Volume 7, Number 1 - 1995
[This was one of the few notes to the editor I didn't edit out of these files. It was rather funny and so it stays... "WELCOME TO HERP NEWS FROM AROUND THE WORLD FIRST ISSUE OF VOLUME SEVEN!!! (7.1) I started with volume 2, issue 5. Sounds like a good speech... five volumes and two issues ago, our foreherps brought forth a column. Sorry. Had a very long day at work today and am a little off the wall,
out of my mind etc. As I might have mentioned before, I'm trying to get my M.S. thesis done. The need for money, however, forces me to temp work. Today I was typing some guy's rolodex into the computer;
all the names, addresses, phone numbers were in Italy!!! If my zpelling's parve incorecto, you'll understand - I hope. EB]
Box turtles now Appendix II
Delegates at the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Flora and Fauna (CITES) voted to list American box turtles on Appendix II of the international treaty. This listing allows for strict monitoring and more humane transportation. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service stated that between 1988 and 1993 at least 55,000 American box turtles were exported to Europe for pets; but that is merely the reported amount. Almost all the animals suffer in shipment. Up to 75 percent may die in any one shipment and the remainder are weakened after days with no food and no water crammed into a container with dead and dying turtles. Now, exporters will have to obtain federal permits before dealing in box turtles. [The Sun-Sentinel, November 18, 1994 and National Geographic January 1995 from Alan Rigerman]
Texas enforces with forked tongue
The Sweetwater, TX Rattlesnake Roundup "tourist attraction" has killed nearly 300,000 pounds of rattlesnake in its 37-year history and has created lots of skins for hatbands, boots, and other noxious paraphernalia. In addition, the event specializes in anti-snake propaganda, snake sacking, snake beheading, and venom "milking" demonstrations. John Herron of the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department was quoted: "What little data we have indicates that rattlesnakes are not in any danger - they're just like deer, able to survive a moderate harvest. We probably have well over 20 million rattlesnakes, and reports of 200,000 a year harvested - that's only one percent. You figure more snakes get run over by trucks or eaten by hawks than killed by these guys running around with their gunny-sacks for a couple of days." [The Washington Post and the Tacoma, WA News Tribune [both March 13, 1995 from Linda A. Hauser and Alan Tuley] Stop me if I'm missing something here, but isn't this the same state that got real uptight about some people running around scooping up gray banded kingsnakes last year? So upset that herpetologists got followed, photographed, and busted?
Whatever happened to sunny California?
My husband and I spent a couple of weeks in mid-March in the "sunshine state" except it ought to be renamed the wet, wild, and woolly state instead. It never stopped raining! And all the hillsides in northern California were trying to become flat land! The rivers looked like all the cafe au lait in Marin had run down the drain, and we saw more "road closed" signs per linear mile than I've ever seen in my life. However, the rain brought out all the salamanders and newts, so my husband was in his glory. The rain apparently brought out the worst in some Pajaro, CA Homo sapiens, too. They blame the Santa Cruz Long-Toed Salamander for the rain! No the poor little critter did not go out and do the rain dance just to sprinkle on their parade; they think that environmental regulations contributed to the flooding of their town. One resident said, "The biggest problem out here is the goddamn environmentalists worrying about a stupid lizard (sic!) and snails in the river bed." After unleashing an expletive-laced series of comments at a sheriff's deputy, another resident was quoted as saying "...the river should have been dredged and the levee should have been checked." In other words, dam the salamanders, full speed ahead! [San Francisco Chronicle, March 14, 1995 from Matthew and Laurie Aikawa] On a happier note, we visited the East Bay Vivarium and I highly recommend it to anyone in the Berkeley area. They have a marvelous collection of clean, well-fed, properly cared-for and happy looking herps. In fact, I've never been in a reptile shop I've enjoyed more. Both owners and staff deserve high praise for all the hard work they've put into the place. It shows!
- Wes von Papinešu and Kimberley Heaphy sent a copy of the children's book "the Salamander Room" from Alfred A. Knopf publishing company. For anyone with children and salamanders, this book is a must! A little boy decides to get a salamander and mentions all the things needed to take care of them well. I can't say any more than that, or I'll spoil it for you!
- An AFH-er who shall remain anonymous, e-mailed me: "News from Washington, D.C., there's a giant newt on the loose, watch your children!" Others have noted that wild newts also have toxic skin secretions and abandon their young.
Part of the flood plain of the Adelaide River near Darwin, Australia has the highest density of predators to prey of any place on earth. The predator is the water python, and the density is 400 kilograms of snake per square kilometer according to Richard Shine of the University of Sydney. The biomass of rats in the same area is from one to five tons per square kilometer which works out to between 15,000 and 75,000 rats. [New Scientist, Volume 141, March 12, 1994 from Robert Knight]
- The Burnet Park Zoo in Syracuse, NY may face a $100,000 suit brought by a woman who claims to suffer post-traumatic stress disorder from an alleged event wherein the reptile curator "chased her with a 10-foot boa constrictor." The curator claims she became irrational and ran away. [USA Today, January 13, 1995 from David A. Webb]
- A 28-year old resident of West Hills, CA who allowed more than 760 turtles to die in a warehouse and van was sentenced to 60 days in jail after being convicted of animal cruelty and possession of a prohibited species - snapping turtles. [Hayward Daily Review, March 9, 1995 from Mike Kilby]
- Fifty exotic snakes, including boas, pythons, and king snakes were stolen from a reptile store in Rochester, NY. Police are investigating the loss which is reported to be in the "thousands of dollars." [USA Today, February 3, 1995 from David A. Webb]
- A 65-year old man and his 39-year old wife were sentenced to six month of house arrest after being convicted of importing and selling sea turtle eggs at their Miami, FL restaurant. [USA Today, February 10, 1995 from David A. Webb]
- A 33-year old San Jose, CA man was arrested after state human officials "caught him trying to sell an Egyptian cobra for $600... charged with possession of prohibited reptiles for allegedly owning the cobra, a mamba, and a rattlesnake - three extremely dangerous and prohibited snake species... [The man] had advertised the snakes for sale..." [San Francisco Chronicle, December 17, 1994 ] The snakes were scheduled to be destroyed, but were sent instead to Zooherp in Utah along with a baby caiman seized in the same raid. [Same paper, December 19, 1994 both from Matthew and Laurie Aikawa]
- A Wellington, FL man who shot an alligator which had threatened to make his family's pet dog its supper has been acquitted of charges stemming from the incident. The Palm Beach County game authorities had charged the man with a misdemeanor count of unlawful possession of an alligator. [Naples, FL Daily News, November 24, 1994 from Alan W. Rigerman]
- A Visalia, CA Municipal Court Judge threw out charges against a local reptile dealer and his wife and ordered more than 300 snakes confiscated by state Fish and Game Department officials returned. The arrests were part of "Operation Ranching for Reptiles" a two-year operation intended to defang black-market reptile poaching. The couple say it has cost them more than $27,000 in legal fees and alleges the state has not taken good care of their animals. Fish and Game officials argue that the couple's snakes are still illegal because their permits were revoked by the agency when the snakes were seized . [Visalia Times-Delta, February 18, 1995 from Ray Sheilds] Can we say "Catch-22"?
- A 15-year old Saline, MI boy faces charges of illegally possessing protected species of Michigan turtles and engaging in pet trade without a license. According to the Provo, UT Daily Herald [March 2, 1995 from David A. Webb], the boy kept more than 200 turtles in buckets and a basement "pond." However, he may have released some less than healthy animals back into the wild, and experts are concerned that local populations may have been put at risk by his actions. A conservation officer was quoted, "It looks like a true interest that turned into a profit. This kid is an absolute whiz regarding reptiles and amphibians. He can do somebody a lot of good in research. He just got a little wayward and didn't consult any state law." The state Department of Natural Resources confiscated 220 turtles, of which 35 are reportedly on their protected list, as well as several frogs and toads.
Takapourewa tuatara territorial treaty
The Ngati Koata tribe in New Zealand recently signed an historic agreement giving the Stephens Island tuatara sanctuary in Cook Strait back to the Crown as a nature reserve to be managed by Conservation Department officials in consultation with the tribe. The land had been taken from the tribe under a Public Works Act in 1891 for a lighthouse reserve. After the lighthouse was automated in 1988, the Ngati Koata reclaimed Stephens Island (Takapourewa). That treaty agreement was superseded by the most recent document in which the tribe recognizes the island's international significance as a nature reserve. [New Zealand News UK, January 18, 1995 from R.G. Sprackland] Thanks to Jim Gillingham for the tongue-twisting headline!
Parts and pieces
U.S. Customs agents in Oakland, CA report they've broken up what they "believe is a Chinese medicine smuggling ring that illegally imported items including deer parts and dead scorpions" into the states. Truckloads of records and merchandise were hauled away, including three types of dead snakes. [Hayward Daily Review, October 7, 1994 from Mike Kilby] More Chinese medicine was featured in a Toronto Star story [November 24, 1994 from Captain Wes von Papinešu] which said that Shanghai's Li Zhi-ping's best selling herbal tonic is called "Turtle-Tortoise and is made from soft-shelled turtles. They're supposed to nourish your yin and suppress hyperactive yang, otherwise known as "hemorrhoids," adds the article. Li also sells Longliqi Pure Snake Powder "rich in protein, fat carbohydrate, calcium and phosphorus."
- The "retail bone king" of New York's Columbus Avenue reportedly sells alligator skulls for $34-an-inch, desiccated lizards, and other fossils, butterflies, beetles and bones. [Daily Herald, Provo, UT, November 24, 1994 from David A. Webb]
- The Toronto Star reports "about 160 kilometres south of Kansas City [Missouri]" is a restaurant which offers everything "from alligator to zebra... If you don't see it on the menu... owner-chef... will try to track it down and cook it." [February 18, 1995 from K & W Herp Haven]
- Florida's alligator industry is experiencing an upturn after two lean years. Hide prices are up to $34 per foot, compared to a low of $10 in 1991. Last year, trappers and farmers earned $4.43 million from sales of about 38,000 hides and meat at about $5 per pound. Incidentally, a $150 skin will be fashioned into a purse that sells for around $4,000 according to the director of the state's alligator management program [Daily Herald, Provo, UT October 20, 1994 from David A. Webb]
- Alligator meat is low-fat according to the Toronto Globe and Mail [September 13, 1994 from Captain Wes von Papinešu] containing as little as one percent of the slimy stuff. In contrast, beef rump is about 25 percent fat and chicken has about 6 percent.
- Cuban crocodiles are being harvested on an island west of the Bay of Pigs; the only place in the world where the rare black-and-yellow crocodilian occurs. After a visit from a University of Florida researcher under contract to CITES, an export program for captive bred croc parts was approved. [The Denver Post, January 15, 1995 from Ivan Martinez and The Deseret News, January 1, 1995 from David A. Webb]
- A refugee in Australia went to the doctor complaining of seizure and numbness. The found and removed a tapeworm larva from his brain. How did he get such an awful thing? The report in the Toronto Star [c. 12, 1994] says he "survived on uncooked frogs and snakes while running from Indonesian authorities." Contributor Captain Wes von Papinešu wrote "revenge is sweet!"
- Amazonian Hixkryana Indians once complained that there were so many alligators that humans could be considered an "endangered species" in their neck of the rain forest. However, smugglers have killed so many in the last three years that "it's hard to even find a small gator to eat," according to the chief. [The Salt Lake Tribune, January 9, 1995 from David A. Webb]
Creatures who live in glass houses...
- The Kingston, Canada Whig-Standard reported: "A `darling' metre-long lizard was saved from a smoky grave by surprised and somewhat hesitant firefighters in Brantford, Ontario this week. Bud, a three-year-old pet green iguana, set his bedding material on fire after he knocked over a heating lamp in his glass cage... [the] owner wasn't home... neighbors smelled smoke and called firefighters. [November 22, 1994 from Captain Wes von Papinešu]
- In a similar incident reported in the Frederick, MD Post [February 9, 1995 from Linda A. Hauser, West Maryland Herpetological Society] a pet iguana knocked over a heat lamp, igniting a pile of clothes. The iguana owner's son returned home and saw smoke coming out of a bedroom. The fire caused $7,000 in damage, but no one was injured - including the iguana who was taken to a vet for a checkup.
- Sadly in New Hanover County, NC an iguana running loose in a bedroom knocked over a heat lamp. The fire which followed killed two iguanas and a boa constrictor and caused $30,000 in damage to the house. [The Wilmington, NC Morning Star, December 13, 1994 from Grady Ormond]
Jaws, part XIX
No, it wasn't a shark. But bathers and lifeguards knew something wasn't right at a Fort Lauderdale, FL beach. It was an alligator, probably swept into the sea by runoff from drainage canals. A resident of a nearby town said, "The little guy just got lost and is trying to find his way. " The six-foot gator was caught by four construction workers with an orange plastic net and a pole. They took it to a nearby shower and washed the salt off and took it to a state recreation area. Everybody breathed a sigh of relief; the alligator had been saved. How wrong they were. Trappers from the Florida Game and Fresh Water Fish Commission picked up the gator a few hours later. It's current whereabouts are unknown, but my guess is it's a purse. [The Herald, December 10, 1994 from Alan W. Rigerman]
- Marines landed on Pacific Islands 50 years ago with more thought given to enemy soldiers than to the ecosystems of the coral atolls. But times change... Hundreds of Marines staged a mock assault on Tinian and their supplies included detailed maps showing the habitats of rare birds and turtles which are to be avoided at all costs. An environmental impact study was done before the landings. [Seattle Times, December 7, 1994 from Jett]
- A man pleaded guilty to public drunkenness after chasing his girlfriend with a snapping turtle during an argument about their recent breakup. The turtle was set free. [The Morning Call, January 11, 1995 from Jo Ann Dalcin]
Thanks to everyone who contributed to this column and to Mark Paul Henderson, David A. Webb, Allison Alberts, Mike Kilby, Adam Smith, George T. Vesper, Dale McDonald, Dan Leavitt, Jett, Linda Hauser, Bryan McCarty, and Marty Marcus for articles used and articles filed. You can contribute, too! Please send article with date/publication slug and your name firmly attached (with tape - or send the whole page) to me at the address on the masthead. Just please take pity on the lonesome scrivener, no staples, no self-adhesive notes, and as few folds as possible!
Volume 7, Number 2 - 1995
Ribbit and weep
Animals Magazine [May/June, 1995 from David Webb] reports on the recent extinction of one of the most unusual animals in the world. The gastric brooding frog, Rheobatrachus silus, used to be found in southeastern Queensland, Australia and was considered very plentiful. Last seen in 1981, more than ten years of searching have failed to turn any up. Another species of frog in the same area also is apparently extinct. What happened? And especially what happened to the frogs in the national park along the Sunshine Coast? Could it have been logging, or gold panning changing the chemistry of the water and increasing siltation, clogging the stones under which these frogs sought shelter? No one knows. Nor was the gastric brooding frog's unique adaptation fully studied by the time no more could be found. It had been the only animal on earth which converted its stomach into a breeding chamber; the mother swallowed her tiny tadpoles and later released them as juveniles!
See snakes, see snakes swim
- Some condominium residents in Singapore complained of seeing snakes in their toilet bowls. According to the Straits-Times newspaper [The Deseret News, February 22-23, 1995 from David A. Webb]: "The sightings began at least two years ago, when resident Indira Damodaran, a grandmother in her 50s, said she found an unwelcome visitor in her bathroom. `We've been pouring sulfur religiously into the toilet bowl, hoping to drive it away,' she said." The paper reports that five other people have complained. One said, "I used to visit the toilet in the dark at night, but now I switch on the light and watch for bubbles before I do anything." The assistant curator at the Singapore zoo told reporters that it was "possible that snakes had made their way into the island city-state's sewer system and from there were crawling into household toilets. As for what sort of scaly creature has been slipping into the condo complex, `I suspect it may be a reticulated python.'"
- A 3-foot California king snake that had been missing from a Rockford, IL apartment for six months was found by a new tenant in her washing machine. It had survived the cold wash and rinse cycles and was taken to a local pet shop to recover. Another snake is still missing in the building. [Seattle Times, March 30, 1995 from Jett]
- Live snakes washed up on two San Diego County beaches following heavy rains in California earlier this year. Rattlesnakes, gopher snakes, rosy boas, king snakes, racers, a few lizards and frogs were collected by lifeguards and community services workers and relocated. Lifeguards do not usually collect snakes. Del Mar City Manager said that "it's down there as `other duties as assigned.' We're pretty versatile in Del Mar." [Hayward Daily Review and Los Angeles Times, March 9, 1995 from Mike Kilby, Daniel Riley, and John Holmes]
After those same California floods, some farmers in the Pajaro River Valley blamed the flooding on the Santa Cruz long-toed salamander (Ambystoma macrodactylum croceum) even though none have ever been found in the Pajaro or Salinas Rivers. Nor did the state's Endangered Species Act prevent routine clearing of the river channels. California Governor Pete Wilson did a photo op on the banks of the Salinas and suspended the state Endangered Species Act which he described as an obstacle to disaster recovery. Federal officials are puzzled; some say Wilson appears to be turning the salamander into a "red herring." [San Francisco Chronicle, March 24, 1995 from David A. Webb]
Four Utah children may have gotten their cases of Salmonella from pet lizards. The kids were from 4 months to 4 years old, and were infected with uncommon strains of the bacteria. Last year, 206 cases of Salmonella were confirmed in the state. Few were directly connected with reptiles. [The Salt Lake Tribune, Daily Herald, and the Deseret News, all February 22, 1995 from David A. Webb]
- Police investigators looking for stolen property had to duffel bag a 4-foot American alligator before finding two motorcycles and gear, tools, a car stereo, a handgun, and credit cards from the home of a man who was booked on multiple charges of theft. The alligator was taken to the San Diego Zoo where a spokesperson said it was being held off exhibit for the time being. [San Diego Union Tribune, April 29, 1995 from Daniel P. Riley.
- Last October, a Salvadoran woman and her now fugitive companion were arrested at Los Angeles International Airport with eight boxes containing 3,780 olive ridley sea turtle eggs. The woman was convicted of smuggling and was sentenced to six months in a federal prison. Authorities report that the eggs are considered an aphrodisiac by some and fetch $1 to $5 apiece. [San Diego Union-Tribune, May 4, 1995 from Daniel Riley]
- Three pre-Columbian artifacts were stolen from the National Geographic Society's museum. The last of the three to be recovered was a solid gold miniature frog. The pieces were discovered by archaeologists in Panama; and by police in a pawn shop! [The Kingston, Ontario Whig- Standard, March 27, 1995 from K and W Herp Haven]
- The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service detained a shipment of 4,400 pairs of shoes bound for the upscale retailer Nordstrom because the agency felt the snakeskin trim may have come from a protected species. The shipment was held at Seattle-Tacoma International airport pending the results of tests to indicate the species of snake from which the trim was made. [Seattle Times, March, 31, 1995 from Jett]
- The Seattle Post-Intelligencer [April 13, 1995 from Jett] reports "Chinese frog hunters who illegally crossed into Russia opened fire on Russian border guards yesterday, killing one of them, the ITAR-Tass news agency said. Two of the Chinese fled back to China after the incident, and the third was wounded and taken to the border post. Poaching is a growing problem in the Russian Far East's thick forests, known as the taiga. Russian authorities have cited a growing number of illegal border crossings by Chinese in search of rare plants and animals. Frogs are a delicacy in China."
- A report from Dhaka, Bangladesh describes 12 frog "marriages" performed in five villages in an effort to end a drought. Wild frogs were caught and married, some under Islamic tradition, others in the Hindu manner. [Asbury Park Press, April 21, 1995 from Andy Zaayenga] When they have too much rain, do the frogs get divorced?
- The operator of a sea-food company who let 760 turtles die in a warehouse and a van was sentenced to 60 days in jail after pleading no contest to charges of animal cruelty and possession of a prohibited animal species. [Hayward Daily Review, March 9, 1995 from Mike Kilby] The April 1, 1995 Animal Press [from Daniel Riley] continues the story and raises the total of abused animals to over 1,000. The defendant may be ordered to pay the Los Angles Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and the Southern California Humane Society for their expenses for medical and housing costs of up to $27,000.
- Meanwhile, in Garden Grove, CA another man was cited for animal cruelty after officials found dozens of turtles confined without food, water or shelter. Many escaped and were found "all over the neighborhood. I had turtles in my front yard, on the side and in the back," said a nearby resident. The final count was 320 turtles. Many were suffering from dehydration, eleven were dead. Authorities believed the man had purchased the turtles intending to sell them at his market for food. After being stopped in that effort, they believe he took them home and piled them all in a 10 by 5 foot cage. [Hayward Daily Review, April 11, 1995 from Mike Kilby]
- And in yet another incident, 400 turtles were found abandoned in gunnysacks alongside Interstate 5 near Bakersfield, CA. All were red-eared sliders which are natives of the Eastern and Midwestern U.S. Bob Thomas, president of TOO SLO, the local chapter of the California Turtle and Tortoise Club said, "We've got turtles coming out of our ears, here at the home for wayward turtles." The turtles were spotted after a few escaped from the sacks and started strolling across the highway. Authorities believe the turtles were intended for Asian food markets. [San Luis Obispo County, CA Telegram-Tribune, December 15, 1994 from Bob and Judy Thomas] Speaking of TOO SLO, the San Luis Obispo County Life and Leisure, September 1994 magazine did a feature on the Thomas ranch, the Thomas family, and their turtles. The ranch is the Triple T ("Turtles, tortoises, and Thomases") and is on about 4 acres west of 101.
Lost and found
- A garbage picker in Parkdale, Ontario discovered some very odd things in a dumpster including home-study books on witchcraft, Barbie dolls, two stuffed cobras, bags of snakeskin and garlic, and two live boa constrictors. Police and humane society officers called to the scene, discovered live and dead rats, finches, toads, and mice. The man who owned all this was to be evicted from his apartment. After a conversation with police, he was sent to the Queen St. Mental Health Centre for assessment. [The Toronto Star, April 28, 1995 from Kim Heaphy and Captain Wes von Papinešu]
- A man arrested for speeding and driving on a suspended license in Brooklyn Heights, Ohio claimed he was just trying to keep his foot and a half foot boa warm by hiding it in his underwear. It was discovered at the police station when he was changing to prison garb. [The Toronto Globe and Mail, March 31, 1995 from K and W Herp Haven] A pet store owner claims that the snake is the same as one stolen from her store, the man was released on $100 bail, and the snake was released to his girlfriend. [The Deseret News, April 13-14, 1995 from David Webb; and The Asbury Park Press, April 12, 1995 from Andy Zaayenga]
Herps at school!
- A teacher at a Kingston, Ontario high school was chosen to kiss a frog. The Grenville District raises money by collecting donations in jars marked with the names of their teachers. The teacher with the most money gets to kiss the frog. Last year, they raised almost $100 by this method during their Earth Week Celebrations to benefit the environmental club. [The Kingston Whig-Standard, April 19, 1995 from K and W Herp Haven]
- School officials in Richmond, TX have ordered classrooms at Jane Long Elementary School to be pet-free. The evicted include ferrets, finches, prairie dogs, chinchillas and a snake. Heath concerns were cited as the rationale for the order. [USA Today, March 30, 1995 from David A. Webb]
- In spite of worldwide reports to the contrary, a spokesperson for the rock band Pearl Jam states the band did not endorse the "Save the Frog" anti-dissection drive even though an animal rights group had made announcements to that effect. Thus, you cannot receive free CDs and autographs for refusing to dissect frogs at school. [Seattle Times, March 7, 1995 from Jett]
- The Everett baseball team of Bothell, WA recently selected a new name, logo and mascot and unveiled it in front of students from the Cedar Wood Elementary School. They'll be known as the AquaSox, their logo shows a tree frog poised to snag a baseball and the frog mascot "is cuddly" according to one student. It was designed by the Major League Baseball Properties and shows a green-bodied, red-footed frog with an aqua hat. It is believed to be the first professional amphibian in sports. [Seattle Times, November 17, 1994 from Lee W. Roof] Not to ribbit in, but what's the `phib's name to be? Will he appeal to mostly hip hop baseball fans? Do his toe-pads give an unfair advantage fielding? Stay tuned for the answers to these and other major league questions.
Better than St. Bernards?
- Patents have recently been taken for devices which purport to prevent frogs drowning in swimming pools or becoming stuck in the filter equipment. The two patents (Number 5,320,568 and Number 5,377,623) provide platforms onto which the frogs are to climb to get out of the pool. [The New York Times, March 12, 1995 from Jett] Funny, we used to just put a 2x4" from the ladder to the water to do the same thing!
- "Phoenix firefighters save all creatures great and small" reads the headline in the Arizona Republic [March 27, 1995 from David A. Webb]. It continues: "The 12-foot boa constrictor was close to death, most of its sensitive skin burned to a crisp in a pet-store fire. The shop's other exotic animals perished in the blaze, but Phoenix firefighters were not about to let the snake die without a fight. They sponged it down, then rushed the frightened creature - coiled on a firefighter's lap inside a fire truck - to a nearby animal clinic. Despite their efforts, the boa did not survive. Did they do everything they could? the firefighters asked themselves later. The snake's death was on of the reasons the Phoenix Fire Department enacted a policy late last year urging firefighters to administer first aid to injured animals. `We treat them like we would a human patient... We realize pets, to some people, are like kids,' [the battalion chief said]."
- An officer of the Southern California Humane Society saved an iguana's life by giving it mouth-to-nose resuscitation. She said, "The iguana was actually swimming around the pool [at a Beverly Hills home after being scared up a tree by a dog.] The problem was that the water was ice cold, and iguanas don't handle cold water very well." The iguana is expected to make a full recovery. [No paper, February 12, 1995 from Dale McDonald; Times Advocate, no date and no contributor!]
Alligator philatelicus floridana?
The first commemorative stamp issued in 1995, and the first bearing the new 32-cent first-class letter rate has a brightly colored picture of an alligator on it. The Post Office says the alligator is an excellent symbol of the state of Florida. The stamp commemorates the 150 years that Florida has been a state. However, some Floridians "contend that the state has lots more to offer than voracious meat-eating reptiles. Sure it does. But there's just so much you can get on a stamp. And it's a darned sight better than an illustration of foreign tourists getting shot in their rental cars. (That would seem like a crass comment if it weren't for the fact that more tourists have been injured and killed by gun-toting carjackers than by alligators.)" [By Peter Rexford in The Tacoma News Tribune, March 14, 1995 from Marty Marcus] Incidentally, the United Nations just issued its third set of stamps in a continuing series commemorating endangered species. For those who would like to lick a Fijian banded iguana with no fear of Salmonella or other dread diseases, these stamps are probably a good idea. [The Toronto Star, March 18, 1995 from K and W Herp Haven]
- "A German tourist was resting in hospital last week after being attacked by a freshwater crocodile at Palm Grove Beach in Cairns [Queensland, Australia. The 52-year-old] suffered a gashed arm and foot after a small crocodile rushed out of the water and bit her. National Parks and Wildlife Service later captured the small animal... Last week's attack was in sharp contrast to past attacks which have usually been perpetrated by the larger saltwater variety of crocodile..." [TNT Magazine, London, 17 October, 1994 from Robert Sprackland]
- Used to be everybody got really jealous when yet another herpetologist announced that they were going to Galapagos. Lately, though, it seems as though the government and people of Ecuador can't make up their minds about how important tourism is to their economy and seem to be doing the best they can to get really scary press. The story has been reported around the world about how machete-waiving sea cucumber fishermen seized the Darwin Research Station and threatened to kill the staff and "Lonesome George," a 150-year-old last survivor of an otherwise extinct race of giant tortoises. The fishermen later left the station without killing anybody, but recent reports indicate that the Galapagos' wild treasures are in peril from this bunch in many other ways. First, rats from the fishing boats may further impact the islands' rare flora and fauna. Next come more direct effects such as the killing of sea horses, snails, sea urchins, endangered black coral, sharks, and sea lions. Sharks are killed only for fins and cartilage; sea lions for their penises - considered an aphrodisiac in Japan. The habitat of one endangered finch was partially destroyed when fishermen cut the trees down to boil sea cucumbers. Last year 89 tortoises were killed and apparently eaten on one island. The San Francisco Chronicle [April 10, 1995 from Matthew and Laurie Aikawa] reports "many believe that it was the work of poachers in retaliation for the fishing crackdown... the islands are now swarming with Asian dealers who will pay 50 cents or more for each sea cucumber plucked off the sea bed... which are usually rehydrated and consumed in Asian countries in the form of seafood cocktails..." Fifty thousand tourists visit Galapagos in the average year; the government is now thinking of limiting tourism.
Thanks to everyone who sent clippings I used this issue and to David Cohen, Daniel Riley, Matthew and Laurie Aikawa, Marty Marcus, David Webb, P.L. Beltz, Michael J. Shrom, Alan Rigerman, Mark Ritter, Lee W. Roof, Gary Kooienga, Ivan Martinez and K.S. Mierzwa kindly sent cards, letters, clippings, photos, and other items. You can contribute, too. Send the clipping with the date/publication slug attached with tape and your name written on each clipping to me at the address on the masthead.
Volume 7, Number 3 - 1995
Entertainment megagiant developer, The Walt Disney Company announced plans to build its (surprise!) biggest ever theme park combining rides with live animal experiences with real wildlife. Planned for 500 acres in Orange County near Orlando, FL the site will be landscaped to create habitats for 1,000 animals including some endangered species. Analysts propose that from $600 to $800 million will be needed for completion. Disney said 4,000 people would be employed in construction and 3,000 for permanent staff. One of the project consultants said "We're at a time when population is growing so rapidly that the only wildlife we'll be able to save is the one we care about." The Park is to be divided into three sections: the real, the mythical, and the extinct including "a Jurassic Park-type trip to the dinosaur era." [The New York Times, June 21, 1995 from Jett] But will Kaa finally get Mickey? Stay tuned.
Let's put the marsh here!
National Wildlife Magazine suggests using "Toads and frogs: Natural Pest Control...Toads... are probably the easiest of the herptiles to attract... you need to provide water and a shaded place for them to hide...the area should be devoid of pesticides... If you mulch, toads will hide under [it]... [several methods] make an elegant `Toad Hall,'" The article describes in detail how to build a back yard pond and adds "The adage, `if you build it they will come' applies to amphibians. Be patient and eventually you'll discover them in your yard." [April/May 1995 from David Webb]
New scientific exhibit
"Amphibians and Reptiles of Utah" is now on display at the Monte L. Bean Life Science Museum of Brigham Young University in Provo, UT. It shows every species and subspecies of herps in the state including gila monsters, rattlesnakes, and more obscure blindsnakes. The collection is named after W.W. Tanner who helped collect and identify many of the animals. He donated a collection of nearly 30,000 pickled herps to the museum of which he was the first director. [Deseret News March 28-29, 1995 from David A. Webb.
- Tom Taylor, founder of the Arizona Herpetological Association, was quoted in the Arizona Republic "We're getting 15 calls a day from people who are encountering snakes on their property." One rural fire department has rounded up 208 snakes in 1995; half were rattlesnakes. Two snakebites have also occurred. A herpetologist with the state Game and Fish Department said that he believes that snake populations have expanded in the 1990s due to mild winters and abundant rains. [March 22, 1995 from David A. Webb] Incidentally, another point of view on the "snake problem" is that it is really a "human problem," subdivisions crowding out hibernacula, if you will.
- Arkansas, too, is experiencing a rash of snake/human interactions. Six people were treated in Rogers, AR for snakebite over the Memorial Day weekend. [USA Today, June 6, 1995 from David Webb]
A glimpse of aerial stocking
Is the seeding of wilderness lakes with trout a possible cause of amphibian decline? Some Forest Service biologists have speculated that dropping fingerlings into formerly fishless lakes may be a contributing factor in frog loss in the Eldorado National Forest and the Mokelumne Wilderness. The California department of fish and game denies that its stocking program has hurt amphibians, pointing out that they have been stocking trout for 40 years and claiming that amphibian decline is a more recent phenomenon. [The San Francisco Examiner, December 18, 1994 and February 5, 1995 from Matthew and Laurie Aikawa] Apologies to Noel Coward.
Good news, bad news for Crocodilia
- The People's Republic of China has established a reserve for 190 endangered Yangtze alligators on Hainan, an island in the South China Sea. The species once spread over most of the Yangtze River basin, from the Tibetan Himalayas to the East China Sea. Habitat destruction has limited the range of the 500 survivors of this species to a small area at the mouth of the river. [The Daily Herald, Provo, UT November 28, 1994 from David A. Webb]
- Salt-water crocodiles are being hunted again in Australia. Protected by law since 1971, the species has become common in the Northern Territories where large individuals have taken residence in backyards, pools, and suburbs. A two-year test hunt will be implemented about 100 miles east of Darwin. [The Toronto Star, February 18, 1995 from K & W Herp Haven]
- A crocodile kept in captivity since a czar ruled Russia has died in Ekaterinburg. Believed to have been the oldest of his kind in the world, the long-term captive was acquired by the zoo between 1913 and 1915 when he was already adult. He was believed to be from 110 to 115 years old when he died. [The Globe and Mail, February 16, 1995 from Capt. Wes von Papinešu]
- The Cancun News Daily reports: " Cancun's oldest inhabitant, a 30-year-old crocodile that was famous for crossing [Kukulcan] Avenue at least once a month was in trouble. His left leg was severely injured after a boat hit him... the poor reptile had to wait nine days to be rescued... because the authorities didn't lift a finger... [A local activist said] `What do you think all the tourists who saw the animal laying hurt for nine days will say about Mexico?' ... Finally, the municipality provided a truck in which the crocodile was transported to Crococun, a crocodile farm near Puerto Morelos, to receive proper attention... The Elder, as Cancun people know the crocodile... is now recovering." [March 23, 1995 from Vinny Lupi]
- Windsurfers and visitors of Astbury Water Park Lake, near the northern English town of Congleton, have been warned to be on the lookout for a loose crocodile. It was first spotted by a couple visiting the lake. Authorities believe it may have been a pet which was released when it got "too big to handle." Keith Brown, reptile curator at the Chester Zoo said, "It is the goldfish-down-the-toilet syndrome." [The Globe and Mail, Toronto June 6, 1995 from Wes von Papinešu and Kimberley Heaphy]
- The first leucistic alligators confirmed by science have been sent out on display loans from the Audubon Zoo in New Orleans. One of the white alligators is on display at Chicago's Shedd Aquarium until mid-September. All 17 white alligators were found by a fisherman in 1987 right after they had hatched in a remote Louisiana swamp. The zoo has been raising them since that time. "Being a snowy white infant devoid of camouflage and left otherwise defenseless in a swamp is tantamount to hanging a sandwich board on the animal with a simple message to all predators: `Here I am. Eat me.'" according to William Mullen of the Chicago Tribune. The white alligators are also prone to sunburn, turning a vivid pink if unprotected. [The Daily Herald, Provo, UT, May 25, 1995 from David Webb]
- Efforts to change public opinion about crocodiles in the Philippines have been underway by the government-run Crocodile Farming Institute since 1987. It's been slow going. The second part of their task, the actual breeding of crocodiles, has been going much better. The institute's headquarters on Palawan Island, southwest of Manila, is home to about 2500 crocs, 80 percent of which were born in captivity. Officials hope to create crocodile sanctuaries on remote islands and release the crocs in the wild. However, local residents are not enthusiastic about the potential release of animals bigger than they are. [Deseret News, April 15, 1995 from David Webb]
Mixed news for turtles
Visitor sightings on Mustang Island and the Padre Island National Seashore led to the discovery of Kemp's ridley turtles nesting. A park ranger found another turtle while she was laying eggs. Biologists removed 231 eggs for protected incubation and hatching. James Pinkerton of The Houston Chronicle, reports: "Optimism spurred by the three nests is tempered by concern over mounting losses of sea turtles along the Gulf of Mexico, with Texas reporting 527 dead turtles last year (1994). Of those, 254 were the Kemp's ridley. At the end of April, mounting turtle deaths prompted the National Marine Fisheries Service to order shrimp fleets in parts of Texas and Louisiana to install the most efficient type of turtle excluding devices in their nets.. [Even so] during April, 52 Kemp's ridleys were among the 88 turtles found on Texas beaches. In May, 34 turtles were found, 17 of which were Kemp's ridleys... the peak of [their] nesting season is the last week of May and the first week of June. [The Denver Post, June 3, 1995 from David Webb]
Good news for turtles
- Happy birthday to four olive ridley sea turtles hatched at the Dallas Zoo! The eggs were among 30 seized by federal agents at the Dallas-Fort Worth Airport. [The Salt Lake Tribune, February 9, 1995 from David A. Webb]
- Reuter News Agency reports that Sri Lanka has been criticized for its trade in endangered turtles. The United Kingdom is a large source of tourists for the island nation south of India. "Sri Lankan newspapers said activists from [an environmental group] were organizing demonstrations in London outside the tourist board office, Ceylon Tea Center and Airlanka office." Turtle shells are freely sold in tourist areas of Colombo and along the Indian Ocean Beaches. Concerned about the adverse publicity, the Sri Lankan tourist board met to establish a task force with three jobs: tackle child prostitution, trade in endangered turtles, and drugs." They recommended prosecution of individuals in the turtle trade. [The Globe and Mail, Toronto June 10, 1995 from Wes von Papinešu and Kimberley Heaphy]
- Also from the Indian Ocean, the islands of the Maldives banned the trade in turtles for 10 years after being criticized by environmental groups. A moratorium on catching, selling, importing, and exporting turtle products has been implemented. It was announced by the President's office and the ministry of fisheries. [The Gazette, Montreal June 27, 1995 from Wes von Papinešu and Kimberley Heaphy]
- Twenty-six Pacific nations have begun a campaign to save marine turtles from extinction by calling for a ban on commercial sales. Turtles are protected under CITES but experts in Wellington, New Zealand said that this has not prevented the sale of turtle meat, oils, and shells. [The Seattle Times, March 6, 1995 from Lee W. Roof]
- "On June 19, 1995, the National Turtle Farmers and Shippers Association was fined $25,000 in U.S. District Court for conspiracy to suppress trade by fixing prices on red-eared slider turtles for the pet trade." [Associated Press from Gene Buck of the Congressional Research Service via Internet]
Watch out for the end with teeth...
- A 15-inch Savannah monitor lizard tried to swallow a 3-year-old human's finger in Quarryville, PA. The rescue squad was called. The police chief said, "I couldn't even see the child's finger. It was in the lizard's mouth up to his hand. The lizard was gnawing on the child's hand, while the mother clutched the lizard with both hands." The chief pried open the lizard's mouth with a butter knife. An ambulance was called because the boy's finger was mangled and bloody. The family plants to give the animal away. [The Lancaster, PA Sunday News, April 23, 1995] On June 4, the same publication reported that "Rescue 911" plant to film a segment provisionally titled "Lizard Finger Lock," featuring the police chief who gave such good quote to reporters of the actual event. The family will be interviewed in their home, and a casting agent is searching for actors to take the place of the mother and child for a re-enactment of the actual finger grab and swallow. Filming was planned for mid-June. After the film crew came to town, a third article [reported "Quarryville still reeling from visit by `Rescue 911' crew... perhaps the lead role in the drama, however, goes to a lizard named Homer... less than two months ago... Homer was just another obscure reptile in a cage... the [film] crew filmed [the police chief] - over and over and over - as he re-enacted to moment he received the dispatcher's call." Filming of the one hour event took five days. [June 15, 1995 - all from Michael J. Shrom]
- A Georgia man died at home following a rattlesnake bite he sustained while holding the serpent in church. "If he had gone to the hospital, it would've all been different," said the local sheriff. Witnesses reported the man had brought the snake to church in a box and was bitten when he tried to take the animal out. [Seattle Times, January 18, 1995 from Jett]
- A venomous Southeast Asian tree viper bit a veteran reptile keeper at the San Diego Zoo. The keeper, who has more than 20 years of experience with snakes, was bitten while transferring the viper to a tube for medical treatment. [The San Diego Union Tribune, April 29, 1995 from Daniel Riley]
- The Australian tiger snake eats other venomous snakes. Researchers have found that it has an antivenin in its blood which neutralizes the fatal effects of its own venom and that of a wide variety of other snakes, including cobras, moccasins, rattlesnakes, and vipers. Researchers are now trying to work out the structure of the tiger snake venom protein in an effort to synthesize it for use as an antivenin. [Discover, May, 1995 from David Webb]
- A 51-year old owner of Reptile World in Orlando, FL was bitten by a 12-foot king cobra during daily milking at his facility near St. Cloud. As soon as he was bitten, he injected himself with epinephrine to counter act the bite, took 10 vials of antivenin and left for the hospital with his assistant. George Van Horn was unconscious when he reached Orlando Regional Medical Center. An additional number of vials of antivenin were obtained from around the country; nearly 50 were administered. [Seattle Times, June 23, 1995 from Jett] Several days later he was conscious but determined to go back to work as soon as possible.
You mean snakes climb?
Two employees of the Utah power company plucked a python from a tree. They had been planning to trim the tree out of the power wires, but were informed by the resident that a python was curled up high in the tree. At first, the workers thought the object was a ball, but when they got closer, they saw it was a snake. They called for a backup. The man climbed up, the snake climbed higher. Eventually, a rope was tied around the branch, a limb was cut, and branch, snake and all was lowered to the ground. The snake's owner said he was really grateful to the workers. The snake had escaped when placed in a crook of the same tree early in the week to take some sun. [The Ogden, UT Standard-Examiner, June 3, 1995 front page from David Webb]
"And my neighbors think I'm weird..."
wrote David Webb, the greatly appreciated super-clipper who sends so much for this column. The item thus engraved read: "`Princess of Snakes' remains unrattled by writhing horde -- Seventeen-year-old Shahzadi Zarqua drapes a writing bundle of snakes around her neck, letting them wriggle across her face and body... pops their heads in her mouth." Later she encourages another to draw blood from her finger. Zarqua's snake show is performed nightly in a town 250 miles south of Islamabad in Pakistan. Of her 30 snakes, a few are reported to be "highly poisonous. But Zarqua has lived with snakes all her life and does not mind their bites." She said, "snake are harmless animals. They do not bother anyone unless disturbed. What harm could an animal bring which has no eyelids or ears? It is a very innocent being." [The Deseret News, June 2, 1995]
Thanks to several contributors for their concern about my family, myself and our critters in our recent record heat wave. Chicago posted several days over 100 degrees F. Over 500 people in Chicago died from the record heat/humidity in early July; the late July heat wave was not so disastrous. I was out of town when the wave first hit, but prompt action by my husband saved everything except the fruit flies. I was really gratified to receive several messages from AFH-ers worried about us in that disaster. I'd also like to thank David A. Webb, Robert Innes, Alan W. Rigerman, Jett, Michael J. Shrom, Marty Marcus, and Andy Viasmith for sending in articles, cards, letters, and photos which I've enjoyed greatly but haven't summarized for this column. You can contribute, too! Send clippings with date/publication slug firmly attached (return address labels are really super!) or written directly on the clipping to me.
Volume 7, Number 4 - 1995
Salmonella from lizards
Federal health officials at the Atlanta Center for Disease Control have issued a warning that includes details of reports from 13 states of Salmonella infections from iguanas and other lizards. Figures on reptile imports are almost staggering. In 1986, 27,806 iguanas were imported; by 1993 the number was up to 798,405 according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. A pet industry lobby group reports that about 3 percent of U.S. families own iguanas, and that about 7.3 million iguanas are believed to be in captivity in the U.S. In 1975, after it was announced that 14 percent of U.S. Salmonella infections came from small pet turtles, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration banned the sale of all turtles with a carapace length less than four inches. This law remains on the books today and is the primary reason that breeding adult turtles are being harvested for the domestic pet trade further decimating wild turtle populations. While the scope of this "outbreak" is no where near as large as that in the late 60s and early 70s, the CDC still warns that pregnant women, small children and people with compromised immune systems should avoid contact with reptiles. [Daily Herald, Provo, UT May 21, 1995 from David Webb who also sent a copy of the CDC Morbidity and Mortality Weekly report, May 5, 1995 Vol. 44 No. 17, pages 347-350 which contains the case studies. Scary stuff - one person was in hospital 56 days.]
Reptile smugglers were arrested at different U.S./Mexican border crossings; police feel they're interrupting illegal trade in high-priced snakes and venomous lizards. Two men were arrested at the Eagle Pass crossing. They had wrapped their snakes in socks and pantyhose and placed the wrapped reptiles in the groin area of their trousers. The two men were fined $400 each; the 14 snakes were turned over to U.S. Fish and Wildlife. The next night, inspectors at the Nogales crossing found 10 Gila monsters wrapped in socks and pillow cases in the trunk of a car. The resident of San Diego who was driving the car said he bought the lizards for $40 each. Wildlife agents said they sell for $1,000 in the U.S. [Houston Chronicle, August 6, 1995 from David M. Brust]
According to the Tacoma News-Tribune residents of China's Liaoning Province report seeing a "column of migrating toads more than 1,000 miles long... the toads traveled along the local Tazie River... `The toads seemed disciplined... once one tried to stop, the others would push him along' [said a witness]... While most of the toads were newly-born and no longer than a fingernail, larger ones were said to be spaced out every 30 feet, leading the others along. [July 24, 1995 from Marty Marcus and Gary Nafis].
Heavy rains in Salida, CA this spring have resulted in residents being "inundated by thousands of [toads,] nickel-sized amphibians. Lawns are so thick with them that homeowners say they don't cut their grass for fear toad parts will be tossed everywhere. `The worst sound is to hear one of them crawl,' said [a resident of the Gold Valley subdivision]. No tiny rent-a-trucks?
The TASS news agency of the former Soviet Union reports that their temperate areas have been subject to extraordinary heat this year and local vipers have responded by extending their range to the north. On the Kola Peninsula in the Russian Arctic, medical workers had no serum to treat victims of unexpected viper bites. [Tacoma News Tribune, July 31, 1995 from Marty Marcus]
- If local residents can get enough money, six-foot bronze frog statues will be installed on the new Willimantic River Bridge in Windham, CT. The bronze frogs are intended to commemorate an amphibian incident in the town's history. According to the Boston Globe : "Windham residents were scared witless one night in 1754 by an incredible noise. Some prayed for salvation, while others attempted to chase away the mysterious invaders with an armed attack, firing guns at the source of the noise. In the morning, settlers found hundreds of dead frogs in a nearby mill ponds. The noise was apparently made by frogs fighting among themselves for space as the pond was drained." [July, 1995 from Captain Wes von Papinešu]
- Erma Bombeck describes reading a few mail order catalogs and seeing a 6-foot bronze alligator which is supposed to be a great way to greet friends and guests [who] "`may look twice when they notice an open-jawed alligator lurking in the grass, poised at the side of the pool.'" Ms. Bombeck claims that "looking twice at an alligator is someone with poor eyesight. Looking once is someone who will drop dead from a heart attack... The current trend... is to create a zoo out of your entranceway. There are stone frogs, otter, geese, lions, and rabbits. The Midwest is into ducks, which owners regard as Barbie dolls... have wardrobes... and change them whenever the mood hits... I don't care if you dress up an alligator like Miss America, I'm staying in the car!" [Tacoma, WA News-Tribune, June 25, 1995 from Marty Marcus]
- Living in the Midwest which is alleged to be just ducky (as above), I must share what a friend who lives in the far `burbs does to her concrete deer yearly. On the opening day of hunting season, they all have little orange vests on and orange survey tape on their concrete antlers! Must be all this snow.
Get me outta here!
Discover Magazine reports that a zoology graduate student at the University of Texas has discovered a rather amazing anti-predation adaptation in the tadpole of the red-eyed tree frog of Central America. The red-eyed tree frog, besides being the poster child of the save the rain forest efforts, lays eggs which are one of the favorite food items of the cat-eyed snake. However, if the eggs are at least five days old, and a snake attacks, the tadpoles escape. The eggs are elastic and rubbery, when the snake grabs a mouthful, the whole egg mass moves back and forth. Then the embryos wriggle loose, and drop in the water. Presumably their development continues in the aqueous mode, the article didn't say. [August 1995 from Captain Paul Johnston]
In a letter to the editor of the San Francisco Examiner Gwen Peake wrote: "On July 9, a 25-mile boa constrictor snaked through the streets of San Francisco, strangling anyone who tried to cross its path. While the vast majority of the public futilely attempted to circumvent the beast, an amazingly small portion of the population succumbed to it as the scampered within its depths. I don't know of any event other than the San Francisco Marathon that monopolizes 26 miles of precious asphalt in this compact city... inform the non-marathoning public of how to avoid... being swallowed up in an event that envelopes The City." [no date, Grizzly Gibson]
Rayne, LA has been having annual Frog Festivals since 1989. Billing itself the "Frog Capitol of the World," the town is hung with banners and murals with the little green bug-eyed amphibians. [New Orleans Times-Picayune, December 1993 from Captain Wes von Papinešu to whom also goes the credit for the headline pun]
- Ramsey Canyon, AZ is home to a very special amphibian, a frog that calls underwater. Only 20 adult frogs are left at the concrete pond in a nature preserve which is their only known location except for a population in a livestock watering tank on private land. This column has previously noted the extraordinary effort on behalf of this frog on the part of the rancher who owns the cattle tank. An amphibian specialist for the Arizona Game and Fish Department said that 24 land and water species in that state are in decline, adding "There have been major die-offs of amphibian populations, even in areas that are relatively pristine and haven't experienced much degradation." [Deseret News May 25-26, 1995 from David Webb]
- While many other species of amphibian are in decline, the cane toad, Bufo marinus, is still gaining ground in Australia. Unfortunately, they are decimating the local fauna as they expand their range. Australians have taken to systematic hunting. A radio station in Brisbane even offered a trip to Hawaii to the collector of the most toads in one week. The emphasis is on being humane; "gone are the days of simply whacking the toads with cricket bats or golf clubs" reports Reuters, "As part of the new emphasis on toad busting as family fun, the toads are now collected in plastic bags and killed humanely by freezing them to death. Said one toad expert, `We don't want anyone to be cruel to animals. It's not the toads' fault that they are here.'" [October, 1994 from Captain Wes von Papinešu]
- The Potomac News had a feature piece on two young snake owners in the Washington, D.C. area. One young man had gotten his Burmese python as a hatchling, it was considered "cute and exotic" and may have helped him attract female humans. Now that the python is big and not "cute" anymore, the human sells him to another young human who has a female, big Burmese python and plans to permit the two snakes to breed. The second young man said, "Who says they don't cuddle? They'll lay across the back of your neck all evening long, watch TV with you. Sometimes I go riding around in the truck with them and they'll sit up in the dash with me. [The female] will hang her head out the window. She likes the sun. I pull up to the light and it really freaks people out, especially when it's old ladies." [April 6, 1995 from Daniel Riley]
- More than 30 creatures were taken from an Arlington, WA home including an iguana, eleven snakes, an alligator, three frogs, three tarantulas and three lizards, five cants four dogs, a ferret and six dead turtles. The police were investigating a shooting that resulted on one resident of the house in jail, the other in the hospital. Authorities reported that the home was filthy. The manager of the shelter where the animals were taken said, "We just gave them water, and that alone they were jumping all over it." [Seattle Times, April 28, 1995 from Jett]
- A 25-year-old man returned home after being away for a couple of days and found that someone had slept in his bed, eaten some food, watched a movie on the VCR and stole his baby pet python. [Moultrie, GA Observer, June 27, 1995 from Gary Dortch]
A tale of two exhibits
- The Exotarium in Picton, Ontario Canada received some good press recently. Housed in an 1824 school house the Exotarium features more than 100 snakes, lizards and turtles. The family owned business has been open to the public since 1991. [Kingston Whig-Standard, July 24, 1995 from Captain Wes von Papinešu]
- The Seaway Serpentarium in Toronto's Seaway Mall fell into receivership and the 400 reptiles once kept there are now sharing a house with the owner of the attraction. He has 130 species including two Oriental crocodiles, and two large Burmese. The collection is described as the largest in Canada. [Toronto Star July 26, 1995 from Captain Wes von Papinešu]
Warning, nudity and sex below
- Even the snake had no clothes on in an ad that was banned in Bombay, India. At least the male and female human models which were intertwined with a python were wearing the sneakers which were the whole point of the advertisement. Indian government authorities were so incensed at the nudity, banned the advertisement and ordered police to seize copies of the Cine Blitz magazine which had run it. The models, who were "unrepentant about posing nude" may also face legal penalties. [Toronto Star July 26, 1995 from Captain Wes von Papinešu]
- An Indiana football (?) player, Bob Knight was recently described as uninterested in professional basketball. He said, "If the NBA was on Channel 5 and a bunch of frogs making love were on Channel 4, I'd watch the frogs, even if they were coming in fuzzy." [from Jett]
- "Shrunken penises are common among the male juvenile alligators of Florida's Lake Apopka. And that's not their only problem," reports Discover Magazine. Males also have low levels of testosterone and malformed testicular cells, females have elevated estrogen levels and abnormal ovaries. Investigators believe that a 1980 pesticide spill in the lake even though previously reported studies did not show the pesticide behaving like a hormone. A recent study with rats found that DDE which is a breakdown product of DDT blocks the action of testosterone which prevents the hormone from turning on the genes which control development of the penis and sex glands. Effects in the females may be caused by testosterone blocking too. It is an oversimplification to consider "male" hormones and "female" hormones, since both sexes maintain a ratio of each type. [July, 1995 from David Webb]
An alderman in Louisville, KY proposed an ordinance which will require people keeping exotic animals including snakes, reptiles, kangaroos, bats, lions and bears to keep them confined securely or face fine of up to $500. No more romping in the park with Monty, or walking to the Super Shopper with your iguana on your head or a tiger on a leash in Louisville, vowed the alderman who said, "I feel a tremendous responsibility to not have citizens of the community feel a sense of hysteria and terror... There are people who legitimately own these types of animals. The only thing we asked them to do is keep them properly confined." A pet shop manager said, "People who walk around with those types of pets are doing it for shock value and attention... [They are] conspicuous consumers with a need to be seen and show off." [Courier Journal, Louisville, KY, June 14, 1995 from John Rougeux]
A sad turtle tale
A dozen NY state employees, including conservation officers, arrived at the home of a Scotch Plains resident who was keeping and raising turtles in his back yard. One of the species was the state endangered bog turtle. The officers displayed a search warrant and scoured a man-made well-water swamp landscaped with plants including jewel weed, sedges, and iris. The man sadly noted in the interview, "I spent tens of thousands building this, and that's not including the man-hours I spent bringing these plants in. I've been raising these turtles since 1968." Wildife officials said the man was aware that he was breaking the law. Five years ago, Department of Environmental Protection officials had seized his bog turtles, but they were returned to the swamp after a compromise was worked out. The man had agreed to follow certain care guidelines and obtain a scientific sponsor who would study the animals and report to the state. However, the man's temporary permit expired without a sponsor being found and the state moved in. "There's a very big difference between somebody who has endangered species that are naturally occurring on the property and somebody who takes possession of the endangered species. This is a case where somebody was manipulating an artificial environment," said the deputy director of the state Division of Fish, Game and Wildlife. [Star-Ledger, May 19, 1995 from Philip S. Venditto]
What this column is about
I received a letter from a reader demanding that I apologize for one of the bits I used in this column. I would just like to point out that this column is a compendium of clippings, cards, letters, and so on which I receive from my readers. I am merely passing along about 90 percent of everything I receive. The remaining 10 percent is things I can't quite figure out how to put into words, or that have been done before and are just "echoing" around in the public press. I feel no apology can be made by me for the comments of others which are quoted and attributed above or in previous columns. I do not "edit" things to fit into a pre-decided point of view; I share what I have received. I am reminded of the signs which are reported to have hung in saloons in the western U.S. long ago: "Please don't shoot the piano player - he's doing the best he can."
You can contribute to this column by sending clippings with date slug/publication and your name firmly attached with tape only or the whole sheet(s) of the paper if you can't find your scissors right now, to me.
Volume 7, Number 5 - 1995
Captain Wes von Papinešu, well known to regular readers of this column as a mega-contributor, wrote: "... my fibrous offerings to your local post-box god will be somewhat more sporadic in the future. Yours truly has been 'volunteered' on short notice for interesting training involving United Nations duty in some un-named but herp-rich European country bordering on the Adriatic! Since I doubt there are many Serbo-Croat articles on amphibians in the local papers, and that anything I do find will take three months to reach you by international U.N. organized post; I trust you will forgive the lapse..." The best wishes of hundreds of AFH members go with you, Wes. I hope you return safely.
Catch of the day
- "Alligator has found its way out of the black iron pots of camp cooking and into the copper saute pans of fine dining restaurants... [The server said] 'Sauteed Fillet of Lagarto in a Chipotle Aioli Sauce... is alligator, sir. The finest hand-fed, farm-raised, low-fat, high-protein, low calorie alligator meat from ... [processors in Louisiana].'" [Chile Pepper, May 7, 1995 from Capt. Wes von Papinešu]
- This year 573 hunters have obtained permits to thin Florida's herd of alligators. Each hunter is assigned an area and allowed to take up to six gators within two weeks. All hunting must be at night. The hides sell for $25 to $35 per foot and the meat is sold for about $5 per pound. [The Herald, September 17, 1995 from Alan W. Rigerman]
- Two alligators intended for an alligator farm in Oregon, escaped from a pickup truck slowed by I-5 construction in California. One was observed strolling down the interstate median strip near the construction project; the other was found 40 miles away. [San Francisco Chronicle, September 18, 1995, from Grizzly Gibson, Mike Kilby, Matthew and Laurie Aikawa and Sacramento Bee from Amro Hamdoun and Julia Ewald]
- Expensive hunting dogs lost near Pensacola, FL are believed to have been caught and eaten by a large alligator. One hunter followed electronic transmissions from his dog's radio collar and found the signal led him to the 3.5-meter reptile. The alligator was killed and the cadaver sent to a processing plant. [The Ottawa Citizen, August 29, 1995 from Wes von Papinešu]
- A 5.5-foot-long monitor missing from captivity for two months was captured by police along a buy highway in Palm Beach Gardens, FL. A pet store owner noosed it while police stopped six lanes of bidirectional traffic. The owner reclaimed the lizard which was allegedly turned loose during a home burglary. [Miami Herald, May 10, 1995 from Alan W. Rigerman who also identified the animal as a water monitor]
- "Jimmy" the iguana had it all figured out. He'd blow the apartment in Cornwall, Canada which he shared with two humans, two German shepherds and a ferret. Jimmy gave it his best shot, slipped out of his cage, ran down the street, and was treed by neighbors. Human officers nicked the itinerant iguana and returned him home. The humans were happy to see Jimmy. How Jimmy felt was not reported. [Kingston Whig-Standard July 6, 1995 from Capt. Wes von Papinešu]
- A wayward tortoise named Chester was identified as the same animal lost 35-years-ago by a family in Lyde, England. He was found about 500 feet from their house, but whether he had wandered around before returning, or had set up housekeeping in the neighborhood for more than a quarter century was unknown. [Tacoma, WA News Tribune, October 16, 1995 from Alan Tuley and Marty Marcus] Only one thing's fishy about this tale... the tortoise was identified by a 44-year-old man "because of a white paint mark hi father had put on the shell in 1960 to make the creature easier to spot in the grass." What about it, readers? Would paint last that long on turtle shell in the English climate?
Scales of justice
- Near Lancaster, PA is the quiet Borough of Millersville in which the Council President has suggested legislation to outlaw exotic animals including venomous reptiles. He said, "I want them banned entirely. They kill, and they kill very quickly." What prompted this action was a report from a neighboring township of a store selling a gaboon viper, a puff adder, and two cobras. Other council members were not as dismayed. They suggested that the sweeping program proposed by their fearful leader including licensing owners and buyers and regulating transport of the animals was too much of an invasion of privacy and opposed it. [Lancaster, PA New Era, July 8 and July 19, 1995 from Michael J. Shrom]
- East Point, Georgia may ban pet snakes in residential areas. The legislation was prompted by the escape of a 9-foot pet python from a backyard. It was caught 10 days later by its owner and no one was harmed. No grandfathering is included in the East Point proposal; all snake owners would be in instant violation and subject to fines of up to $500. The law may not pass since not all council members support it. One said it was an overreaction to an isolated incident, "I'm not supporting it, and I hate snakes." [The Atlanta Journal and Constitution, October 13, 1995 from David Kayser]
- An Aurora, Illinois man received a big surprise when local police showed up one day and confiscated his 16-foot python and three other constrictors from his home. "I just don't get it. I don't understand how someone in an office can determine what animal is dangerous and what animal isn't," protested the man. He added that they're not dangerous and said that Aurora's city ban on snakes, reptiles or lizards physically capable of injuring any person as a "hazy law that doesn't do much to define what a dangerous animal really is." The man has only lived in Illinois for a year. He said that in his native Ohio, police used to visit to see his animals, not to take them away. He paid a $100 fine and a friend of his from Ohio came and picked up the snakes to take them out of state. The man paid $1,500 about two years ago for the 16-foot python. [Beacon-News, Sandwich, IL October 8, 1995 from David Sherman]
"Alien creatures menace Europe"
Fleet Street strikes again. The aliens involved here are eight-inch American bullfrogs, terrapins (red-eared sliders), and dozens of non-native plants. However, the bullfrogs and terrapins are eating local fish populations and crowding out native species. The progenitors of the wild populations were apparently released pets. "Conservationists are getting very freaked out about alien species because, unlike deforestation, the process is irreversible," said Georgina Mace of London's Institute of Zoology. The World Watch Institute in Washington, D.C. warned that human-influenced animal migration has transformed "bio-invasions [into] a phenomenon without precedent in the history of life." [Hayward Daily Review, August 5, 1995 from Mike Kilby]
A resource manager with the Ontario, Canada, Ministry of Natural Resources (MNR) has noticed that "in the past 10 years, there has been a noticeable decline in the number of bullfrogs in what has traditionally been their natural habitat." To counteract the apparent decline, the Ministry will not issue commercial bullfrog licenses in 1996 and proposes to change regulations to restrict all harvesting in eastern Ontario. An ecologist for the Ministry said, "Our data suggests [sic] that while there are only a few people who harvest bullfrogs, these people are taking the biggest and the best. This is seriously affecting the breeding stock." In Canada, bullfrog tadpoles may take three years in the pond before transformation, and live for about another 10 years as adults. Harvesters take the largest frogs, therefore the reproductively active adults from the population. [Havelock Citizen, August 22, 1995 and Peterborough Examiner, August 23 both from Clinton Gilders]
Turtle nests vandalized
Apparently angered by new rules banning driving at high tide and at night in conservation areas on beaches in Volusia County, vandals have destroyed two sea turtle nests. An 11-year-old schoolgirl found the second damaged nest. She said, "It was kind of sad looking at it. At first I didn't know [if] people did it." Disrupting a turtle nest is a felony, destruction of an endangered species. It carries a $5,000 fine or up to five years in prison. [The Herald, August 14, 1995 from Alan W. Rigerman]
Humans on the menu
- An apparently new breed of rattlesnake bit a two-year-old boy in Adelanto, Arizona on August 12 this year. The boy was rushed to the hospital and airlifted to Phoenix where he remained in danger of permanent brain damage from the incident. Authorities report that the rattlesnake appears to have been a cross between a "coontail" and a "Mojave green" pair. No names were given of the snake experts who made this determination, but the father of the bitten boy stated, "[the experts] also told me that the only way for these two snakes to breed is in captivity. It looks as though somebody is doing this on purpose." [Hesperia Resorter, August 31, 1995 from Michael Anglin] Yes, dear editor it is "Resorter" not "Reporter." Your columnist...
- A 46-year-old Cherokee, N.C. man was bitten by a rattlesnake while he was trying to remove it from his yard. It was only one of many he's found in his yard, driven up into the hills and freed. Minutes after the bite from the 3.5 foot snake, the man's blood pressure dropped to zero, but doctors were able to save his life with antivenin. In addition they surgically removed areas swollen from the bite. The man will need plastic surgery to regain use of his hand. The man plans to release the snake which is in a wooden box at his house as soon as he is released from hospital. He said, "I've had people say I should go ahead and skin it out and eat it and make a hatband out of it, because it's too short to make a belt that would fit me. Why kill it? They're not bothering me, and they like to live too. That's what's wrong with people, they like to kill everything." [Knoxville News Sentinel, September 21, 1995 from Mike Lawson]
- The "average" rattlesnake bite treatment costs between $15,000 and $20,000 for intensive care, lab work and antivenin. [Orange County Register, June 5, 1995 from Gary Young]
- A 23-foot-long python in Malaysia "attacked" and "squeezed a plantation worker to death and tried to swallow him" according to the Associated Press. Police shot and killed the python, which was the longest reported in Malaysia, according to a zoologist at the University of Malaya. At the time the python was killed, it had swallowed the victim's head and crushed some of his bones, according to the brother of the deceased human. From the description and location, the snake was probably a reticulated python, Python reticulatus, according to contributor Mark Paul Henderson. [Spokesman-Review, September 6, 1995 from Mark Paul Henderson, and Telerate News and Features, September 7 from Robert J. Paluch] After this unfortunate event, Malaysians were gripped by python-phobia apparently spurred by photos of plump pythons being captured after eating chickens, pigs, or dogs. Last year 36,000 pythons were legally killed by skin-trade hunters, officials worry that the bad publicity will result in illegal harvesting. Officials try to reassure the public. One said that a python is "a nice creature if it's not eating you." The only other recorded python-induced human fatality was in 1985. [The Wall Street Journal, October 23, 1995 from P.L. Beltz]
- Drought in Australia is apparently to blame for more than 40 people bitten by venomous snakes during September. The 47-day dry spell finally ended with rains; breaking the longest drought in New South Wales in 147 years. [Tacoma News Tribune, September 11, 1995 from Marty Marcus]
- The body of a 27-year-old Costa Rican man was recovered by a friend who shot and killed a crocodile which was trying to eat the corpse. The apparent crocodile attack followed a boating accident. The boat in which the man and five German tourists were riding capsized. The tourists swam to the bank, but the man drifted downstream seeking help. The tourists heard a scream and saw the man flail briefly before disappearing underwater. A leg and an arm was found in the guts of the 13-foot crocodile. [The Tico Times, September 8, 1995 no name on clipping]
- A 14-year-old girl was killed and eaten by a crocodile in Zimbabwe where continuing dry weather has forced humans, livestock, and crocodiles into uneasy proximity. Crocodiles have been eating goats and cows taken to the few remaining ponds. More than 2 million people have registered for food aid in Angola and about 3 million are in need of food and water in Zimbabwe. [The Toronto Globe and Mail, September 21, 1995 from Capt. Wes von Papinešu and Kim Heaphy]
- "People haven't learned - or refuse to accept - that the waters [around Darwin, Australia] now belong to the crocodile," said a ranger at Kakadu National Park. Full grown male crocs can weigh 3,000 pounds and measure around 21-feet-long. They see well, hear well, and swim with hardly a ripple right up the heart-stopping, tail-thrashing moment at which they grab their prey. The crocs may eat a few tourists from time to time, but they also bring in big tourist bucks - about $25.2 billion U.S. dollars per year. Recently, a company has begun offering "Crocodile Attack Insurance." The catch is, you have to die to collect. [Audubon Magazine, May-June, 1995 from David Webb]
- Humans visiting South Florida have nothing to fear from American crocodiles according to a crocodile researcher. American crocodiles "don't eat people in Dade County and they don't eat people in Cuba ... [or] Jamaica. And if they come to Broward County, the won't eat people there either. [Although] once you feed them, all bets are off. Not only do they lose their fear of humans, they associate humans with food." [Sun-Sentinel, August 13, 1995 from Alan W. Rigerman] The population of endangered American crocodiles in southern Florida is growing and is estimated to be between 400 and 500 individuals. This summer's hatching season was "noteworthy" according to a University of Florida researcher and resulted in a hatchling-boomlet at Turkey Point and the Everglades National Park. The first nest ever was found on Sanibel Island. Nesting success for the crocodile has largely been habitat-driven. Accidental creation of suitable habitat occurred at the Turkey Run nuclear power plant and, more recently, alongside casinos and parking lots in South Florida. [South Florida Sun-Sentinel, August 13, 1995 from Alan W. Rigerman]
- "Twenty-five thousand people are maimed each year by lawnmowers. But if an alligator hurts people, we want to eliminate them, and that's not the answer. We need to educate people. We're becoming disconnected from the natural world... How we treat this earth has a lot to do with our quality of life. Humans don't want to admit that we're having a detrimental effect on the natural world. Every major social tragedy in the world today happens because we humans have ignored the laws of nature." Jim Fowler, co-host of the television program "Wild Kingdom" [Lancaster, PA New Era, August 1, 1995 from Michael J. Shrom]
- Baseball great Satchel Paige "once admonished his teammate for trying to kill a snake during a fishing trip to the Florida Everglades. `Leave it alone,' Paige told [Buck] O'Neil. `If that snake came into your room at the Sir John Hotel, then it would be intruding, and you'd have a right to kill it. But we're the ones intruding here today.' Only an uncommonly insightful man would recognize the dignity of a lowly snake in a swamp." John McGrath, Tacoma, WA News Tribune sports columnist [August 22, 1995 from Marty Marcus]
A 17-year-old freshman student at York College in Pennsylvania was trying to keep his 2-foot python warm, so he wrapped a lamp in a towel, put the lamp, the towel and the snake into his closet and closed the door. He was waiting for class when a fellow student informed him "You' room's on fire." The report in the Lancaster, PA New Era did not say whether the snake survived the conflagration. [October 13, 1995 from Michael J. Shrom]
The hissing of summer lawns
Summer sunshine following heavy spring rains in California brought out all kinds of sun worshippers, human and otherwise. "Everything [in Orange County] seems so benign, so ordinary. That's until a rattlesnake shows up or a red-tailed hawk scoops your new kitty off the front lawn... the vast sun-baked suburban sprawl... looks worthy of Good Housekeeping... yet all this has been plunked on top of a vibrant desert ecosystem... thousands of creatures have hung on, resisting the best efforts to drive them out... Now, as the heat of summer glares down... see what a critter colony the place is. Scores of bunnies chewing up the grass; millions of tiny ants march in and out of the neat houses like they own them. To fetch the morning newspaper from the driveway means a dance around the huge snails gobbling up all the imported vegetation... The real king of the desert, though, is the rattlesnake.... in the past two weeks, my family and neighbors have seen four western diamondbacks within striking distance of our house... Mostly the rattlers make their home in the dusty canyons that divide the housing developments. But they also show up on the streets for an afternoon sunbathe. We've not heard of anyone getting bitten, but a rattler is some unfriendly - none of those `Have a nice day?' vibes you get at the mall. Just a rattle and hostile glare... I like all these wild pets, and so do many of the neighbors. They liven up an otherwise strictly controlled environment, and a rattlesnake is more predictable than a guy with a gun." [Sheila Whyte writing in the Toronto, Ontario Globe and Mail, July 8, 1995 from Capt. Wes von Papinešu]
Don't tell Komodo Dragons
New Scientist reports that "The place with the highest density of predator in the world is the flood plain of the Adelaide River near Darwin. Australian scientists have counted an incredible 30 water pythons (Liasis fuscus) per square kilometer - 400 kilograms of snake." The next most densely populated predator hang out is the Ngorongoro Crater in Tanzania with 30 kilograms of predator per square kilometer, according to New Scientist. The article continues with the following statement, "The water python, however, is the only cold-blooded land animal known to be a top predator." [March 12, 1994 from K & W Herp Haven] O.K. readers. Is this true? Or are Komodo Dragons and other lizards top cold-blooded predators on various islands? What about the Brown Tree Snake on Guam or Sphenodon in New Zealand?
- A Washington County, NV commissioner recently joked that desert tortoises move faster than the bureaucracy charged with establishing a tortoise preserve above the town of St. George. [Salt Lake Tribune, January 1, 1995 from David A. Webb]
- "There's a huge international market in the sale and trade of rare items stole from the National Park Service. We're losing our heritage overseas." Special Agent Pat Buccello added that "In many cases the parks are the last refuge of rare species. For instance, there are only 500 to 1,000 Grand Canyon Rattlesnakes that are found nowhere else." [Seattle Times, June 4, 1995 from Jett]
- "If my box turtle lives 100 years, how can my children provide for it in their will?" was a question sent to Mike Capuzzo who writes a column about animals for the Salt Lake Tribune. [May 19, 1995 from David Webb]
A cricket a day makes froggie all play
Thousands of frogs sing from ponds, ditches and wet spots every year, but only recently have researchers discovered how many nights each male frog sings. Surprisingly, the average Barking Tree Frog (Hyla gratiosa) only sings three nights out of 120 nights available each year. Males subsist on a dietary equivalent of a cricket a day, but calling requires tremendous energy. The 2.5-inch frogs call an average of 8,000 times a night at a volume of 85-decibels. [Discover Magazine March, 1995 from David Webb] Gee, even my teenager didn't call that much or that loud!
Thanks to all AFH members who contributed to this column and to Jett, David Webb, Michael J. Shrom, Robert J. Paluch, Brian Carson, Mike Kilby, Alan W. Rigerman, Steve Zimmerman, Joseph Zawadowski, Grizzly Gibson, and Gerald Keown who sent stuff I enjoyed but didn't use. You can contribute, too. Be sure the date/publication slug is firmly attached with clear tape (no staples or paperclips, please) and that your name is on every clipping or copy (return address labels are really great for this). Please, no self-adhesive notes; the glue removes newsprint. We really need your help on these format requests for several reasons including: 1.) several people handle each clipping, the more pieces there are, the less likely it is to stay together; 2.) staples and paperclips tear newspaper; 3.) you can usually send the whole page or pages for one ounce postage.
Volume 7, Number 6 - 1996
Tokay two geckos and call me in the a.m.
Royal Ontario Museum herpetologist Bob Murphy is encouraging Vietnamese gecko hunters to turn into gecko breeders instead. Tokay geckos are getting few and far between where they've been intensively hunted. Geckos are an ingredient in traditional Asian medicine. Eating a Tokay reportedly relieves symptoms of tuberculosis, coughs and asthma. Murphy is looking for a few, good investors to help him get the project off the ground. "Even if you bred 100,000 [Tokays] a year, you wouldn't meet demand," he said. [New Scientist, September 9, 1995 from K and W Herp Haven]
The world gets weirder all the time
- Toad wine fermented from a Cambodian toad mashed with honey and cane sugar is highly regarded as a cure for syphilis in Indo-China. Recently the "toad tipple" has become the best selling liquor in the region, surpassing beer. [Wolverhampton, England Express-Star, October 31, 1995 from Mark O'Shea]
- "Gourmets in Hong Kong have a new delicacy: the tail from the Australian Crocodile. Its tender, pale-pink meat is reputed to increase the strength of those who eat it. The story of croc meat became known after the Hong Kong swim team dined on the meat the evening before a major match, and subsequently won the Gold medal. The news spread quickly, and since then, local markets advertise the fare on little red signs imprinted with a white croc. A jar of the croc meat sells for 30 Deutschmarks." [Welt am Sonntag, October 8, 1995 from West von Papinešu and Kimberley Heaphy]
- Southern Indian drug addicts are trying to get high by trying to get snakes to bite them on their tongues. A drug therapy worker in Paloarivattom warned that snake venom can give addicts a 16 hour high but may be deadly. Dealers in Bombay and Goa have their snakes bite addicts' tongues for a price. [Tacoma News-Tribune, September 25, 1995 from Marty Marcus]
- "A member of the Iranian Parliament has made the bizarre claim that the international medical symbol, the snake and the caduceus, was Jewish and Freemason-inspired and has urged Iran's medical organization to solve the problem by designing a new one." [Dateline: World Jewry, October 1995 from Marty Marcus] Incidentally, the symbol represents the staff carried by Hermes in ancient Greek mythology. The snake wrapped around the staff represents fertility, wisdom and healing, all of which seem in short supply in certain areas of the world.
- Traditional healers in Cameroon reportedly burned a male and female crocodile to death because they said the animals were bewitched. Some local residents blamed the male for road accidents on a bridge under which the animal lived; others felt both of the crocodiles were at fault. A collection was taken to pay for the gasoline used for the immolation. [The San Francisco Chronicle, September 30, 1995 from Matthew and Laurie Aikawa]
Glow-in-the dark dinners?
Workers wearing protective clothing and respirators surveying the "hot" zone around the Chernobyl nuclear reactor in Priapat, Ukraine have found mutant mice. The DNA from these mice is as different from normal mice as that between non-mutant mice and rats which diverged about 15 million years ago. [Tacoma News-Tribune, July 17, 1995 from Marty Marcus]
Iguanas in the news
- The Weekly World News reports that a 59-year old New York City man would have died from a heart attack if his pet iguana hadn't knocked over the phone and touch-toned 911. Police and paramedics responded. The police dispatcher said, "It was a one-in-a-million freak accident. We got a call and there was no one on the other end of the line. But I heard an agonized gasping and realized there was something wrong. So we traced the call and dispatched an ambulance - just in time to save the man's life." The man believes that he and his iguana have always had a special relationship, saying, "Somehow Lester read my mind and did what I was unable to do - call for help. No one will ever be able to convince me that what happened was an accident." [December 5, 1995 from Philip Venditto]
- A man was arrested and police seized $3,275 which he had hidden in the aquarium housing three or four iguanas. The man allegedly was dealing Cannabis sativa, commonly known as marijuana. Other drug/herp stories over the years have included the iguana which allegedly ate the pot found growing in the yard and venomous snakes guarding the proceeds. Perhaps this guy just got confused, or something. [Ephrata, PA New Era, c. November 15, 1995 from Nancy and Michael Shrom]
- Ann Landers recently responded to a letter from a woman who became hysterical while visiting her brother and sister-in-law who had a pet iguana which lived in the spare bathroom. The woman repeatedly confuses "5-foot alligator" with "5-foot iguana" and wrote "I didn't get much sleep that weekend and I still shake when I think of it. Having an alligator in an adjoining room is not my idea of a restful weekend. Please tell me if something that looks like a crocodile is harmless and if an iguana can grow that big. No one in Grand Rapids has ever seen one of those things." OK everybody in Michigan stop laughing now, please. It seems amazing after all these years that lizards are still experiencing fearful prejudice, but as the article immediately above shows, some people think lizards are scary. Fortunately, AFH and other herp societies members' letters to Ann Landers over the years have had an effect. Ms. Landers's reply is still a little off base but certainly not unreasonably prejudiced: "Iguanas can grow to be 5 feet long... That poor iguana was not meant to flop around in a bathtub. I hope your sister-in-law takes him to a zoo soon... Animals have rights, too." [Toronto Star, August 28, 1995 from Kimberley Heaphy]
"Thelma and Louise" reproduces
The two-headed corn snake known as "Thelma and Louise" that lives at the San Diego Zoo reproduced in September, 1995. Just as thin as a pencil, and slightly over a foot long, the 15 babies hatched normally and are eagerly feeding on pinky mice. "Thelma and Louise" has one body, one spine, one set of internal organs and two heads. Zoo officials suggest she is the result of a twinning process gone wrong. [The Daily News, October 2, 1995 from Dale McDonald]
A 220-foot toad tunnel in Davis, California opened in September. Designed to provide toads with a safe way to cross a new roadway embankment. The senior engineer of the project for the City of Davis was interviewed for the report in the September 10, 1995 Oakland Tribune: "He explained that the tunnel was ordered after residents expressed fear that the [road] could prove a lethal barrier to young toads bred in the drain pond. Each spring, he said, lust-mad Western toads, the common, garden variety toad of Northern California, throng to the drain pond to engage in a frenzy of procreation. In due course, the tadpoles become young toads that set forth into the world to seek their fortunes. Every year things can get less than pleasant in the neighborhood as young toads by the legions lose their lives to passing cars." The toad tunnel should put an end to the unpleasantness. [from Matthew and Laurie Aikawa]
Da law's da law, dude
A 30-year old owner of a Deerfield Beach pet shop was charged with violating the federal Endangered Species Act by selling seven alligators and importing 80 pancake tortoises from Tanzania. If convicted, the man faces up to 10 years in prison and a maximum fine of $500,000. Assistant U.S. Attorney Lynn Rosenthal said, "South Florida is the single major spot in the U.S. for the importation or the dealing in illegal wildlife from South America, especially reptiles. It's a big trade with a lot of money involved." The defendant said, "You'd think I was a drug dealer the way they came down on me... I dealt in illegal animals, that was my thing." His lawyer claimed that the defendant had been "selling reptiles for some... time. And he does the best he can to comply with what can really be very complicated business. And to the extent that he may have stepped over the line, he may be held responsible." [The Miami Herald and Sun-Sentinel, October 21, 1995 from Alan W. Rigerman]
Snakes escape house of Doom
As reported from the Deseret News, November 5, 1995: "Four snakes and their owners made it to safety out of a burning house early Saturday. Two 12-foot pythons and two smaller snakes were saved by firefighters and the snakes' owner, Mike Doom... [The] house caught on fire just after midnight. The cause of the blaze is unknown." [from David Webb]
Oldest frog found
A fossil frog discovered on a northeastern Arizona Navajo Indian reservation is providing a view of what could be the earliest known anuran. A paleontologist at the University of Pennsylvania named the 190 million year old fossil Prosalirus bitis. The name means "to leap forward-high over it" and is a combination of Latin and Navajo. Frog is a deity who can make floodwaters go down and who plays a role in human fertility according to Navajo tales. [The Providence Sunday Journal, October 22, 1995 from Joe Sousa]
Another place bans long snakes
A 53-year old resident of Glenshaw, Pennsylvania has to drive several miles to visit his 10-foot long albino Burmese python which is staying with a friend outside township limits. The python is four feet longer than the law of Shaler Township allows, and still growing. Township commissioners refused to make an exception even though the python and its man did education programs. [The Daily Herald, December 5, 1995 from David Webb]
- "A passenger on a flight from Uzbekistan to Krasnodar, Russia, had his luggage confiscated on arrival when it was discovered to include 14 bags full of poisonous snakes." [Independent, November 16, 1995 from Mark O'Shea]
- U.S. Customs Service Agents working the Eagle Pass, Texas-Mexico border crossing found six live snakes in the toolbox of a pickup truck and eight more live snakes, wrapped in socks and pantyhose, stuffed in the truck's occupants pants. A Customs Agent was quoted that they'd never had snakes in jockey shorts before. The two men were fined $800 and released to return to their California homes. The six green rat snakes, a boa constrictor, three bull snakes, two Sinaloa milk snakes, a Nelson milk snake and one Nuevo Leon king snake were sent to the San Antonio Zoo. [Dallas Morning News, August 4, 1995 from Gwen Nordman]
- The Wolverhampton Express-Star reports that "passengers and airport staff fled in panic when a python arriving with a circus act escaped from its cage into the airport lounge in Doha in the Gulf state of Qatar. Airport firefighters and security guards were called in to deal with the 13-foot snake as it slithered through the arrivals lounge. They managed to trap it in a rubbish dump and it was returned to its cage, the Al-Sharq daily reported today. It escaped while the circus awaited customs clearance." [from Mark O'Shea]
- The book, "Divorces from Hell" relates the story of a wife who mailed her ex-husband a venomous snake. Contributor Wes von Papinešu added, "In our house, this sort of event would have been seen as a `term of endearment'!
This is one of those stories that makes me wonder if it was real, or invented by some bored journalist in Nairobi who had been reading the reports from Malaysia. The Kenyan Daily Nation newspaper reports that in two incidents in early October, pythons tried to eat Kenyan boys. One incident occurred in the western part of the country where a boy was partially eaten before gamekeepers shot the python and found a large dog in its stomach. The other incident occurred in suburban Nairobi where a boy was being constricted until passerby beat the python to death with clubs and stones, then beat each other up in a dispute over who had the rights to the skin. [Tacoma, Washington News Tribune, October 30, 1995 from Alan Tuley and Marty Marcus]
Flooding, crocodilians and people
The Associated Press reports that more than 100 crocodiles escaped from crocodile farms upstream from Bangkok, Thailand after floods. The escapees slipped into the river and all Bangkok was gripped by "Crocodile fever... School children crowd the banks of the city's canals trying to catch a glimpse of the reptiles and residents are trying to bait them to the surface... [the Prime Minister] is skeptical, but has... ordered officials to keep an eye out." No crocodiles have actually been sighted in the city, yet. [The Oakland Tribune, September 29, 1995] The next month, the same sort of thing happened in Florida, when 20 inches of rain fell in southern parts of that state in less than 24 hours. A state of emergency was declared for four counties. Some neighborhoods became islands and alligators prowled from flooded canals right up to porches and front doors. "We thought it was a dog, but then we saw this huge gator about 10 to 12 feet long. The fish and game agent said not to try to catch it or bother it. No problem there," said a resident of Palm Beach County. [The Oakland Tribune, October 20, 1995 both articles from Matthew and Laurie Aikawa]
Drop in sometime
- "Although we have had some difficulty producing newsletters, the local group has been active with 2-3 dozen people at monthly meetings..." Thus quoth the December, 1995 newsletter of the Oregon Herpetological Society, Eugene, Oregon.
- The New Zealand Herp Society holds two monthly meetings, one in Auckland, one in Southland and an irregularly scheduled meeting in Waikata. Visitors are welcome. If you'd like to visit New Zealand in your mind, you can subscribe to their journal Moko by writing: The Secretary, NZ Herpetological Society Inc., 50 Pupuke Road, Birkenhead, Auckland 10 New Zealand.
- Although I've never been to Oregon or New Zealand, I just got back from at trip to Hot Springs, Arkansas which has long been a resort community due to the soothing and medicinal waters boiling up from deep underground. Much to my surprise I found one of America's herpetological treasures on Central Avenue across from Bathhouse Row. It's a museum named "Arkansas House of Reptiles, Inc." and it has one of the finest collections of hot herps and neat herps I've ever seen. Each enclosure was designed to provide an impression of the animal's natural habitat while still allowing the animals to be cared for easily. Michelle Branch and two assistants somehow manage to keep this whole place fed, tidy, and clean. It was fabulous to be in a place where such enthusiasm for herpetoculture shows!
Thanks to everyone who contributed this month and to Jett, Matthew and Laurie Aikawa, Valerie Haecky, David Webb, Joe Taffis, Gary Young, Dennis Sheridan, Dantť Fenolio, Mark Paul Henderson, K.S. Mierzwa, Sandra Schumaker, Alan Tuley, Kevin Larry, Mark O'Shea, and the folks at K & W Herp Haven who sent in duplicates, photos, cards, cartoons and other material not easily summarized. You can contribute, too. Fold each clipping as few times as possible. Be sure the date/publication slug and your name are firmly attached to each one with tape, not staples, and mail to me in care of AFH.