Friday, 31 January 2014

Endangered Species Act Protection Sought for Seven Rare Amphibians and Reptiles in Arizona, New Mexico and Texas - via Herp Digest

Lizards, Turtles, Toads and Salamanders Face Extinction

Press Release 1/16/14, Albuquerque, N.M.— The Center for Biological Diversity filed a formal notice of intent to sue the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service today seeking Endangered Species Act protection for seven Southwest amphibians and reptiles. The Center petitioned for these species — the Rio Grande cooter, Arizona toad, Arizona night lizard, Bezy’s night lizard, reticulate collared lizard, Yuman Desert fringe-toed lizard and Cascade Caverns salamander — in July 2012 because habitat loss and other factors are threatening their survival. 

“The Southwest is home to some of the nation’s most fascinating scaly and slimy creatures,” said Collette Adkins Giese, a Center biologist and lawyer focused on protecting amphibians and reptiles. “Although few people have heard of, let alone seen, a Bezy’s night lizard or Rio Grande cooter, these unique species are an important part of the web of life and of what makes the Southwest unique. Without Endangered Species Act protection, we’re likely to lose these rare lizards, turtles, toads and salamanders forever.”

Although amphibians and reptiles have been around for hundreds of millions of years and survived every major extinction period, now, due largely to human impacts, they’re dying off at up to 10,000 times the historic extinction rate. This loss is alarming because they play important roles as predators and prey in their ecosystems and are valuable indicators of environmental health.

“There’s broad scientific consensus that amphibians and reptiles face a profound, human-driven extinction crisis that requires prompt action,” said Adkins Giese. “The Endangered Species Act has a nearly perfect record of stopping animals from going extinct — it’s hands-down our best tool for saving rare amphibians and reptiles.”

The Center was joined in its petition for these seven species and other amphibians and reptiles by several renowned scientists and herpetologists, including E.O. Wilson, Thomas Lovejoy and Michael Lannoo. Also, more than 200 scientists sent a letter last year asking that the Service review the status of the petitioned animals.

The Fish and Wildlife Service is required to make an initial finding within 90 days of receiving a petition about whether protections may be warranted — but more than a year later the agency still has not acted. The 90-day finding is the first in a series of required decisions and simply requires the Fish and Wildlife Service to determine whether the petition presents sufficient information to warrant further consideration, a process that requires few agency resources.

Species Highlights:

Yuman Desert fringe-toed lizard (Arizona): These striking little camouflaged lizards, known only to desert sites in southwestern Arizona, have long made their homes in sparsely vegetated areas of windblown sand. The fringe of scales on the sides of their toes helps them run across loose sand without sinking; tightly overlapping eyelids, earflaps and valve-like nostrils protect them from the constantly blowing sand. Their fragile habitat is under ongoing threat from development and off-road vehicles.

Cascade Caverns salamander (Texas): Perfectly adapted to their wholly aquatic life, these pale, ghost-like salamanders with external gills and recessed eyes spend their entire lives in the darkened worlds of Texas cave springs. Because they breathe through external gills and their skin, these highly unique amphibians require clean, clear-flowing water with a high content of dissolved oxygen. Their health is an important barometer of water quality. More and more pollutants, from pesticides and herbicides to fertilizers and household solvents, are showing up in surface and stormwater runoff that eventually finds its way into the underground springs where these salamanders previously thrived.

Arizona toad (Arizona, New Mexico, Nevada, Utah): These toads occur mainly in Arizona but also in southeastern Nevada, southwestern Utah and western New Mexico, where they depend on shallow, flowing, permanent water. Dams and reservoirs have dramatically altered waterways, replacing the flowing water preferred by Arizona toads with still water favored by Woodhouse’s toads, which displace and hybridize with Arizona toads. Hybridization and habitat loss are the biggest threats to the toads, which are now absent from more than 75 percent of their historic localities. Enlarged glands on the sides of their necks produce steroids that make Arizona toads unpalatable to some predators, inflaming the mouth and throat and causing nausea, irregular heartbeat, and, in extreme cases, death.

Rio Grande cooter (New Mexico, Texas): These beautifully marked turtles live in large, deep stream pools with relatively clear water and sandy or rocky bottoms in the Pecos-lower Rio Grande basin from New Mexico through Texas, as well as in Mexico. Scientists were unable to locate any young turtles in Texas, which is a troubling sign of a dying population struggling due to habitat degradation and overcollection. Intermittent stream flows from water diversions and flood control practices have made vast stretches of the Rio Grande uninhabitable, while river pollution by natural gas and oilfield runoff likely accounts for the apparent absence of the species over a 100-mile stretch of the lower Pecos.

Reticulate collared lizard (Texas): The reticulate collared lizard is found nowhere in the world but Texas, where it depends on open spaces for running and foraging and is therefore threatened by dense mats of nonnative grasses planted for cattle grazing. The lizards mostly eat insects but also sometimes small reptiles, mice and plants. The reticulate collared lizard is listed as threatened in Texas, but this status does not protect it from loss of habitat, its greatest threat. 

Arizona night lizard 


Bezy’s night lizard (Arizona): Arizona night lizards are known only from Yavapai County, Ariz., and Bezy’s night lizards are known from nine localities in central Arizona. Because they have extremely limited ranges, these lizards are highly vulnerable to extinction from any threat. Neither lizard is protected under state law. Collection for the pet trade is one of the biggest threats, and habitat degradation by collectors using devices to pry on its rocky habitats is likely significant in some areas.

Contact: Collette Adkins Giese, (651) 955-3821

Lizards breathe more efficiently than humans do - via Herp Digest

by Deborah Netburn, 12/17/13,

Little-known fact: When it comes to extracting oxygen from the air we breathe, we humans are just OK.

Birds are more efficient breathers than we are. So are alligators and, according to a new study, monitor lizards, and probably most dinosaurs were as well.

Humans are what are called tidal breathers. When we breathe in, fresh air moves into our lungs along progressively smaller airways, eventually ending in little sacs called alveoli, where our bloodstream picks up oxygen and deposits carbon dioxide. Then the "old" air moves out of our lungs along the same path it came in.

But birds, alligators and monitor lizards are "unidirectional" breathers. After the air moves into their lungs, it begins to follow a system of tubes similar to arteries, capillaries and veins. In this system, the air moves through the air tubes in only one direction.

And, it turns out, their system is more efficient at extracting oxygen from the air than ours is.

Scientists discovered that birds are unidirectional breathers in the first half of the 20th century, after researchers noticed that pigeons breathing the sooty air of train stations showed just one black area on the lung. If the pigeons breathed like we do, scientists would have expected the entire lung to be black.

"The fact that only one part of the bird lung was dark suggested the air was flowing in one direction and that the first part of the lung to receive the contaminated air was filtering the particles," said Colleen Farmer, an associate professor of biology at the University of Utah.

It isn't that surprising that birds have developed a more efficient breathing system. Scientists hypothesize it may have evolved to help them support their high metabolic rates, or to help them survive when they fly at high altitudes, where oxygen is scarce.

But in 2010, Farmer published a study showing that alligators are unidirectional breathers as well.

"That's when I realized it had to have a function other than supporting the high metabolic rates associated with birds," she said. "I knew cold-blooded animals spend about 80 per cent of their lives holding their breaths - and so I formulated the hypothesis that this breathing would be important for mixing gases in the lungs during a breath-hold."

On Wednesday, Farmer published a study in the journal Nature that shows monitor lizards are unidirectional breathers as well. She believes that further studies will show that all lizards and snakes are also unidirectional breathers.

"(Unidirectional breathing) appears to be much more common and ancient than anyone thought," she said in a statement.

The scientists are still not sure exactly when unidirectional breathing first developed, but if it all evolved from one ancestor rather than concurrently, it is possible there have been unidirectional breathers walking the planet for 270 million years - 100 million years before the first birds and 20 million years earlier than anyone thought.

And although it is impossible to directly study whether extinct animals like dinosaurs were unidirectional breathers, Farmer said that since alligators, birds and probably most lizards breathe this way, it's likely the system was inherited from an ancestor the dinosaurs shared as well.

Farmer said the next step in her research is to determine just how common unidirectional breathing is or was.

"We want to look at a bunch of lizards and snakes and turtles and amphibians," she said. "We have a lot of work ahead of us."

Villagers adopt lonely Porrick the pig

A lonely pig abandoned in a Kent field for months has been enjoying some regular home comforts after local residents took pity on her.

Villagers at Shorncliffe, near Folkestone, built a makeshift shelter for the female swine, who they have named Porrick, and donate copious food so she can eat like a pig.

"She's a real local attraction," said Trevor Boxell, whose son owns the land on which Porrick grazes.

The pig had been left alone for four months after the previous owners moved, taking her herd with them, Mr Boxell explained.

The owners had 40-odd pigs in the field but when they left to go elsewhere, they left this poor little porker behind.

Mr Boxell said Porrick was now enjoying a healthy diet of potatoes, sprouts, swede and vegetable peelings from locals and appears very much at home.

"People round here started to take an interest in her and built her a pigsty using tin, wood and tarpaulin. They come in their droves to see her and feed her," he said.

"I've left the gate open for her several times but she never wants to leave. I would like to find her somewhere permanent to stay but she seems quite happy, wagging her tail in the field."

Zoo relying on new arrivals for future breeding - via Herp Digest

by Nick Houghton,Dec 28, 2013

DARLING Downs Zoo's newest residents have finally settled into their new home with staff calling it one the most significant moments in the zoo's history

The 10 Aldabra giant tortoises have moved into their enclosures after spending three months in quarantine.

They currently weigh about 6kg each, but will grow more than a meter in length and weigh up to 250kg by the time they are 25.

Originating from Mauritius, Aldabra giant tortoises are the only remaining tortoise species out of 18 species that once lived in that part of the world.

The zoo will breed from the tortoises, which has not happened in Australia since the 1970s.

While they are still too young to breed, Darling Downs Zoo is happy with the way the tortoises have settled into their new surroundings.

Darwin’s garden purchased

January 2014: A wooden remnant of naturalist Charles Darwin’s childhood garden in Shrewsbury, Shropshire has been bought by Shropshire Wildlife Trust.

“No other part of Darwin’s childhood home is accessible to the public, so when we were offered the chance to buy this slip of woodland next to the river, we were thrilled at the opportunity to open up a cherished corner of his world,” said Colin Preston, Director of Shropshire Wildlife Trust.

While much of the land previously attached to The Mount, his birthplace, has disappeared under housing, other parts survived in private gardens, including the land the Trust has bought.

Through the wood, alongside an ice house once used by the Darwins, runs a path with views down to the River Severn. It was here 200 years ago, that the young Darwin was sent every day before breakfast to walk the path at the bottom of the garden. It was known as the Thinking Path and provided a regular time for thought and reflection. The habit became ingrained in Darwin’s daily routine and when he and his wife Emma bought Down House in Kent, they made their own Sandwalk through the grounds, carrying on the tradition of morning walks with their children.

The Trust intends to restore the Thinking Path, open up views and carry out essential boundary and safety work. The garden will be opened for group visits at various times throughout the year and schoolchildren will have the chance to walk in Darwin’s footsteps, inspiring them to enjoy and explore the natural world.

The unacceptable cost of 'gassing' rattlers----Op-Ed by Collette Adkins Giese, Austin American-Statesman, January 11, 2014 - via Herp Digest

The horrid practice has now been outlawed in most states, but it still takes place here in Texas this time of year.
Hunters pour gasoline or ammonia down burrows where rattlesnakes hang out during chilly winter months. Sometimes the toxic flood kills whatever unfortunate animals are residing below. For the lucky, death comes almost immediately. For others it can take two, even three months.
But often, just as hoped, a startled snake comes rushing out of the hole, where a waiting hunter bags it and heads off to a rattlesnake roundup, where snakes are displayed, then slaughtered. Or they sell the snakes directly to the folks who fashion rattlesnake boots, belts, ashtrays and key chains.

For many good reasons, state wildlife officials are now considering making Texas the 30th state to outlaw the cruel practice of “gassing” snakes, which harms not only rattlers but hundreds of other animals — including 20 species of endangered animals that also live underground in Texas.

Foxes, lizards, toads and hundreds of insects that depend on underground shelters can be killed when snake dens are gassed.
Many involved in the trade of rattlesnakes will tell you that rattlesnake populations are doing just fine across the United States. But the best scientific evidence suggests many of the nation’s snakes and other reptiles fighting a losing battle for survival.

Due to threats such as ongoing habitat destruction, 1 in every 5 of the nation’s reptiles is now considered at risk of extinction.

From Louisiana eastward, struggling populations of eastern diamondback rattlers are struggling to the point that they are currently being considered for federal Endangered Species Act protection.

By comparison, western diamondback rattler populations are doing fairly well. Still, the best evidence suggests their populations are likely declining, and there’s no reason to believe that western diamondbacks could somehow magically sidestep the ever-escalating challenges of habitat destruction that are wiping out so many of our other reptiles across the U.S.

Yet the rattlesnake roundups continue, including one in Sweetwater that’s billed as the “World’s Largest Rattlesnake Roundup.”
Although several localities across the Southeastern U.S. have abandoned rattlesnake roundups in favor of educational wildlife festivals that display captive snakes, Texas, Oklahoma, Alabama and Georgia still host lethal roundups every year.

Some of the most compelling research on declining populations of eastern diamondback rattlers stems from studies of snakes captured for roundups. The size and numbers of eastern diamondback rattlesnakes collected for four of those events over the past 25 years reflects a steady decline in the weights of even the prize-winning snakes, according to research by rattlesnake expert, Bruce Means, executive director of the Coastal Plains Institute.

Means also analyzed 50 years of data for the longest-running roundups and found the total number of captured rattlesnakes declined by 67 percent in the past two decades.

Anecdotal evidence suggests similar declines may be occurring at the Texas roundups, and more research needs to be done on the status of western diamondbacks populations.

In the meantime, by approving the proposal to ban “gassing” of rattlesnake dens, Texas would not only stop the unnecessary killing of other animals that share their underground homes with snakes, but get a jump on making sure western diamondbacks remain an iconic part of the Texas landscape for generations to come.

Giese is a biologist and staff attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity, based in Tucson, Ariz., which focuses on the protection of reptiles and amphibians. She may be reached at

Thursday, 30 January 2014

For Second Year in Row, Tens of Thousands Ask Last Remaining Georgia "Rattlesnake Roundup" to Switch to Humane Wildlife Festival

For Immediate Release, January 23, 2014
Contact: Collette Adkins Giese, Center for Biological Diversity, (651) 955-3821 
Jim Ries, One More Generation, (877) 664-8426
Bill Matturro, Protect All Living Species, (229) 872-3553

For Second Year in Row, Tens of Thousands Ask Last Remaining Georgia "Rattlesnake Roundup" to 
Switch to Humane Wildlife Festival

Eastern diamondback rattlesnake photo
 courtesy Wikimedia
Commons/Ted Arensmeier. Photos of
available for media use.

ATLANTA— As the town of Whigham, Ga., prepares to host its annual “rattlesnake roundup” this weekend, the Center for Biological Diversity and its allies presented a petition with more than 50,000 signatures to the Whigham Community Club today asking that the state’s last roundup transition to a wildlife-friendly festival where no snakes are killed. The petition marks the second year in a row that tens of thousands of people have asked organizers to end the cruel and lethal contest, in which hunters compete for prizes by capturing rareeastern diamondback rattlesnakes. The snakes are displayed and then sold for their meat and skins.

All the state’s other roundups have abandoned the outdated practice of removing rare rattlers from the wild. Two years ago Claxton, Ga., replaced its roundup with the Claxton Rattlesnake and Wildlife Festival, featuring displays of captive rattlesnakes, along with many other educational wildlife exhibits. The new wildlife festival in Claxton received a boost in attendance and high praise from environmental groups, the Georgia Department of Natural Resources, biologists and others who have lobbied for years to end rattlesnake roundups.

Ivory Coast pilots novel elephant rescue

DAKAR, Senegal (AP) — After being tranquilized and loaded onto trucks with cranes, elephants that have been squeezed out of their traditional habitat in Ivory Coast are being relocated by conservationists in what is reportedly the first such operation attempted in Africa's forests.

Ivory Coast is so enamored of elephants that its national soccer team is nicknamed after them. A tusker is prominently displayed on the national coat of arms. The country is even named after the ivory trade, underscoring how the giant mammals once proliferated in the West African nation.

Ivory Coast has not conducted a recent census to determine how many forest elephants are left in the country, but conservationists estimate there only are a few hundred. In Central Africa, their populations have been devastated by poaching in recent years.

On 40th Anniversary of US ESA, as Conservationists Celebrate it’s Successes-- Meet the Wolf Haters - via Herp Digest

By LAWRENCE DOWNES, Editorial New York Times, 12/29/13

The federal government removed the gray wolf from the endangered list in the Northern Rocky Mountains in 2011, essentially leaving wolves’ fates in the hands of state fish-and-game departments, hunters and ranchers. The predictable happened: hunting resumed, and the wolf population fell. In states like Idaho, Montana and Wyoming, an age-old antipathy to wolves flourishes, unchecked. 

In Idaho, two recent developments have alarmed those who want to protect wolves and see them not as vermin, but as predators necessary for a healthy ecosystem.

First was the hiring, by the Idaho Department of Fish and Game, of a hunter to travel into federal wilderness to eliminate two wolf packs. The reason: wolves kill elk, and humans want to hunt elk. Normally the agency would just rely on hunters to kill the wolves, but because the area where these packs roam — in the Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness — is remote, the agency decided it would be more efficient to bring in a hired gun. A photo last week in The Idaho Statesman showed the hunter, Gus Thoreson, astride a horse, with three pack mules, looking like a modern-day Jeremiah Johnson.

Advocates for wolves are angry at the United States Forest Service for giving a state agency free rein to practice predator eradication on protected federal land — meaning, of course, our land — without public comment or review and in apparent violation of well-established wilderness-management regulations and policies. They point out, too, that it’s not clear how many wolves are there for Mr. Thoreson to wipe out, and little evidence that wolves in that area have done any damage to elk herds or livestock.

The other example of wolf-animus will be on display this weekend outside Salmon, Idaho, at a Coyote and Wolf Derby sponsored by a group called Idaho for Wildlife. A not-too-subtle poster for the event shows a wolf with its head in the cross hairs of a rifle scope and announces $2,000 in prizes to defend “our hunting heritage” against “radical animal-rights groups.” Organizers say they want to raise awareness of the potential risk to humans from a tapeworm that wolves — as well as elks and dogs — can carry. State officials say there are no known cases of people contracting tapeworm from wolves.

Environmentalists sought a court order to block the event, saying the Forest Service violated federal law and failed to follow its own procedures in allowing the killing contest. But a judge on Friday said it could proceed. The derby’s ugly depiction of wolves as diseased predators is a throwback to the bad old days when wolves, like coyotes, were vilified and bounty-hunted nearly to extinction.

It’s a sad coincidence that this weekend is also the 40th anniversary of the Endangered Species Act, which was signed into law on Dec. 28, 1973. That act sought to enshrine sound science and wise ecosystem management over heedless slaughter and vengeful predation. Idaho is showing what a mistake it was to lift the shield from wolves too soon.

Plate 3: The peculiar greenness of the three-toed sloth

Why do three-toed sloths often have a green tinge to their fur?

Berthold Seeman’s three-toed sloth 
from Nicaragua. Internet Archive. 
Photograph:Internet Archive
This engraving of a pale-throated sloth appears in an article on three-toed sloths by zoologist John Gray published in 1871. He had just received an interesting letter from German botanist Berthold Seemanwho was fascinated by the “greyish-green colour” of a specimen he’d brought back from Nicaragua. He fancied it was camouflage, the sloths blending in with the similarly coloured Spanish moss Tillandsia usneoidesthat festooned the trees. Observing that the green hue faded when he dried the animal’s skin out over a fire, Seeman speculated that the greenness might be “owing, at least in part, to the fact that the hair becomes covered with minute cryptogamic organisms, the damp climate and thick gloomy forests favourable to their growth.”

Jackass style shark stunt nearly turns deadly for adrenalin junky


Gold Coast adrenalin junkie Shaun Harrington almost turned into lunch while filming a video stunt for clothing label The Mad Hueys. Courtesy: The Mad Hueys

Man yells in terror after 2.4m Tiger shark lunges at him
Jack-ass style stunt was to get 'up close and personal' with man-eater
Flimsy cage used for protection

IT was a Jackass-style stunt that nearly turned around and bit Gold Coast adrenalin junkie Shaun Harrington - or rather mauled him.

Harrington, 27, and fellow forever-clowning twin brother Dean decided to go 'cage diving' with sharks off the Coast last weekend for an extreme video shoot for their surfing and fishing clothing label, fittingly called The Mad Hueys.

But the cage wasn't the jaws-proof reinforced steel type typically used by shark divers - it was a flimsy $50 bird cage Shaun planned to plonk on his head.

Permits required for Ohio exotic animal owners in 2014 - via Herp Digest

Jan 01, 2014, COLUMBUS, Ohio —Owners of certain snakes and dangerous wild animals in Ohio must have a permit to keep their creatures beginning Wednesday, though the state has issued none.

Just seven applications returned to the state had been completed as of Tuesday, while another 30 are in progress, according to Ohio's Department of Agriculture.

The permits are among the last pieces of the state's exotic animal crackdown to take effect, following the 2011 release of dozens of wild animals by a suicidal owner at his eastern Ohio farm. Authorities killed most of the animals, including black bears, African lions and Bengal tigers, fearing for the public's safety.

While the law allows for state officials to seize animals that are kept without a permit, that's unlikely to start immediately in the new year. The agriculture department expects to receive applications into the new year, said agency spokeswoman Erica Hawkins.

"It's not like we can show up and take the animals," Hawkins said in an interview. "There's a due process that is followed."

Once applications are submitted, the agency has 90 days to decide whether potential permit holders have met the state's new caging standards and other rules for keeping certain snakes and animals. And Hawkins said the department is eager to work with owners who want to comply with the law.

The new restrictions are being challenged by several animal owners, who have asked a federal appeals court in Cincinnati to strike down the law. They are suing the state's agriculture department and its director over the rules, claiming they infringe on their constitutional rights. Their appeal comes after a federal judge in Columbus upheld the law.

Several of the owners in the case believed they were exempt from the law, only to be notified recently by the state that they are not, said Polly Britton, a lobbyist for the Ohio Association of Animal Owners. The group boasts more than 8,000 members, whose animals range from domestic cats to Bengal tigers.

"We kind of feel like this is a bullying tactic," Britton said in an interview.

According to the agriculture department, a couple of the owners didn't have the correct species to qualify them for certain exemptions.

Owners applying for permits must pass background checks, pay fees, obtain liability insurance or surety bonds, and prove they can properly contain the animal and care for it. They also had to register their animals with the state.

Ohio has 888 dangerous wild animals registered by 150 entities. That includes creatures kept at zoos, sanctuaries and other facilities that are exempted from the law. It's not clear how many of the animals are privately owned. But the agriculture department believes the majority of those registered belong to the zoos and other exempted facilities.

Still, some owners have not notified the state about their animals. Others have transferred their critters to another home without contacting the state, in violation of Ohio's new law. And officials do not know how many owners fall into those categories.

The agriculture department has two full-time staffers dedicated to enforcing the law, along with four others that split time between the program and another. Hawkins said the agency believes that's enough people to enforce the law.

"If there's a huge influx (of permits), we'll bring more people on," Hawkins said. "We think given the number we saw through registration, this team should be able to cover it."

Other pieces of the law, such as a ban on buying new animals, have been in place since 2012.

Ohio constructed a roughly $3 million building to temporarily keep animals surrendered to the state, should owners find they cannot keep the creatures or comply with the new rules.

Since opening in March, the taxpayer-funded facility has held at least 24 animals, including 20 alligators, three bears and a cougar. None were euthanized. The state has worked to find them new homes.

Western Australia shark cull protesters remove bait from drum lines

Activists have taken action after the first shark is caught, shot and taken out to sea as part of controversial cull program

Shark cull activists have removed bait from drum lines in Western Australia's south-west after the first shark caught on the line was killed on Australia Day.

A three-metre female tiger shark was shot four times in the head, dragged out to sea and dumped after being caught a kilometre off Meelup Beach less than a day after the drum lines were set.

The fisherman who took the tender for the south-west said the shark was a threat to public safety and had to be removed.

"I'll continue to do it and then hopefully later we'll perhaps be able to take some samples or contribute in some way to knowledge and better understanding," he told Fairfax radio on Monday.

The fisherman, who asked not to be named, said protesters had kept away from his vessel and he believed the shark died quickly.

"I was satisfied that I managed to get the rounds in the right place and we dispatched it as quickly as we possibly could," he said.

But the president of West Australians for Shark Conservation, Ross Weir, said it was an inhumane way of killing the animal and about 22 activists were keeping an eye on the fisherman's activities.

"They have been out on the water and they have removed baits from the lines," he said.

Weir said the fisherman did not have experience with sharks and his .22 rifle was not an appropriate gun.

Sea Shepherd Australia’s managing director, Jeff Hansen, said it was a cruel and painful death for the shark, which could have been stuck for hours.

"How can we condemn Japan for the indiscriminate killing of whales and dolphins, and do this to our precious protected marine life here in Australia?" he said. "This method is utterly cruel and inhumane and these animals can take many hours to die."

Wednesday, 29 January 2014

Only in Cebu Zoo (Philippines) : Snake massage - via Herp Digest

Sunday, December 22nd, 2013, Cebu Daily News

Care for a snake massage?

Four Burmese pythons at the Cebu City Zoo are ready to give you one for free.

Touted as the only reptile service of its kind in the country, the exotic massage which started last month is drawing more visitors to the government zoo.

The zoo’s entrance fee is P25 for adults and P20 for children.

But there’s no charge for guests who lie down on a bamboo bed and experience the weight of full grown pythons slithering on their bodies.

“Mura ka ug gi tamakan ug bata,” said lawyer Jose Marie Poblete, Cebu City administrator. (It’s like having the weight of a child stepping on you.)

He tried the novel massage last December 10 during the blessing and inauguration of the zoo’s P4-million new viewing deck and comfort rooms.


Pythons named Michelle (87 kilos), Walter (76 kilos), EJ (39 kilos) and Daniel (24 kilos) are taken out of their cages and placed one at a time atop visitors, who lie down on a bamboo bed near the zoo’s main entrance.

The snakes slowly move across human limbs for 10 to 15-minutes under the watchful eyes of zoo keepers.

“We have to set a time limit to accommodate all visitors who want to try it,” said the zoo manager Giovanni Romarate.

Not all visitors are that adventurous.

Eleven-year-old Richelle Joy Quiqui peeked anxiously from behind adult spectators who watched Poblete covered with snakes.

She couldn’t stand the sight, and walked away to rejoin her family’s picnic in a nearby shed.

The Cebu City Zoo is the only place in the Philippines offering snake massage.

In Indonesia, the Bali Heritage Reflexology and Spa offers snake massage using two six-foot long pythons. A 90-minute treatment would cost 480, 000 rupiah or $43.

The Burmese pythons in the Cebu City measure three to five meters long.

“You do not feel any grip. It’s more of pressure on your body because of the heavy weight of the snakes,” said Poblete.

The lawyer admitted he found it difficult to enjoy the experience because of his fear that the pythons would bite.


Romarate assured that the snake massage is safe.

“Snakes do not attack as long as they are not harmed. We also made sure that we use pythons because they are not venomous,” said Romarate, who owns Michelle and Walter.

The two Burmese pythons were donated by a friend a few years ago and lived with Romarate and his family in their home in the mountain barangay of Tabunan. He brought the two snakes to the zoo in 2007 when he was employed as zoo manager.

Romarate said he thought of using their Burmese pythons as an attraction when the zoo’s lone Bengal tiger “Boggart” died six months ago.

Boggart was the crowd drawer in the zoo, which earns about P100,000 a month in entrance fees.

Most visitors are students from Cebu province and neighboring provinces on educational trips. The city zoo also has birds, monkeys, crocodiles, turtles, and a deer.

The idea of an exotic massage came about when the pythons were shown to guests from Tajikistan. Four pythons were placed on a bamboo bed for the guests to get a closer look.

One guest who saw the snakes crawl over the body of a zoo keeper called it a “snake massage”. Since then, the experience has been tried by various visitors daring enough to try something new, including Japanese, American and Canadian guests.

“At first, they feel fear but most of the guests who try the snake massage say that they like it. It’s like getting a hand massage. You get to enjoy the cold grip of our snakes,” said Romarate.

Some foreign guests donated meat to help feed the zoo snakes. Michelle, for example, consumes 25 chickens during her once-a- month feeding.

Romarate said he’s consulting a Cebuano physical therapist to help him enhance the service.

“I have not come across any actual study that shows therapeutic benefits of getting a snake massage,” he said “but we are working to improve the experience” and welcomes any help from other experts. /Doris C. Bongcac, Chief Of Reporters

Having a bad day? Woman hospitalised after porcupine embeds 200 spikes in her head

How unlucky can you get?

A Brazilian woman was hospitalised this week after a spiky porcupine fell from the sky and landed on her head.

Housewife Sandra Nabucco was left in agony after the clumsy rodent embedded more than 200 of its sharp quills in her scalp.

The porcupine apparently dropped from a telephone wire while the 52-year-old walked her dog in Gávea, an affluent neighbourhood south of Rio de Janeiro.

‘It was a huge shock. I felt a thud on my head and then felt spines with my hands. The pain was enormous,’ she told Brazlian TV network Globo.

Reptile group sues to overturn python ban-U.S. calls ban necessary to protect wildlife - via Herp Digest

By David Fleshler, Sun Sentinel, December 19, 2013

A reptile industry trade group has gone to court to overturn a federal ban on the import of four species of large snake, including the Burmese pythons that have infested the Everglades.

The United States Association of Reptile Keepers, which represents dealers, importers, breeders and hobbyists, filed suit in federal court Thursday to overturn a 2012 ban on the import and interstate trade in Burmese pythons, northern and southern African pythons and yellow anacondas.

The group said the federal ban rested on shaky scientific evidence, including a highly exaggerated projection of the snakes' potential geographic range in the United States, and inadequate economic analysis that understated the potential harm to the reptile industry.

"This is a powerful day for the Reptile Nation, as we fight to protect your rights to pursue your passion and defend your businesses against unwarranted and unnecessary government intrusion," stated an email Friday to members of the reptile group.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service banned the import and interstate trade in the snakes on Jan. 17, 2012, with then Interior Secretary Ken Salazar traveling to Everglades National Park to make the announcement.

Biologists at the park have called the python a major threat to native wildlife, with the huge snakes consuming rabbits, birds, raccoons, alligators and full-grown deer. East of the park, African rock pythons are suspected of establishing a breeding population along Tamiami Trail.

Tom MacKenzie, spokesman for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, said the ban was necessary to protect native wildlife.

"Banning the import and interstate movement of these large, non-native snakes will help prevent spread of these snakes into wild populations beyond those already established," he said.

The Humane Society of the United States called the lawsuit an attempt to protect profits from the sale of dangerous animals that have killed 15 people in the United States.

"This is the very industry that peddles high-maintenance dangerous predators to unqualified people at flea markets, swap meets, and over the Internet," said Debbie Leahy, captive wildlife specialist for the Humane Society. "Banning just a handful of dangerous species has little impact on businesses, since there are literally hundreds of less risky snake and reptile species available to pet purchasers."

But the reptile keepers group said the government ignored contrary evidence presented during the public comment period.

A ban on five other species of large constrictors is under review. These include the boa constrictor, which has established a breeding population in Miami-Dade County, the reticulated python, DeSchauensee's anaconda, green anaconda and Beni anaconda.

The reptile group, which said a ban on all nine species could cost the industry up to $1.2 billion over 10 years, said this lawsuit would "put the government on notice" that it intends to fight any additional bans.

Australia's Shark Cull Begins In Controversial Bid To Stop String Of Deadly Attacks


CANBERRA, Australia (AP) — A large shark was killed off the west Australian coast on Sunday, the first under a contentious new state government culling policy aimed at curbing fatal shark attacks.

The Western Australia government on Saturday began placing baited hooks on drum lines off popular beaches in the state capital Perth and to the south to kill white, bull and tiger sharks over three meters (10 feet) long.

The policy is a response to seven fatal shark attacks in Australia's southwest in three years.

Government spokesman Simon Beaumont said the first shark was killed by a government-contracted commercial fisherman on Sunday morning off Castle Rock near the town of Dunsborough, 250 kilometers (155 miles) south of Perth.

Emotions Run High in NJ Pinelands Gas Pipeline Plan - via Herp Digest

by Wayne Parry, December 21, 2013, Pemberton Township, NJ (AP) — This is the other New Jersey. Far from the gas tanks, chemical plants and toll booths that have come to define the state in the minds of many, the Pinelands consist of more than a million acres of dense forest, wildlife and wetlands.

A flight over the region would reveal a canopy of lush green foliage as far as the eye can see, in a part of the state sometimes referred to as "the lungs of New Jersey." Endangered or threatened wildlife ranging from tree frogs and salamanders to bobcats, eagles and butterflies call its gnarly pine trees and sandy soil home.

But just outside the Pinelands sits the main power plant for southern New Jersey, one that has long created concern with the high levels of pollution its coal burners cause. The BL England plant recently agreed to switch from coal to natural gas to avoid being ordered to shut down by New Jersey environmental authorities.

And that is the center of one of the biggest jobs-vs.-environment clashes in recent New Jersey history.

A state agency tasked with protecting the Pinelands while managing development in responsible ways will try to balance those needs next month. On Jan. 10, the New Jersey Pinelands Commission will decide whether to approve a 22-mile natural gas pipeline through the woods to the power plant.

Six months of public hearings and contentious meetings have only raised the temperature, pitting conservation of the largest tract of wild space between Virginia and Boston against the desire for jobs and reliable energy for southern New Jersey, including teeming Atlantic City and its casinos. The commission's vote is the last obstacle to the plan by South Jersey Gas, which has already gotten other approvals it needs.

"The public has been talking to us since June, but the public has not heard how the commission feels," said Commissioner Paul Galletta, of Hammonton, who owns the largest cultivated blueberry company in the nation. "You can only beat this thing so much. It's time for us to hash this thing out."

Environmentalists say they fear the project will open the door to other types of private projects also forbidden in protected forestland. They say it will cause a loss of some habitat, as well as increase runoff and erosion in an area home to an aquifer estimated to hold 17 trillion gallons of some of the nation's purest water. By allowing a plant that now runs part time to run full time, they say, the pipeline will also increase environmental harm.

But supporters want the jobs. And the utility warns there is only one pipeline right now that takes gas to nearly 29,000 homes and businesses, which could be left out in the cold without a second means of getting gas to their homes if the existing pipeline fails.

South Jersey Gas would pay $8 million to a Pinelands land preservation fund to help clear the final hurdle. The deal would, in effect, exempt the pipeline from a ban on new transmission lines in the Pinelands. It needs commission approval because most of the people who would benefit from the project live outside the Pinelands region.

Many opponents say the plan would go beyond what the Pinelands Commission is supposed to do.

"It is not your mission to create jobs," Cape May County resident Martha Wright told the commission at a recent hearing.

"Protect the Pinelands," urged John Hiros. "That's your obligation — nothing else."

Robert Allen, a teacher at Cumberland County College, said the commission needs to consider the potential impact of a pipeline rupture and fire. He cited a report done for the gas company by a consulting firm showing that a person would need to be standing more than a football field away from the pipe to survive such a fire.

The report counted 158 homes and 32 businesses within 125 feet of the proposed pipeline, including 10 homes and two businesses within 25 feet of it.

The gas company says the pipeline would be rigorously inspected and would meet tough safety and reliability standards. It would go under or next to existing roads through the Pinelands, the company says, minimizing the impact on forest and wetlands.

Many union members strongly support the project as a source of work during trying economic times and say they have built safe, reliable pipes that are still in use decades later.

"What I'm hearing is a lot of fear," said Rick Baynton, who works at the power plant. "I fear losing my job. I fear not being able to live at the Jersey shore with my family any longer. Heat and electric are necessary."

Will Pauls, president of the South Jersey Building Construction and Trades Council, said the pipeline would provide 1,000 jobs to skilled union workers, whose industry he said is experiencing a 40 percent unemployment rate.

"Everybody should be happy with this: clean natural gas to stop pollution," said Mark Hutchinson of the Tea Party group Liberty and Prosperity. "I'm a human and I have a habitat as well. My habitat needs to be heated. I need electricity to cook food. I need cheap, abundant electricity, hot water, all those things. There is no reason to stay here if a habitat for us isn't maintained."

Canine centipede goes viral online

A photograph of what looks very much like a canine centipede is going viral online.

The incredible image is the result of a dog wandering into the frame while a panoramic picture was being taken.

The dog's owner had been taking a panorama shot of his garden when his pet walked through.

The surreal result led to the animal being dubbed 'canine centipede' and 'dogipede'.

The amateur photographer then uploaded his accidental masterpiece to social news site Reddit for all to enjoy.

User DonCreech commented: "Be proud of your pooch for taking it upon his many paws to turn your regular old panorama into a thing of surreal majesty."

Why Writing About Exotic Species Got Me Called an Activist Fraud, by Dr. David A. Steen 7/11/14 from his blog - via Herp Digest

     A few weeks ago I wrote an article that appeared in Slate Magazine about how biologists try to tell the difference between species that are exotic and those that are invasive, using some of the exotic reptiles that have been found in South Florida as examples. I basically summarized the scientific consensus on exotic reptiles in Florida so that people could have a better understanding of the issue. It was a piece I used to expand on a blog post I wrote detailing problems with an earlier story in Slate suggesting Green Anacondas had invaded Florida. I wrote what I did because I thought the fear-mongering article about Green Anacondas was based on inaccurate and misleading information. A well-informed general public that appreciates wildlife is more likely to be interested in their conservation; it’s why I participate in science outreach and why I created this blog.

    Overall, I've been very pleased with the response to my article and received some great feedback. But, to my surprise, I have also provoked some outrage and personal attacks.

    Some of the exotic species now established in Florida, like Burmese and African Pythons, are probably there because of the pet trade. It is simply the most likely explanation. Any news about these animals having negative effects on native ecosystems reflects poorly on the pet industry. Many people already think that nobody should be allowed to own large and potentially dangerous snakes and negative press just fuels the fire. As a result, some people associated with the industry tend to get touchy when they see something about invasive species in the news. The pet industry should have been thanking me for rebutting the viral, sensational story about anacondas in Florida, but because I described some of the reasons biologists are concerned about invasive species, I became a target for the pet industry, instead of a champion. How ironic!

    A particularly egregious example occurred on the Field Herp Forum, where one poster accused me of being an “activist fraud posing as a credible scientist” and provided some unconvincing arguments about why the information in my Slate article was misleading. The evidence for my animal activism was of course very thin. To respond to all of the intended points there is to give them validity, so I won’t, because they’re not. But I encourage you to check these points out to better understand how some people respond to information about invasive species. In any case, I think anyone has to try really hard to get outraged about my evidence-based article.

    There was some concern voiced there, however, that my article was too sensational and hyped up the danger of invasive reptiles. For example, the same individual suggested that I used an absurd analogy when I asked readers to picture a Komodo Dragon (Varanus komodoensis) so that they can better imagine a Nile Monitor (Varanus niloticus). Presumably I did this because a Komodo Dragon is a large dangerous creature and I wanted everyone to be afraid of Nile Monitors.

    I would venture a guess that just about everybody knows what a Komodo Dragon is, but does everyone also know what a Nile Monitor looks like? Probably not. However, they are both large monitor lizards in the same genus. Is it really absurd to ask the general public to picture a well-known large lizard to better understand what a different but closely-related large lizard might look like?

    An alternative could have been for me to write, “If you want to know what a Nile Monitor (Varanus niloticus) looks like, picture an Ornate Monitor (Varanus ornatus)”. Effective outreach that is not.

    While I was being labeled an “activist fraud” on that forum, another organization took the opportunity to suggest that I wrote my article as part of a scheme to get government grant money for python research.

    The United States Herpetoculturist’s Alliance (USHA), an organization that claims its mission is “conservation and education about the captive breeding of reptiles and amphibians” posted my Slate article on their Facebook page with the following caption:

“Meet David Steen, another arm chair python "expert" trying to put his hand in the till for government grant $$.”

    USHA made no effort to address any of the points I made in my article, instead they attempt to discredit me as an individual. Are they really interested in the conservation of animals or are they actually interested in protecting the right of people to own (and breed) them? Seriously, tell me what you think below.

    Do I even need to say that USHA’s claims about me are completely baseless? Based on the comments other people left on their Facebook page, I suppose I do. Here are some highlights:

"Pppfffttt ! …this guy is living proof that it's all about the cash flow !! I guess some people didn't have enough of making fools out of themselves with the big Burmese Python in the Everglades guess some just have to keep swinging hoping to make a strike."

    For the record, I’ve never made a dime related to invasive reptiles and have never written a grant proposal intending to fund any research related to invasive reptiles. So, I’m not sure how that makes me living proof that it’s all about the cash flow.

"Clearly this guy had an agenda just look at the colorful and negative discriptions [sic] he uses sway the general public that would never be used in scientific papers…" 

    You know where I do use language appropriate for a scientific paper? Scientific papers. Colorful descriptions in an article written for the general public? The horror! What is my alleged agenda, other than science outreach? I am not quite sure.

"..... guarantee most of these so called phd biology people talking how this or that snake or lizard is so bad has never owned or did a study that goes more then a few yrs ...... these snakes and lizards are not the problem the jackasses that want to banned them are .... idc if u got a phd in this or that its all theroy [sic] out of a book and u passed a few test and spent lots of money to have phd behind ur name ..... raise, breed, and house these animals once and u will see that the senators and the unknowing (phd scientists) are the problem ...." 

    I think I’m just going to let this one speak for itself but I will point out that some people are confused about the differences between the study of captive animals versus the study of wildlife populations. There also seems to be some confusion about how one earns a Ph.D.

    One of the amusing things about USHA's post is that they used a picture of Florida Senator Bill Nelson to accompany my Slate article. A few of the commenters there thought it was a picture of me and proceeded to mock "my" appearance. Check it out (it was a posting made on January 7th).

    Obviously it is inconvenient for some people that there are populations of invasive reptiles in Florida and that these populations are influencing the South Florida ecosystem. I suspect their criticisms have very little to do with the content of my article but everything to do with the fact that the pet trade has contributed to the establishment of invasive species. It is easier to label me as an “activist fraud” or suggest I am just trying to get grant money than to address this harsh truth.

    I think this controversy highlights a common misconception. Many people that keep pets are also interested in science and wildlife conservation, but clearly these things do not always go hand in hand.

Dr. David A. Steen (@AlongsideWild) researches wildlife ecology and conservation biology and blogs about his work at His copyrighted work appears here under a Creative Commons license

Creative Commons copyright says that you may copy, distribute, and transmit what he wrote, but you must attribute the text to and provide a link to that blog. You may not edit what he wrote and you may not use for commercial purposes anything he has written. Most of the photographs that appear on this blog are his, many are not. If you would like to use a photograph you have found here, contact Dt. Steen so that he may arrange for permission. If you reproduce any of his posts, include the byline (with links activated if online):

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