Friday, May 30, 2008

Tourist Bitten on Penis by Deadly Brown Snake

Story from the
A roadside toilet stop ended in pain, embarrassment and almost death for a tourist when a highly venomous snake bit the end of his penis. The deadly brown snake slithered between his legs and lunged at his manhood as he crouched on a roadside near Laura, 300km northwest of Cairns, about a month ago.

Details of the incident only came to light yesterday after they were confirmed by a paramedic. "It certainly had a swipe at him," an ambulance spokesman said yesterday. "But it didn’t envenomate him. As it came through it must have got a bit of a shock. ." The snake beat a hasty retreat, leaving its victim with a scratch, vomiting and abdomen pain. Emergency workers raced to the scene to treat the man.

The wound was wrapped in plastic in case poison had penetrated the skin but medical staff gave the man the all-clear after conducting tests. He was taken to Cooktown Hospital where he spent a night recovering. The ambulance spokesman described him as "lucky", given his near encounter with one of Australia’s most poisonous snakes. "I think he was a bit shocked and embarrassed," he said.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Snakes Alive! Reptile Cause of Outage

Article from Murray Ledger & Times
An electrical darkness blanketed Murray (Kentucky) and portions of Calloway County Tuesday morning, stalling every aspect of life that requires a current. Stoplights were blank, bank signs registered nothing and morning coffee hotspots were still. Much of the city of Murray and 6,000 West Kentucky Rural Electric Co-op customers have a large snake to thank for their morning inconveniences.

According to Tony Thompson, general manager at Murray Electric System, the snake knocked out the main substation located off of South Fourth Street sometime between 6:00 or 6:15am. About an hour later, power was restored. “The first place we started looking was there,” Thompson said. Once the problem was found, he said it didn't take long to get the city back online. The MES website notes, "Power was knocked out to a good portion of Tuesday morning when a snake crawled into high voltage equipment at one of our substations. Mother Nature can be one of the biggest enemies of electric power!"

The snake also affected the eastern portion of Calloway County whose West Kentucky Rural Electric power supply comes from the Fourth Street substation. Jeremy Greer, construction foreman for West Kentucky RECC, said the reach of the outage stretched along Ky. 94 East to Highway 1346. The Calloway County Sheriff's Department reportedly received several calls from that area and also along Ky. 121 South. A Murray Police Department dispatcher reported it was a “hectic” morning, but there were no “major problems.”

The fire department responded to fire alarms, which the dispatcher said is common when the power goes out. Traffic signals were also out all over town. “It happens every now and then,” said Greer of an animal causing such an outage. He added that it's difficult to stop a snake from entering a substation.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Scientists Announce Top 10 New Species In Last Year

Article & photo from
The International Institute for Species Exploration at Arizona State University and an international committee of taxonomists -- scientists responsible for species exploration and classification -- recently announced the top 10 new species described in 2007. On the list are an ornate sleeper ray, with a name that sucks: Electrolux; a giant duck-billed dinosaur; a shocking pink millipede; a rare, off-the-shelf frog; one of the most venomous snakes in the world; a fruit bat; a mushroom; a jellyfish named after its victim; a life-imitates-art "Dim" rhinoceros beetle; and the "Michelin Man" plant.

The taxonomists are also issuing a SOS -- State of Observed Species [PDF] report card on human knowledge of Earth's species. In it, they report that 16,969 species new to science were discovered and described in 2006. Among the top 10 picks is an ornate sleeper ray -- Electrolux addisoni -- whose name reflects "the vigorous sucking action displayed on the videotape of the feeding ray" from the east coast of South Africa that "may rival a well-known electrical device used to suck the detritus from carpets." Also on the list is a giant duck-billed dinosaur -- Gryposaurus monumentensis -- discovered in southern Utah by a team from Alf Museum, a California-based paleontology museum on a high school campus.

From the plant kingdom is the "Michelin Man" plant -- Tecticornia bibenda -- a succulent plant in Western Australia that resembles the Michelin® tire man. And, in the category of life imitating art is a "Dim" rhinoceros beetle -- Megaceras briansaltini -- which, according to the author, looks like the Dim character from the Disney film "A Bug's Life."

"The international committee of taxon experts who made the selection of the top 10 from the thousands of species described in calendar year 2007 is helping draw attention to biodiversity, the field of taxonomy, and the importance of natural history museums and botanical gardens in a fun-filled way," says Professor Quentin Wheeler, an entomologist and director of ASU's International Institute for Species Exploration. "We live in an exciting time. A new generation of tools are coming online that will vastly accelerate the rate at which we are able to discover and describe species," says Wheeler. "Most people do not realize just how incomplete our knowledge of Earth's species is or the steady rate at which taxonomists are exploring that diversity. In 2006, for example, an average of nearly 50 species per day were discovered and named."
"We are surrounded by such an exuberance of species diversity that we too often take it for granted. Charting the species of the world and their unique attributes are essential parts of understanding the history of life and is in our own self-interest as we face the challenges of living on a rapidly changing planet," Wheeler says.
Scientists estimate there are between 2 million and 100 million species on Earth, though most set the number closer to 10 million. According to the authors of the SOS report: "There are many reasons that scientists explore Earth's species: to discover and document the results of history; to learn the species that comprise the ecosystems upon which life on our planet depends; to establish baseline knowledge of the planet's species and their distribution so that non-native pests and vectors of disease may be detected; to inform and enable conservation biology and resource management. Perhaps most compelling is curiosity about the diversity of life analogous to our quest to map the stars of the Milky Way and the contours of the ocean floor."

Another element of the institute's public awareness campaign is the co-production of a humorous video on biodiversity titled "Planet Bob," launched on YouTube last October. The video, produced with Media Alchemy of Seattle, combines live action, state-of-the-art animation, and the vocal talents of venerable TV host Hugh Downs and others. "The Web site and the video 'Planet Bob' represent new ways to present taxonomy and biodiversity, in a creative fusion between academia and popular technology," says Wheeler, who also is ASU vice president and dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.

An international committee of experts, chaired by Janine Caira of the University of Connecticut, selected the top 10 new species for this year's list.

Read the full article here.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Gatorland Unveils New Digs Today

Article & photo from
It was 18 months ago when flames tore through a Central Florida tourist attaction, leaving park owners with months of hard work ahead. They're celebrating the end of that work on Tuesday at Gatorland. The only thing left standing after the blaze was the park's signature gator mouth. Everything else is brand new and part of a $4 million expansion project, including a new gift shop, offices and pavilion.

Gatorland has been around for 60 years, and park officials said the fire in 2006 was one of their toughest times. "The whole building was burned to the ground. We had a small piece left on the north end for some administrative offices that we've been using temporarily during the last year. Everything was rebuilt brand new," Gatorland President Mark McHugh said. Officials said a faulty reptile heater ignited the fire. The park never officially closed after the fire, but they're still calling Tuesday's festivities a grand reopening.

See more of Gatorland's new facilities in WESH2's special report.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Big Reptiles, Alien Trees Hamper Everglades Fire Fight

Excerpt from National Geographic
Firefighters in Florida's Everglades National Park are encountering large, dangerous reptiles and poisonous trees as they battle a fire that has consumed about 39,000 acres since last week. Fighting the Mustang Corners blaze in the remote, trackless Everglades has "posed a lot of challenges," said Mike Dueitt, a firefighter from Florence, Mississippi. "We're seeing everything from boa constrictors and pythons to iguanas and a few alligators." When they cross paths with a large reptile, firefighters "do the best we can to work around it and move on, and wait until it clears the area before we go in," Dueitt said.

Poisonwood trees, whose effect Dueitt described as "poison ivy on steroids," also pose a hazard. At the same time crews are struggling to keep the flames away from stands of invasive melaleuca trees, which can grow more than 60 feet (18 meters) tall. "Melaleuca does create a challenge because of the very flammable, papery bark that it has," said David Hallac, chief biologist for Everglades National Park. Firefighters fear that melaleuca stands near the park's northeastern boundary could help the fire spread into the area near Fort Lauderdale and Miami, where about six million people live.

Native Species Safe?
So far experts are optimistic that the fire will have a minimal impact on the roughly 20 species of native endangered wildlife that live in the Everglades. For example, the flames have not done much damage to the habitat of the endangered Cape Sable seaside sparrow, Everglades biologist Hallac said. About 3,000 of the birds, which live only in the swamp, are left in the wild. "Overall, we've been extremely lucky, I guess, because the more important areas where the birds are nesting have been relatively unaffected," Hallac said. "Some of that was luck, but it's also due to the really hard work of the firefighters, who fought very hard to keep the fire out of those areas."

In addition, rare Florida panthers probably would move away from the fire, and crocodiles live in an area that is not threatened by the blaze, Hallac said. The park's alligators could lose some habitat, but Hallec said he didn't think there would be population declines because of the fire.

Park service and firefighting officials think the blaze was caused by human carelessness or arson.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Brunei National Museum Launches Book on Amphibians, Reptiles

Article from
A newly published book on 'Amphibians and Reptiles of Tasek Merimbun Heritage Park, Brunei Darussalam' by Brunei Museum Department is currently available for purchase. The Museum Department is also hosting an exhibition called "Kenali muzium kitani", in conjunction with the International Museum Day.

The book is a detailed guide to the amphibians and reptiles found in Tasek Merimbun. The book is a result of the inventory and training workshop on 'Herpatological Research and Management Techniques' organised at Tasek Merimbun two years ago. The editors are Indraneil, Samhan Nyawa and Joseph K Charles. Together with a detailed description of the many habitats in Tasek Merimbun, the book also boasts of pictures of the species. There are some 25 species of amphibians and 30 species of reptiles detailed in the book, which include crested toad, four-ridged toad, seep frog, rufous-sided sticky frog, copper-checked frog, saltwater crocodile, Malayan box turtle, black bearded flying lizard, Asian house gecko, Borneo striped tree skink and water monitor.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Deadly Snakes May Have Been Deliberately Dumped In Onslow County

Article from WITN TV
Officials say the two Monocled Cobras on the loose in Onslow County, North Carolina may have been dumped there by an animal rights group pushing for a ban on exotic animals. The two cobras are believed to be near Mill Farms Road off Piney Green Road in Onslow County.

Officials say they found a flyer indicating someone lost the two cobras. They believe the snakes were placed there by the group Animal Protection Institute. The group wants to make it illegal for people to own exotic animals and uses such tactics to raise awareness. Officials warn these snakes can be deadly with one bite. They urge you to stay away if you see these snakes and immediately call authorities.

According to National Geographic, the most deadly serpent aboard fictional Pacific Air Flight 121 is the Monocled cobra. Like many venomous snakes, the cobra's poison affects its victim's central nervous system. But Monocled cobra venom is so powerful that the victim's immune system goes into hyperdrive and actually begins to break down organs and muscles. Death is almost instantaneous. The Monocled cobra is named for the conspicuous design on its hood that can feature either one or two "eyes." The snake can grow up to 6.5 feet long and hunts mostly at night.

EDITORIAL: This is a heinous act. If API dumped the two cobras, their members should be charged with attempted murder. It's one thing to protest, but to put people's lives in danger as a way of making a point, is totally unacceptable.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

12-year-old Girl Caged During PETA Protest

Article from
Some parents say a PETA protest at a Ringling Brothers Barnum and Bailey Circus in Cabarrus County went too far by including a 12-year-old girl in a cage. The girl volunteered and her mother gave permission. PETA says it represents the suffering animals encounter traveling with the circus.

Circus production manager Jason Gibson says he’s seen hundreds of PETA protests in his 11 years with the circus. "This is the first time I've seen anything like this,” Gibson said. "It's very disturbing to see it like that." The 12-year-old behind the mask is Bella Jenkins. "I thought it was a really good idea,” she said. Her mother was by her side. "She doesn't see why not,” she said.

PETA alleges animal maltreatment by Ringling Brothers. "We have the utmost care for those animals 24-7,” Gibson said. Some circus-goers say the cage act outdoors is offensive compared to the ring act inside the Cabarrus Arena Events Center. "As a parent, I probably wouldn't,” said parent Amy Eller. "A girl in a cage is extreme,” said parent Emily Ronemus.

We asked PETA organizer David Salisbury if using a 12-year-old goes too far. "Kids deserve to know there are animal-free alternatives to every fun thing they can do,” Salisbury said. PETA says circus animals lose their freedom for a lifetime of cheap tricks. We asked if this was a cheap trick on PETA’s behalf. "We often have to do eye-catching demonstrations to get the attention that the animals deserve,” Salisbury said. Parents say there are plenty of ways to get a message across without including a child as a main attraction. "I don't know if that's really setting the right example for making a protest,” Gibson said.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Celebrate World Turtle Day: May 23

Article from The Humane Society
Turtles are one of the most endearing and symbolic of America's native wildlife. Turtles not only fascinate each passing generation of children, who find endless wonders under those hard shells, but they also continue to serve as a timeless role model in children's literature: the slow and steady turtle, whose patient progress always wins out against his fast but feckless competitor.

Yet the turtles' lofty status hasn't prevented humans from abusing the creature. In fact, all land, freshwater, and sea turtles are facing imminent threats to their survival, simply because of human activities. Turtles are the reptile most affected by the pet trade, not to mention the food and traditional medicine industries. Many turtle species also suffer from the effects of pollution as well as from the destructive effects of industrial fishing operations.

Despite these hardships, May is a busy month for turtles. Many have recently emerged from winter hibernation and are beginning their search for mates and nesting areas. For this reason, May 23 was designated World Turtle Day.

World Turtle Day was initiated in 2000 by the American Tortoise Rescue, a turtle and tortoise rescue organization founded in 1990 in Malibu, California. The group brings attention to turtle conservation issues and highlights ways each of us can help protect these gentle but jeopardized animals. In the spirit of World Turtle Day, we at The HSUS also have suggested actions you can take to honor these fascinating creatures.

Make sure to read the entire article here.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Scotland: Build A Pond to Help Save Threatened Newt

Article from
The decline in numbers of farm ponds has left the threatened great crested newt with fewer places to breed and struggling to survive in Scotland.
Now Scottish Natural Heritage is calling on individuals to help out, through the simple act of helping to build a pond in their garden or community.

The great-crested newt, also called the warty newt due to the lumps on its skin, is the largest of Britain's three newt species and is dark in colour, with a vivid orange belly covered in black spots. The handsome creature has been put on SNH's Species Action List, as needing conservation action.

In the most recent survey, the newts were discovered in just 100 ponds across Scotland. Although they live most of their life on land, preferring rough grassland and woodland, they need ponds in which to breed. Before the advent of tractors and taps, farms used to be covered in ponds to provide water for animals, but today there is a shortage of places for the great crested newt to breed.

As part of Scottish Biodiversity Week, SNH is asking animal lovers to help out by getting involved in projects to build ponds for the newts in their town or village, or by simply building a pond in their own garden. John McKinnell, species management adviser at SNH, said: "They are threatened across Europe due to loss of habitat. A major thing is breeding sites. They breed in ponds rather than streams or lochs. They like farm ponds, but agricultural practices have changed over the last century and now there are not the same number of ponds as there used to be. People can help to a certain extent by building ponds in their gardens. The new ponds have got to be close enough to the places where newts live for them to commute."

He said one of the best ways to help out was by joining a local group such as those within an umbrella organisation called the Amphibian and Reptile Groups of the UK. They carry out survey work to discover the locations of the newts and build ponds nearby in time for them to breed in spring. The newts usually live within 250 metres of the breeding ponds.

Read the entire article here.

Monday, May 19, 2008

WWF: Wildlife Numbers Plummet Globally

Article & photo from
The world's wildlife populations have reduced by around a quarter since the 1970s, according to a major report published Friday by the World Wildlife Fund.

Marine species have been particularly hard hit as the human population booms, while numbers of birds and, fish and animals have also gone down, said the WWF in a report.

The study comes ahead of next week's U.N. convention on biological diversity in the former West German capital Bonn, which will discuss aims to achieve a "significant reduction" in the current rate of biodiversity loss by 2010. The WWF, the world's largest independent conservation body, said it was "very unlikely" that the U.N. would meet its targets, despite the decline appearing to flatten off in recent years.

The WWF's Living Planet Index, which tracks the fortunes of nearly 4,000 populations of 1,477 vertebrate species from 1970 to 2005, showed an overall decline of 27 percent. Over-fishing and hunting, along with farming, pollution and urban expansion, were blamed.

WWF director general James Leape warned: "Reduced biodiversity means millions of people face a future where food supplies are more vulnerable to pests and disease and where water is in irregular or short supply. No one can escape the impact of biodiversity loss because reduced global diversity translates quite clearly into fewer new medicines, greater vulnerability to natural disasters and greater effects from global warming."

Read the entire article here!

Friday, May 16, 2008

Forty Baby Pythons Hatched in Entebbe

Article from
Photo from
Lutembe, a 30-year-old giant python that was rescued from Lutembe Beach Hotel last year, has become the proud mother of 40 babies. For Julius Abigaba, a reptile keeper at the Uganda Wildlife Education Centre, formerly known as Entebbe Zoo, the last two weeks were the most exciting of his life.

"It is the first time snakes are breeding at this centre," he said. "This is an achievement that gives us pride." Abigaba has been watching over the python as it was incubating a cluster of eggs slightly bigger than the size of chicken. After they lay their eggs, females will typically incubate them until they hatch. This is achieved by causing the muscles to "shiver", which raises the temperature of the body. During the incubation period, females will not eat and only leave to bask in order to raise their body temperature.

Lutembe spent the early hours of yesterday in the sun in her reptile house, which she shares with two other pythons, occasionally checking on her young ones. Her skin has started peeling off, exposing a new beautiful one. "She coils around the baby pythons most of the time," said Abigaba. "She is so protective. When caregivers go in to clean the reptile house, she hisses to scare them away."

Previously, Lutembe was living a miserable life inside a metallic cage at Lutembe Beach Hotel. Tourists used to pay sh500 to her captors. They would poke her with a metallic rod for her to turn, as part of the entertainment. "We intervened and rescued her, but she had broken some bones in the head," Abigaba explained. "This was discovered after an X-ray. She was treated and has now healed."

The centre keeps snakes and other wild animals for conservation purposes. The young ones will be relocated to a national park, according to Abigaba. "The number is too big for us to handle and wild animals belong to the wilderness."

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Legless Lizard & Tiny Woodpecker Among New Species Discovered In Brazil

Article from
Researchers discovered a legless lizard and a tiny woodpecker along with 12 other suspected new species in Brazil's Cerrado, one of the world's 34 biodiversity conservation hotspots. The Cerrado's wooded grassland once covered an area half the size of Europe, but is now being converted to cropland and ranchland at twice the rate of the neighboring Amazon rainforest, resulting in the loss of native vegetation and unique species.

An expedition comprising scientists from Conservation International (CI) and Brazilian universities found 14 species believed new to science -- eight fish, three reptiles, one amphibian, one mammal, and one bird -- in and around the Serra Geral do Tocantins Ecological Station, a 716,000-hectare (1,769,274-acre) protected area that is the Cerrado's second largest.

The lizard, of the Bachia genus, resembles a snake due to its lack of legs and pointed snout, which help it move across the predominantly sandy soil formed by the natural erosion of the escarpments of the Serra Geral. Other suspected new species include a dwarf woodpecker (genus Picumnus) and horned toad (genus Proceratophrys). "It's very exciting to find new species and data on the richness, abundance, and distribution of wildlife in one of the most extensive, complex, and unknown regions of the Cerrado," said CI biologist Cristiano Nogueira, the expedition leader. "Protected areas such as the Ecological Station are home to some of the last remaining healthy ecosystems in a region increasingly threatened by urban growth and mechanized agriculture."

The team also recorded several threatened species such as the hyacinth macaw, marsh deer, three-banded armadillo (tatu-bola), the Brazilian merganser, and the dwarf tinamou among more than 440 species of vertebrates documented during the 29-day field expedition. Comprising 21 percent of Brazil, the Cerrado is the most extensive woodland-savanna in South America. Large mammals such as the giant anteater, giant armadillo, jaguar and maned wolf struggle to survive in the fast-changing habitat also know as Brazil's breadbasket.

The expedition included 26 researchers from the University of São Paulo and its Museum of Zoology; the federal universities of São Carlos and Tocantins; and CI-Brazil. It was funded by the O Boticário Foundation for Conservation of Nature, with the support of the NGO Pequi--Pesquisa e Conservação do Cerrado (Research & Conservation of the Cerrado).

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Female Concave-eared Frogs Draw Mates With Ultrasonic Calls

Excerpt from
Most female frogs don't call; most lack or have only rudimentary vocal cords. A typical female selects a mate from a chorus of males and then --silently -- signals her beau. But the female concave-eared torrent frog, Odorrana tormota, has a more direct method of declaring her interest: She emits a high-pitched chirp that to the human ear sounds like that of a bird.

This is one of several unusual frog-related findings reported recently in the journal Nature. O. tormota lives in a noisy environment on the brushy edge of streams in the Huangshan Hot Springs, in central China, where waterfalls and rushing water provide a steady din. The frog has a recessed eardrum, said Albert Feng, a professor of molecular and integrative physiology at the University of Illinois and team leader on the new study. "In the world we know of only two species -- the other one in southeast Asia -- that have the concave ear," Feng said. "The others all have eardrums on the body surface."

Earlier studies, conducted by Feng, Jun-Xian Shen at the Institute of Biophysics at the Chinese Academy of Sciences and Peter Narins at the University of California, Los Angeles, found that O. tormota males emit -- and respond to -- unusual chirping calls from other males. These calls are audible, but also have energy in the ultrasonic range. The recessed ear structure protects an eardrum that is 1/30 the thickness of that of a normal frog, allowing it to detect very high frequency sounds. The unusual ear structure and the high-pitched calls are likely an adaptation to the noisy environment, Feng said.

The waterfalls and streams produce a steady racket predominantly in a lower frequency range than that used by the frogs. Laboratory experiments showed that the frogs could hear most of the audible and ultrasonic frequencies emitted by other O. tormota frogs. The only other animals known to use ultrasonic communication are bats, dolphins, whales and some insects. The calls are quite complex. A single O. tormota frog broadcasts its message over several frequencies at once, at harmonic intervals, like a chord strummed simultaneously on several strings.

The new analysis, conducted by Shen, Feng and Narins, found that female O. tormota frogs also emit a call that spans audible and ultrasonic frequencies. The team has not observed females vocalizing in the wild (these frogs are nocturnal and can leap up to 30 times their body length), but in laboratory settings the females emitted calls only when they were carrying eggs.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Prague Zoo Sets Out to Save Indian Gharial

Article from Yahoo News
The Prague Zoo has launched a test programme to save the Indian crocodile-like gharial from the brink of extinction with a million-dollar pavilion for the animals to bask, and hopefully reproduce, in. There are only between 150 and 200 of this species, the Gavialis gangeticus also known as the gavial, living in the wild along India's rivers today. Another 20 or so are in captivity in India, Japan, Singapore, Sri Lanka and the United States, according to figures from the Prague zoo.

"All of the conservation plans launched in the world have failed up until now. The gharial is one of the most threatened species on the planet," said Petr Veselsky, in charge of reptiles at the zoo. The new gharial pavilion -- the first such programme in Europe -- contains three males and four females from a park in Madras in southern India. They are distinguishable from crocodiles by their especially long and thin jaws, which gives a terrifying appearance despite the fact they are fish-eating and present no threat to humans.

"The final goal is to see these gharials reproduce so as to send their young to other zoos or even to release them into their country of origin," said Veselsky. He predicts it will take another 10 years for this to take place, the time for the tank's new inhabitants to reach sexual maturity. Previously abundant along the banks of rivers in India, Myanmar and Nepal, gharials have paid a heavy price for the degradation of their habitat due to river pollution, agriculture and increased river traffic.

"Last year, we found hundreds of dead gharials near the Indian Chambal river. An investigation led by a group of international veterinarians was able to show that they had fed themselves on fish contaminated with toxins," said Veselsky. Along with his colleagues, he designed the new bamboo-decorated pavilion with deep waters, sandy beaches, waterfalls, and quiet hideaways. A powerful infrared lamp heats a little island lying only centimetres away from the massive window separating the creatures from the public. "That's their favourite spot, they love to heat themselves there like in sunshine. They bask there an hour, their skin heats up to 50 degrees and then they go into the water to cool down. It's exactly what they need."

The Prague zoo shelters 4,600 animals representing some 636 different species it hopes to see grow and multiply. The gharials are not the zoo's first conservation project: its experts played a key role in the survival of the wild Przewalski horse. The zoo, a modest 111 acres (44 hectares), has been rated by Forbes Magazine as the seventh best zoo in the world, according to the Prague city website. Much credit is said to go to the zoo's dynamic young director, Petr Fejk, the first non-zoologist to head the establishment who is credited since his appointment in 1997 with boosting visitors from 400,000 to 1.3 million last year.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Snakes Aren't The Monsters Some Think They Are

Article from
Bryce Moore, 11, handles a corn snake at a program earlier in the week at Alabama Outdoors. When many people see a snake, they immediately think about trying to kill it. Others, such as 11-year-old Bryce Moore, watch the snake for a little while and then stand back as it slithers away. "Snakes are cool. You've just got to watch out for the venomous ones. There's no reason for people to kill them," said Moore, of Florence.

During a snake night program at Alabama Outdoors in Florence this week, Moore handled several of the snakes, including a 5-foot long corn snake. "I love these things," he said as the colorful reptile wrapped itself around Moore's arm.

Jack Paul, a self-professed reptile enthusiast from Killen who led the program, said snakes are killed because they are misunderstood. "When someone encounters a snake, all they need to do is step back for a moment to allow the snake to crawl away," Paul said. "Snakes are not as much of something to get excited about as people try to make them. Snakes are not out to get us."

Paul said when a snake encounters a person, the reptile will either freeze and attempt to use its camouflage to blend into the surroundings or attempt to escape by crawling away. As a last resort, a snake that feel it cannot escape will exhibit threatening behavior such as raising its head, hissing or striking at the person. He said most people bitten by snakes are attempting to catch or kill the animal. Some are bitten when they step on the snake or accidently place their hand near the animal.

"There are 7,000 to 8,000 venomous snake bites in the United States each year. On average, only five result in death," Paul said. "Fifty percent of people who are bitten by snakes had been drinking alcohol before being bitten." Fatal snake bites are rare in Alabama with an average of one death every 10 years, Paul said.

Mark Sasser, director of the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources' non-game wildlife division, said snakes play an important role in the environment by helping keep rat and mice populations under control. Small rodents are a favorite food of many snake species. Paul said many people who kill the snakes around their home wonder why they soon have an over population of rats and mice. "Snakes are unjustly persecuted," Sasser said. "If you don't mess with them, they won't bite you."

Sasser said the state agency is attempting to increase the awareness of the role snakes play in the environment. Its biologists present educational programs about snakes throughout the state in an attempt to change the mindset many people have that snakes are evil.

"There are only four species of venemous snakes in Alabama - rattlesnake, copperhead, water moccasin and coral snake," Sasser said. "If people will learn how to identify them and how to avoid them, they will know they do not have to worry about the 50 something other species that are nonvenomous. Paul said timber and pygmy rattlesnakes, copperhead and water moccasins - which are also called cotton mouths - are the only venemous species in the Tennessee Valley. Even when someone encounters a venemous snake, if they will just step back it's all over with and the situation is defused," he said.

Friday, May 09, 2008

Platypus Genome Reveals Links Between Reptiles, Mammals

Article & photo from
Scientists still don't know what to make of the duck-billed platypus, a mammal that lays eggs, has a bill like a bird and can deliver venom like a reptile. But they say they are a little closer to understanding the oddball of the animal kingdom with the publication this week of its genome sequence. An international team of researchers says the draft genome sequence of Ornithorhynchus anatinus provides scientists with a valuable resource for comparing the platypus with other mammals, and may allow them to date the emergence of mammalian traits.

"At first glance, the platypus appears as if it was the result of an evolutionary accident. But as weird as this animal looks, its genome sequence is priceless for understanding how fundamental mammalian biological processes have evolved," Francis Collins, the director of the U.S.-based National Human Genome Research Institute, said in a statement. "Comparisons of the platypus genome to those of other mammals will provide new insights into the history, structure and function of our own genome," he said.

The team found the platypus genome contains about the same number protein-coding genes as other mammals — approximately 18,500 — and shares about 80 per cent of its genes with other mammals whose genes have been sequenced. But it was the differences that scientists were most interested in. Analysis of the genome enabled scientists to match many of the platypus's unusual features with genetic sequences found in other animals, revealing a mammal that was at the crossroads between early mammal-like reptiles and most of the mammals we see today. The genetic analysis revealed, for example, that the platypus had similar milk protein genes to other mammals that produced milk for their offspring, even though it lays eggs and harboured both mammalian and reptilian genes associated with egg fertilization.

Males of the species are also capable of delivering venom through hind leg spurs, and the scientists said they found that reptile and platypus venom proteins both developed similarly but independently. The findings were published in this week's issue of the journal Nature. The consortium of researchers included scientists from the United States, Australia, England, Germany, Israel, Japan, New Zealand and Spain.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Rare Blue Iguanas Found Butchered

Story from National Geographic
Wildlife officials in the Cayman Islands are struggling to determine who killed six extremely rare blue iguanas found butchered in a nature preserve over the weekend. The reptiles were found Sunday at Queen Elizabeth II Botanical Park, a refuge for the iguanas and other wildlife on Grand Cayman Island.

The crime is a devastating blow to the species, which is found only on the small Caribbean island and is listed as critically endangered by the World Conservation Union (IUCN). Most of the remaining blue iguanas live in Queen Elizabeth Park, where a breeding program was begun in 2001. Outside the park, as few as ten of the animals are thought to survive, according to IUCN.

The six dead iguanas were found with their bodies crushed, and some had also been lacerated and partially dismembered. "This is a despicable act that was carried out by cowardly and cruel individuals," Chief Inspector Richard Barrow told the Cayman News Service. "The community … is truly sickened by this incident, and we will not stop until we find who is responsible for this senseless act." No motives or suspects were known, he added, but officials are offering a thousand-Cayman-dollar reward for information leading to an arrest.

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Biologists Study Snake Movement, Mortality

From the Semissourian
Most people don't like snakes, regardless of their role in nature. For eons, tales have been spun that have given people a general disdain for and a bad impression of snakes. Fear and misunderstanding are prevalent, leading some people to kill any snake they see, by any and every means. That's a shame, said Jason Lewis, a wildlife biologist at Mingo National Wildlife Refuge near Puxico.

"Snakes serve a very important role in the ecosystem," he said. "Snakes are designed to control pest populations and they eat a lot of frogs, turtles [and] fish." Reptiles and amphibians, Lewis added, are "very sensitive to disturbance, and can be used as indicators of environmental change." Snake mortality has become a concern at the Mingo refuge because many are run over by vehicles, whether intentionally or not, during their spring and fall migration periods. The concern has grown to the point officials have begun a study to determine just how snake populations in the refuge are being affected.

Cost-share grant
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which operates the Mingo refuge, has teamed with the Missouri Department of Conservation, Missouri State University, the Mingo Swamp Friends and others on a challenge cost-share grant to study snake movement and mortality at Mingo. "We're concerned about the number of snakes being run over, and the whole idea behind the study is to minimize mortality," Lewis said. "We want to know, 'Are pregnant females being impacted more than males?'"If they are, he said, that could potentially harm the snake population, because the females produce the young. Lewis also said biologists want to find out what exactly triggers snake migrations.

The western cottonmouth, a venomous species native to the area, was chosen as the test subject "because we knew we had a healthy population," Lewis said. In early April, Lewis and Missouri State University herpetologist Dr. Brian Green captured five males and five females at their hibernaculum, or winter hibernation location, along the rocky bluffs on the refuge's western boundary. After the snakes were transported to a safe location, Green sedated eight of them and surgically implanted a flexible radio transmitter inside their bodies, near their tails. The remaining two were sent to the university later for the procedure. The transmitters will allow officials to use radio telemetry to track the snakes' movements over the course of the next year. Officials also plan to capture and implant transmitters in five cottonmouths during the summer at the adjacent Duck Creek Conservation Area to include in their study.

Read the reminder of the article here.

Monday, May 05, 2008

Reptiles: Not Buy and Release

Article from
Throughout Florida, pet snakes, iguanas and other reptiles have found their way into public parks and wooded areas. Sometimes they escape. More often, owners set these animals free without considering the consequences. This has led to rising concern in South Florida that invasive species such as the Burmese python could endanger other animals.

In North Florida though, cold weather tends to stifle survival and reproduction, effectively heading off any ecological threats. "Generally, these species we're talking about are tropical species, so it's too cold in North Florida for them," said Kent Vliet, a University of Florida biologist. Even species who burrow, such as the African spur-thighed tortoise, can't survive in numbers, Vliet said. Green iguanas and ball pythons are the top two reptiles Jacksonville pet owners have been releasing, said Kathy Paul, owner of A Pet Lounge and Grooming in Atlantic Beach.

As the reptile industry has grown in the last decade, both have become popular pets because they're inexpensive and easy to buy, Paul said. But once at home, an aggressive iguana or a finicky python refusing food for weeks on end can find themselves out in the cold. "There are a lot of ignorant people out there who do the same thing with dogs," Paul said. "We have a reptile rescue center, so they could find them homes. Instead, they just turn them loose." Even though the reptiles being released in North Florida generally don't survive long enough to harm the area's ecosystem, Vliet said an influx of monitor lizards could pose concerns.

Their large size and damaging bite could harm humans. They could also affect other animals because of their taste for bird and alligator eggs, Vliet said. That's why he and Paul see the responsibility falling on pet owners to become educated about the reptiles they buy and avoid abandoning them. "We consider it a serious ecological pressure, people treating pets as wildlife," Vliet said. Aside from exposing the animal to suffering from extreme temperatures and a lack of food, the environment should be considered. "There could be the potential they might become established and pose threats."

Saturday, May 03, 2008

Article from the Aiken Standard
You don't get a name like cottonmouth without the chops to back it up. With its cotton-white mouth, the snake attempts to make itself look as large and fearsome as possible, like many animals. "They will give a threat display," said Dr. Whit Gibbons, ecologist at the Savannah River Ecology Laboratory.

As with all of South Carolina's venomous snakes, the cottonmouth, or water moccasin, is not overtly aggressive. However, it will stand its ground and bite if it feels a grave threat. Adult snakes are generally a dark gray, olive or brown in color. A cross-banding pattern may be seen, especially on the sides. Adult cottonmouths are fairly thick and usually between three and four feet long, but snakes as large as six feet have been recorded. The young snakes are more distinctly patterned, resembling a dark copperhead without the reddish tint. A distinctive attribute of this snake are the pits between the eyes and the nostrils.

Gibbons said a keen eye should be able to identify these pits from several feet away. These heat-sensing pits consist of two cavities separated by a membrane. They are able to detect temperature differences of as little as 1.8 degrees Fahrenheit higher or lower than that of the background. They allow the snakes to strike very accurately at the source of heat - often a bird or mammal that is potential prey.

Friday, May 02, 2008

NYPD: Monkeys And Snakes Are Service Animals, Too

Article from NewsDay
That monkey on the subway? Illegal in New York City, but not if the owner has a disability. The guy with the snake on the bus? Leave him alone. He needs it for emotional support. The New York Police Department Patrol Guide, a thick and getting thicker collection of rules and regulations, has been amended to let officers know that guide dogs for the blind are not the only creatures considered service animals -- and to give them a better understanding of which straphangers and bus riders are allowed to have members of the animal kingdom as riding partners.

Now, according to the Patrol Guide, it is not just the blind who can have service animals, but those afflicted with epilepsy, heart disease, lung disease and other medical conditions, namely those who say they need an animal to provide them psychological reassurance.

Service animals are capable of picking up items dropped by their owners, signaling for help if their owner suffers a seizure or collapses, and even working to calm those prone to panic attacks or afflicted with other forms of mental illness. Also allowed to have service animals in the transit system are professional trainers getting their animals ready for the day they will be assigned to someone with a disability, according to an internal NYPD memo. The Patrol Guide revision was made to "clarify the department's obligations under the Americans With Disabilities Act," the memo says.

The problem, however, is that under terms of the act, those with an animal on the subway or buses are not required to carry paperwork proving their disability or proving that their animal is, indeed, a service animal. That, in turn, has led to some cases of fraud, police sources say, with at least several officers reporting they've encountered riders who they suspected had no other reason for having an animal with them other than the fact they like having their animal with them. The NYPD would not elaborate on the Patrol Guide revision, a spokesman said, adding only that the guide is routinely updated. But Becky Barnes, a manager with Guiding Eyes For The Blind, a Westchester dog school that trains canines to work with the blind and visually impaired, said it is not uncommon for people to try to pass off exotic animals, such as pythons, as service animals. Typically, she says, such a claim is little more than a scam. "But," she says, "more and more doctors are writing prescriptions for people needing dogs or other animals for emotional support."

Thursday, May 01, 2008

Rescued: 300 Cambodian Reptiles, Including Endangered Species

Article from
Photo from Getty Images
Hundreds of reptiles including some endangered species were rescued from traffickers and released into their natural habitat in Cambodia, a conservation group said Thursday. Twelve endangered yellow-headed temple turtles were among the nearly 300 reptiles — weighing a total of 925 pounds — that authorities confiscated this week in Cambodia's northwestern Battambang province, the Washington, D.C.-based Wildlife Alliance said.

It said the animals were freed Wednesday following their rescue Monday, when Wildlife Alliance members were with Cambodian forestry officials and police who stopped a pickup truck taking the animals to Vietnam. Cooperation between the Wildlife Alliance and various government conservation agencies is "making significant impacts on a multimillion-dollar illegal wildlife trade in Cambodia as various trade routes and wildlife stockpile locations have been exposed," the alliance said in a statement.

Two dozen reticulated and Burmese pythons were among the cargo, which also included yellow-headed temple turtles, which are significant in Cambodian folklore and legends, the statement said. "In stone carvings on the walls of Angkorian temples, they are depicted as divine creatures of royalty; yet their numbers steadily decrease each year due to habitat loss and the illegal wildlife trade," the alliance said.

Dany Chheang, deputy director of the wildlife protection office at Cambodia's Agriculture Ministry, called the seizure the biggest in recent memory. "It was very important that we broke this case of illegal trading. These animals are a national asset," he said. The statement said an army lieutenant, Hong Try, was held for questioning about the smuggling. It did not say if he was driving the truck — which bore military license plates — or what charge, if any, he might face. It said the animals had been illegally collected in three northwestern provinces, then moved to a large-scale holding facility in neighboring Thailand before being shipped back through Cambodia en route to Vietnam.