 9, 1993] about a man who was bitten by his 7-foot Burmese python as he was trying to return it to its 20 gallon tank after a bath. Finally his mother called 911. One of the ambulance crew squirted the snake with a carbon dioxide fire extinguisher and the python let go. The man was treated for nine puncture wounds and received a tetanus shot. Larry sent a note with this clipping that reads, "I feel that a 20 gallon tank is a cruelty to inflict on a 7-foot python. perhaps it's justice that she got bit."

Menagerie retires

After a two-year campaign by the Progressive Animal Welfare Society (PAWS) of Lynnwood, WA, a 13-foot Burmese python, a boa constrictor, four monkeys and a blue and yellow parrot formerly displayed at the B and I Shopping Center in South Tacoma are headed into retirement at exotic animal sanctuaries in California and Texas. Only Ivan the gorilla remains at "The Amazing Circus Store," a regional landmark that once had an elephant and a chicken in a vending machine. The owner of the property filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy last year although the center and its tenants remain open for business. PAWS purchase the seven animals for $1,000 from the court-appointed trustee. It is hoped that a zoo will accept Ivan. [The Tacoma, WA News Tribune, December 11, 1993 from Marty Marcus]

Thanks to everyone who contributed this month. Also, Roxann Moore, Marty Marcus, David Webb, Linda C. Modica, Jim & Retha Kelly, Philip Venditto, and the unknown contributor (no name on clipping) sent clippings that I had either used previously, unsourced or undated clippings, photos, cards, cartoons and other materials which I enjoy, but cannot reprint. You can contribute, too! Send clippings with publication name/date slug firmly attached with transparent tape. Also, print your name clearly on the clipping itself, or use a return address label so that I know who sent what and how to contact you. We cannot use any stories without the name and date of original publication. Send your contributions to me at the address on the masthead.

Volume 5, Number 6 - 1993

Salmonella and reptiles

From a letter dated January 18, 1994 from Richard Jackson, M.D., M.P.H., Chief - Division of Communicable Disease Control, California Department of Health Services to various health workers and veterinarians throughout the state: "[We have] received an increasing number of reports from Southern California of human Salmonella infections associated with pet reptiles, especially iguanas. Unusual Salmonella serotypes (e.g. poona, java, marina, chameleon, wassenaar, give, [and] unnamed numbered serotypes, etc.) have been cultured from human cases and the reptiles with which they had contact. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, other states are reporting similar findings. We believe that this problem may be widespread... Since 1992, Los Angeles County has identified 22 reptile-associated human salmonellosis cases, with 9 hospitalizations. Salmonella was isolated from 11 of 15 reptiles tested that were associated with the human cases. During 1993, Orange County reported 10 reptile-associated cases, with 2 hospitalizations. Salmonella was isolated from all seven associated reptiles that were tested. Many of the cases were in infants. In some instances, no direct contact with the reptile was reported. However, environmental contamination by reptiles has been documented, and some of the pets in question were allowed to roam freely in the house or were placed in kitchen sinks and bathtubs in which infants and children were later bathed. Since the existing Salmonella case report form does not specifically ask about reptile contact, we ask that your staff begin to routinely make this inquiry... At this time, we recommend that reptiles not be kept as pets in the homes of persons at high risk (e.g., the very young, the very old, and immunosuppressed individuals). If reptiles are kept as pets children should not be allowed direct contact with them. We recommend thorough hand washing after contact with the animal or its environment, and containment of the reptile in its cage..."

"Cop recalls horror of snake pit"

The Trentonian [NJ, January 25 and 26, 1994 from Paul Mitchell Jr.] trumpeted on two consecutive front pages the story of how police "waded through reptile-filled cages to seize pot plants." The first report (is anyone surprised) was rather inaccurate to type of animals, size, and other minor details, focusing instead on the disgust and horror experienced by police. Apparently a domestic dispute started it all. When police arrived at the log cabin home, they found four spectacled caimans, six Burmese pythons up to 10-feet long including one albino, two four-foot boas, one three-foot Brazilian rainbow boa, one baby reticulated python, two three-foot northern copperheads, one four-foot timber rattlesnake (protected in both New Jersey and Pennsylvania), one three-foot western diamondback, one two-foot dusky pygmy rattlesnake, one Wagler's pit viper, one monocled cobra, two snapping turtles and two painted turtles as well as 17 marijuana plants and a pound of dried pot. The animals, plants and pot were confiscated. The man faces possession charges for both the drugs and the reptiles. John Hedden, Captation of the state Fish and Game Department said, "This is the largest case that we ever came across for illegal poisonous (sic) reptiles."

Something's odd here

Steve Newman's Earth Week Column for February 26, 1994 carried in the San Francisco Chronicle [from Matthew Aikawa] reports: "Battered by a violent volcanic eruption in 1991 and plagued recently by typhoons and locusts, Philippine residents living near the rumbling Mount Pinatubo are facing a new menace - poisonous (sic) snakes. The deadly reptiles, including cobras, have been lured to the area by an infestation of locusts that have destroyed rice, vegetable and banana crops. Farmers have been reluctant to catch the locusts in nets or to spray them, for fear of being bitten by the snakes."

All that slithers is not bold

  • A 10-foot python that fell out of a mango tree during a funeral in Kenya sent hundreds of mourners fleeing. The funeral was being held outside as is the custom for victims of accidental death. [Kenya Daily Nation, November 16, 1993 from Joe Beraducci]
  • A three-meter (approximately 9-foot) scrub python was stolen from a Conservation Park in Adelaide Hills, Australia. Police alerted customs and wildlife authorities all over the country since the animal could have been worth up to $10,000 on the black market. Australian law prohibits export of any wild animal. A man was arrested the next day and charged with larceny, breaking and entering and the snake was recovered along with a carpet snake and a lizard. [Adelaide South Australia, The Advertiser, January 4 and 5, 1994 from Giovanni Fagioli]
  • A 10-foot pregnant Burmese python was stolen along with a television and a VCR while a male Burmese was left loose in a young woman's apartment in West Valley, UT. The owner said, "I can't just go out and replace her. They've been together for over five years. He's upset. They're a breeding pair... It's a commitment." [Salt Lake City, UT Deseret News, January 23, 1994 from David A. Webb]
  • A python that was left unattended while bathing in a Santa Rosa, California apartment was missing for a couple of days then recovered inside the home. However, authorities believed that the snake escaped through the toilet and so spent two days searching and cleaning the city's sewer lines. The city has billed the owner $800 in partial payment for the costs associated with that search. [San Francisco Chronicle, January 21, 22 and February 12, 1994 from Matthew Aikawa]
  • A man who knew his wife would never buy him the $250 nearly 9-foot python of his dreams decided to buy it "for her" for Christmas. The pet shop owner wrapped the snake in a box just like any other present and the man placed the huge, heavy box under the tree. Surprise, surprise, in the night the snake escaped and knocked over the Christmas tree. The pet shop owner arrived to feed his charges early Christmas morning and heard eight messages on his answering machine - each more frantic than the last - from the husband begging the owner to take back the present. He did. [Daytona Beach, FL The News-Journal, December 29, 1993 from Gary Gomez and The Houston Chronicle, December 30 from Shane Lowe]
  • Contributor David Webb sent a photo of a 19-foot, 180-pound reticulated python being held by Hogel Zoo workers and shown to a committee of lawmakers in Utah. David's note reads: "The zoo does this every year to get enough money to continue to operate. Last year Salt Lake County wanted to raise sales tax, but the voters turned it down." A legislator was quoted "I make a motion we give them what they want." [Deseret News, February 3, 1994]

Get your calculator

According to a reptile census taken in 1991 and reported in the Rocky Mountain News [Denver, CO, January 15, 1994 from Gaylon Holmes] there are 735,000 pet snakes, 708,000 turtles, 314,000 lizards, and 280,000 other reptiles in homes in the U.S. The remainder of the article was unfortunately quite "anti-reptile." It seems as though some of the commentators who take this position do not realize that they are being "anti fellow citizen" as well. Think of it this way, if every one of those animals was in a separate house, there would be 2,037,000 reptile owners in the U.S. Obviously, most of us owns more than one reptile... If we each own ten, then there are 203,700 reptile owners in our country. Also, what if the survey undercounted? I certainly wouldn't tell a stranger what or how much I owned and I suspect that many other reptile keepers wouldn't either. Does anyone out there have any newer numbers? Better interpretations?

Tortoise habitat preserved in Utah

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service designated 129,100 acres of southwestern Utah as "critical habitat" for the desert tortoise (Gopherus agassizii). While it seems like a lot of land, it is less than the acreage set aside for the same species in neighboring states: 338,700 in Arizona, 1.2 million in Nevada, and 4.8 million in California. Critics of the plan say that it impedes development. [San Francisco Chronicle, February 8, 1994 from Matthew Aikawa, USA Today, February 9 and The Deseret News, February 10 from David A. Webb and The Wall Street Journal, February 9 from K.S. Mierzwa]

Box turtle survives house fire

A young couple in Tacoma, WA watched in horror as fire swept away everything they owned. They were sure that their 20-year old box turtle was trapped and dying. The roof fell in and fire roared from every window. Marc Olson said, "What we figured was, if the smoke didn't kill him, then the heat would have. If the heat didn't kill him then all the water they poured on the fire did. Then, when the roof fell in, we thought the roof would have killed him. Then it got back down to 20 degrees and we thought that would kill him." The next day, they found what they thought looked like "Elijah's" remains floating in about 8 inches of water in his tank. However, when Marc touched one leg, it was quickly pulled back in the shell! The turtle was alive! Finding the turtle was just the beginning of the good luck for the mostly student tenants of the building. Neighbors and strangers brought bags and bags of clothes, books and school supplies to help the burned out tenants start over. [Tacoma, WA The News Tribune, February 20, 1994 from Marty Marcus and Anchorage, AK Daily News, February 21 from Sam Goldman]

Bufo bust makes news

A couple in Angels Camp, CA was arrested, four toads and a few dime store cactus were seized in what authorities called a "bizarre" case of experimentation with hallucinogenic drugs. Literature confiscated from the couple's home indicates there may be an underground group of toad-venom smokers. This is the first case where someone was arrested for possession of this ancient drug, although U.S. laws banning its possession date to the late 1960s. Wildlife laws ban possession of Colorado River Toads (Bufo alvarius) due to their declining numbers in the wild. The practice of toad-venom smoking may have had its beginnings in an obscure scientific article which reported on finding dried toad skins in early American sites and postulated a religious or spiritual use of toad-venom. All Vivarium readers should be aware that bufotenine, "the active ingredient" in all this foolishness is a very dangerous chemical mix. In fact, if we ever get around to it, a friend of mine and I will publish a report on our highly unpleasant reactions to toad juice after picking up and photographing a toad on the U.S. border near El Paso a couple of years ago. Kids, the reaction was like nerve gas. The two day experience was neither fun nor pleasant. After that, I find it hard to believe that licking one would be pleasurable. [January 6, 1994 Baton Rouge, LA The Advocate from Ernie Liner; January 29 The San Francisco Chronicle from Matt Aikawa, and the Oxnard Star-Free Press from John Scanlon; February 17 Lexington, KY Herald-Leader from Champe Greis, Tacoma, WA News Tribune from Marty Marcus, Lakeland, FL Ledger from Melody Smith, Provo, UT Daily Herald from David Webb; and March 7 The Wall Street Journal from K.S. Mierzwa]

The Croc Pot

  • Razy Hoffman writes from Israel: "I found the [attached] report (written in Hebrew) in my local newspaper. The headline of this report says "Some excited tourists reported an alligator swimming in the Kineret Sea in the North of Israel." [The story is that} the tourist found an officer and reported that they saw the alligator. The police did not find it so they called the nature preserve men but they only found signs which looked like alligator `footsteps.' The mysteries in this report are:
    1.) where did the alligator come from; and
    2.) how does it manage to survive during the cold winter?
    I am almost sure that there is at least one alligator in the Kineret Sea which came from Hamat Gader Kibbutz which is a farm newar the sea that developed an alligator industry [and keeps alligators warm all winter]."
  • A man in Abidjan, Ivory Coast was apparently so upset by the death of Felix Houphouet-Boigny who was president of that African nation for 33 years that he jumped into the palace moat and was devoured by the resident crocodiles. A huge crowd gathered to watch while the crocs took two days to completely eat the body. [Potomac News, February 16, 1994 from Daniel Riley]
  • Crocodile populations are growing in Tanzania, according to a report from the Kenya Daily Nation [June 17, 1993 from Joe Beraducci] and experts say that about 60 people a year are being killed every year in addition to the hundreds of cattle, goats, and sheep eaten by the formidable reptiles. Trade in croc skins was banned in Tanzania in the early 1980s when that nation became a signatory of the Convention for International Trade on Endagered Species (CITES). Experts are now suggesting that the reptiles should be thinned out a little, especially around Lake Rukwa where they estimate that over 10,000 live in an area measuring about 3,000 square kilometers. Under CITES, Tanzania can only crop 1,000 crocs per year.

Thanks to everyone who contributed this month and to Linda Modica and John Ryback who sent stuff I really enjoyed, but couldn't quite put into words! You can contribute too. Send clippings with your name, the date and publication slug firmly attached with tape or photocopy the whole thing (bless you, bless you) and send to me in care of the AFH at the address on the masthead.

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