From ANIMAL PEOPLE, August/September 1996:
The 72 Malagasy ploughshare tortoises
stolen from a captive breeding project at
the Amphijoroa Forest Park in Madagascar in
May have turned up “for sale in Prague,”
reports Allen Salzberg of the New York Turtle
and Tortoise Society. But due to corrupt
authorities, herpetologists “have little hope of
getting them or the people selling them,”
Salzberg adds. The Austrian Chelonical
Society warned in June that any members who
buy any of the stolen tortoises will be expelled.
German customs officials on July
8 announced the arrest of a 32-year-old man
caught at Augsburg with 328 tortoises
“stacked up like plates” in his luggage. The
man, who may get up to five years in prison,
reportedly “admitted selling around 3,000 rare
and protected tortoises since 1991,” either
caught or bought cheaply in Serbia.
Toru Hattori, 39, of Japan,
nabbed at Los Angeles International Airport
on June 19, on July 8 pleaded innocent to
allegedly smuggling an endangered Siamese
crocodile into the U.S. The crocodile, a
baby, died in custody on June 29.
Up to half the frog meat eaten in
F r a n c e reportedly comes from Albania,
where a frogging trade begun circa 1988 is
already “an ecological disaster,” says
University of Tirana biologist Idrix Haxhiu.
Florida softshelled turtles, found
from southern South Carolina to Mobile Bay,
Alabama, are reportedly in trouble because of
growing exports. Says Major Jim Ries of the
Florida Game and Freshwater Fish
Commission, “They’re taking them live to
Japan, where they’re a delicacy. I think
they’re considered an aphrodisiac.” The turtle
is not legally protected.
New Hampshire has joined neighboring
states in barring the capture and sale of
Eastern box turtles, Blanding’s turtles, wood
turtles, and spotted turtles. “We really don’t
know to what extent they’ve been collected for
commerce,” says New Hampshire Fish and
Game Department coordinator of non-game
and endangered species programs John Kanter,
“but we do know that there are not collectable
surpluses in the populations.” Illegally taking
a turtle now carries a fine of $150 per offense.
Dealers often “launder” illegally
captured wood turtles by claiming they come
from Ohio, even though “There are no verified
records of native wood turtles in Ohio,”
says Clemmys Interest Group Coordinator
Sheila Tuttle, of Skidmore College in
Saratoga, New York. Tuttle has asked the
Ohio Department of Natural Resources to
“implement an immediate statement of nonoccurence
of this species in Ohio, and to declare
that any and all claims of origin of wood turtles
from Ohio are invalidated and false.”
David Delgado, 24, on July 8
drew six months in jail for stealing two alligators
from his former employer, Gatorland,
of Orlando, Florida, allegedly to sell to Bud
Bennett of Hammond, Indiana for $150 each.
A warrant is out for Bennett’s arrest.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
will take comments until September 16 on a
proposal to add the copperbelly water snake to
the Endangered Species List. Imperiled by
loss of wetlands, the snake occurs in isolated
populations around the northeastern and southwestern
Indiana borders. Address Division of
Endangered Species, USFWS, Bishop Henry
Whipple Federal Building, 1 Federal Drive,
Fort Snelling, MN 55111-4056.
Officials in the Tharparkar district
of Sindh province in southern Pakistan
in June called for military help against poisonous
snakes. Driven from their burrows by an
intense heat wave that began in May, the
snakes reportedly killed at least 25 people during
the second week of June alone.
Landscaper Russell Crowe, 27, of
Orlando, Florida, kept 40 cobras in his rented
room, hoping to build a snake venom business.
County judge Philip Fougerousse dashed
that hope on June 5, giving him six months on
probation after Crowe pleaded no contest to
three charges of housing snakes in an unsafe
and unsanitary manner and allowing one to
escape. A neighbor called the Florida Game
and Freshwater Fish Commission after finding
a monocled albino cobra in her flower garden.
Whetu McGregor, Ngati Wai
tribe representative to the Auckland
Conservation Board, wants the New Zealand
Department of Conservation to quit cutting the
toes off tuataras for ID purposes. Tuataras are
sacred to her people, says McGregor, adding
“It’s not just Maori who are upset by this.
Most people would be offended. Surely there
are other ways to identify them.” DOC tuatara
program chief Don Newman said his department
has toe-clipped tuatara for nearly 50
years. Found only on some New Zealand
coastal islands, tuatara are the last of the beakheads,
a reptile order that appeared about the
same time as turtles, before the dinosaurs, but
except for the tuatara was apparently wiped
out by the Great Extinction at the end of the
Jurassic era. Tuatara have a sightless parietal
eye at the top of the skull; look like lizards but
have a skeletal structure closer to that of
dinosaurs and birds, except for their crocodile-like
skull; croak like frogs; and males
lack a penis. Having an estimated potential
lifespan of 100 years or more, tuataras don’t
breed until age 20, and have lived as long as
50 years in captivity. Modern tuataras are
found only near petrel burrows, but as they
predate birds, this is evolved behavior.
As expected since April, the U.S.
Fish and Wildlife Service on June 24 reclassified
Australian saltwater crocodiles from
“endangered” to “threatened,” and issued a
special rule allowing the import of both
Australian and Nile saltwater crocodile hides.
Florida alligator ranchers object to
a poster jointly issued by the World Wildlife
Fund and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service,
which depicts a leather handbag and an endangered
black caiman, claiming it reinforces
public mistrust of alligator products. The alligator
hide market is currently glutted with
global production of 400,000 to 500,000 hides
per year. The American alligator came off the
U.S. threatened species list in 1987.
The Chinese Alligators Research
C e n t e r in Anhui province, near Shanghai,
begun when the species was down to about
500 specimens 20 years ago, reportedly now
breeds 1,000 alligators a year. Funding comes
from visitor admissions; renting about 400
alligators to exhibition sites; and from the outright
sale of about 130 alligators.
The urban myth that abandoned
alligators thrive in city sewers was reinforced
July 1 when staff of the Brookfield Zoo
in Chicago and DuPage County Animal
Control flushed an apparently thriving threefoot
American alligator out of a culvert.
Perhaps responding to the depletion
of fish stocks, a young crocodile pulled
fisher Juan Castillo Espinosa from a bridge in
Cancun, Mexico, on June 29, and tried to eat
him. The man fought his way free.
Everglades National Park rangers
temporarily closed the popular Shark
Valley Tour to cyclists and pedestrians on
July 14, after an alligator grabbed Alexandre
Texeria, age 7, of Sao Paolo, Brazil, when
he fell off his bike––the first known alligator
attack in the park since it opened in 1947.
Parents Helio and Maria Teixeira fought off
the alligator to rescue the boy, who suffered
puncture wounds, as did his mother.
Wandering alligator complaints in
Florida rose 20% in 1995, to 13,615, reports
Jerry Thompson of the Florida Game and
Freshwater Fish Commission. University of
Florida zoologist Ken Vliet estimates that
Florida now has about one million alligators.
A Calgary Stampede concessiona
i r e reportedly sought adoptive homes for 18
iguanas on July 10, after the Calgary Humane
Society and Calgary Reptile and Amphibian
Society halted their use as dart game prizes.
The game also offered stuffed alligators.
Operating nurse Shelly Moquin,
of Middleborough, Massachusetts, on July 7
revived her 10-year-old son Brendan’s 20-inch
iguana, who had hanged himself on his leash,
by breathing into his nose and mouth “like I
was blowing out little birthday candles.”
Daughters Christie, 12, and Kelley, 5, held
the iguana and splashed water on him to help
bring him around.
Earth Island Institute, which
helped introduce “dolphin-safe” tuna labeling
six years ago, is now promoting “turtle-safe”
shrimp labeling “to help shrimpers who use
turtle excluder devices,” says Earth Island sea
turtle project chief Todd Steiner. To use “turtle-safe”
logo, shrimpers must install TEDs in
their nets, as law requires, and must let Earth
Island inspect their gear. About 50 of the estimated
10,000 shrimpers have qualified, said
Steiner, including Sinkey Boone, inventor of
the “Georgia jumper,” one of the most used
types of TED. The campaign got a boost from
the May 1 U.S. embargo of shrimp from
nations that don’t require TEDs, including
Thailand, India, Bangladesh, Pakistan,
China, the Philippines, and Honduras. The
Gulf of Mexico shrimp season opened July 15.
Two endangered Kemp’s ridley
t u r t l e s, of 22,000 hatched in captivity and
released at Padre Island National Seashore in
Texas between 1978 and 1988 returned to
Padre Island in May to lay their eggs––the first
to do so. They were among five turtles altogether
who laid eggs on Padre Island this year,
up from just seven over the past 16 years.
Florida governor Lawton Chiles
on June 13 authorized building a 900-foot fishing
pier near Juno Beach. Three sea turtle
species dug more than 1,400 nests within half
a mile of the site in 1995, twice as many as
nested there in 1990. The pier is to be closed
at night during the March/October nesting season,
and is to be lighted only as required by
the Coast Guard, to avoid confusing turtle
hatchlings, who flee light to find the ocean.
Herpetologist Zhao Kentang of the
Railway Teachers’ College in Suzhou,
China, hopes foreign hobbyists have a mate
for his rare striped turtle. Native to the lower
Yangtse River area, Zhao’s is one of only
three known specimens, all of them female.
Canberra University taxonomist
Scott Thomson and Sydney pathologist
Arthur White in June announced the discovery
of living examples of Elseya lavarackor
u m, the Gulf snapping turtle, previously
known only from Pleistocene fossils. After
Thomson matched a recent skeleton with a fossil,
White found and killed a specimen.
Thomson said the turtle is “fairly abundant” in
an isolated part of Queensland.
CIA satelite photos reveal that the
Mojave desert tortoise prefers granite soil and
dense creosote bush, avoiding soil rich in calcium.
The U.S. Army may accordingly remap
the 20,000-acre Fort Irwin tortoise sanctuary,
home to about 5,000 of the tortoises.
Louisiana State University at
Baton Rouge microbiologist Ronald Siebeling
wants the FDA to lift the U.S. ban on selling
turtles under four inches long as pets,
imposed in 1975 after several children died
from turtle-borne salmonella. U.S. turtle
farms, annually exporting about nine million
turtles, already use Siebeling’s method of
adding chlorine and antibiotics to turtle tanks
to fight salmonella. The FDA wants Siebeling
to quit using the antibiotics, to cut the risk of
causing the evolution of antibiotic-resistant
salmonella. Though turtles can live 60 years
or more, few sold as pets live even one year.