Category Archives: Conservation Issues

Massachusetts Senate Bill 368 Re Reptiles and Amphibians


On January 22, 2013, Senator Robert Hedlund introduced Massachusetts Senate Bill 368 which was referred to the Joint Committee on Environment, Natural Resources and Agriculture.  Senator Hedlund acted on petition from Kurt Schatzl, former president and current Director of the New England Herpetological Society, and both chambers have concurred on SB 368.

SB 368 only seeks to make a minor modification to existing Massachusetts law, of which the relevant portion is included below with a redline of the change implemented by SB 368.

Herp Alliance supports SB 368 and thanks Kurt Schatzl and NEHS for participating in the improvement of legislation affecting herpetofauna by expanding the list of reptiles and amphibians which may be exempted from licensure.


Section 23. Except as otherwise provided by this section or any rule or regulation made under the authority thereof, a person shall not engage in the propagation, cultivation, or maintenance of, or the dealing in, fish, birds, mammals, reptiles, or amphibians, or parts thereof, as provided in section twenty-four, twenty-five or forty-seven, without first having obtained a propagator’s license or dealer’s license, as the case may be, authorizing him so to do. For the purpose of this section, birds, mammals, reptiles and amphibians shall refer to undomesticated birds, mammals, reptiles and amphibians that are wild by nature. Nothing in this section shall be construed to prohibit the propagation, disposition, sale, possession or maintenance of domesticated species.

The director, after a public hearing, shall make and may alter, amend, or repeal, rules and regulations governing the possession, propagation, maintenance, disposition, purchase, exchange, sale or offering for sale of fish, birds, mammals, reptiles or amphibians, or parts thereof, protected by this chapter, and may issue licenses in accordance with such rules and regulations.

The director shall draw up a special exemption list of fish, birds, mammals, reptiles and amphibians. Animals to be thus listed shall meet the following criteria: (1) accidental release of the fish, bird, mammal, reptile or amphibian will not result in an adverse effect on the ecology of the commonwealth; (2) the animal in captivity, or escaped therefrom poses no substantial danger to man, by either injury or disease; (3) proper care of the animal is no more demanding in any major respect than proper care of common domestic animals; and (4) trade in the fish, bird, mammal, reptile or amphibian has no significant adverse effect on the wild population of such animal in any of its natural habitats. No animal listed in any category of the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources’ Red Data Books shall be listed, with the exception of reptiles and amphibians listed in the categories of Least Concern (LC), 4 Data Deficient (DD) or Not Evaluated (NE); no animal protected by either federal endangered species law or by section 4 of chapter 131A shall be listed. The special exemption list may be altered by the director after a public hearing. Any individual may possess as a pet, without a license, any animal on the special exemption list, and may continue to do so in case of subsequent removal of such animal from the list, for the lifetime of his animal, contingent upon evidence of acquisition of the animal while so listed.

US HR 576 and Conservation Through Captive Breeding

On February 6, 2013, U.S. Representative Steve Stockman (R-Texas) introduced House Resolution 576, which was referred to the Committee on Natural Resources.

Although not related to herpetofauna, HR 576 recognizes that, “Captive breeding programs are an essential part of re-establishing endangered species populations.”  It further recognizes that, “Banning the hunting of an unendangered species in the United States actually places overseas endangered populations in danger of extinction by removing any incentive to breed and maintain them.”

Dama Gazelle

A biologist and executive director of the Fossil Rim Wildlife Center in Glen Rose, tells The Houston Chronicle, ‘In this instance, Texas ranchers have done an astonishing job of rebuilding three species of African antelope, one of which is extinct in the wild. When it comes to saving a species, government on its own cannot save those species. The private sector has to get involved.’  (HR 576 at ¶ 4.)  (Emphasis added)

HR 576 was proposed in response to opposition from an animal rights group seeking to ban the hunting of certain species of antelopes and gazelles.

Herpetoculture needs to bring this kind of reasoned thinking to our animals.  We applaud Rep. Stockman on resisting animal rights propaganda and on the introduction of HR 576.

Conservation Through Captive Breeding ~ Herp Alliance

DNA tests show Lonesome George may not have been last of his species

DNA analysis discovered 17 hybrid tortoises which can trace ancestry to Chelonoidis abingdoni, the species thought to have gone extinct with the death of Lonesome George this summer. The age of some of the hybrids found on a remote island in the Galapagos suggests that there may be purebred individuals still alive on a remote part of Isabela Island.  

When the giant tortoise Lonesome George died this summer, conservationists from around the world mourned the extinction his species. However, a genetic analysis by Yale University researchers of tortoises living in a remote area of a Galapagos Island suggests individuals of the same tortoise species may still be alive — perhaps ancestors of tortoises thrown overboard by 19thcentury sailors.

The study was published in the journal Biological Conservation.

On the remote northern tip of Isabella Island, the Yale team collected DNA from more than 1,600 giant tortoises and discovered that 17 were ancestors of the species Chelonoidis abingdoni, native to Pinta Island of which Lonesome George was the last known survivor. The 17 tortoises are hybrids, but evidence suggested a few might be the offspring of a purebred C. abingdoni parent. Five of these tortoises are juveniles, which suggested to researchers that purebred individuals of the species may still live on the rocky cliffs of Isabella in an area called Volcano Wolf.

“Our goal is to go back this spring to look for surviving individuals of this species and to collect hybrids,” said Adalgisa “Gisella” Caccone, senior research scientist in the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology and senior author on the study. “We hope that with a selective breeding program, we can reintroduce this tortoise species to its native home.”

Volcano Wolf where DNA samples were collected is 37 miles away from Pinta Island. Scientists do not believe ocean currents could have carried giant tortoises to Isabella Island. They note that Volcano Wolf is next to Banks Bay, where in the 19th century sailors of naval and whaling vessels discarded giant tortoises collected from other islands when they were no longer needed for food. A previous genetic analysis of these same tortoises had discovered tortoises with genetic ancestry of C. elephantopus, a species from Floreana Island that had been hunted to extinction in its home range. The members of these marooned tortoise species then mated with indigenous tortoises, researchers suggest.

Yale and the Galapagos Conservancy hope to collect hybrids and any surviving members of both Pinta and Floreana Island species and begin a captive breeding program that would restore both species. The Conservancy, Galapagos National Park, National Geographic Society, The Eppley foundation, The Paul and Bay Foundation and the Turtle Conservation Fund supported the research.

“These giant tortoises are of crucial importance to the ecosystems of the Galapagos Islands, and the reintroduction of these species will help preserve their evolutionary legacy,” said Danielle Edwards, postdoctoral research associate at Yale and lead author on the study.

Other Yale authors of the study were Edgar Benavides, Ryan C. Garrick, Kristin B. Dion, and Chaz Hyseni.

Source:  By Bill HathawayReprinted from Yale News, November 15, 2012

New York Times Article on Python Bans


This article was originally published in the New York Times on March 5, 2010

Andrew Wyatt

Andrew Wyatt , a python breeder, is president of the US Herp Alliance and the past president of USARK.

The position of Interior Secretary Salazar on the proposed rule change adding nine constrictors to the injurious wildlife list will have a rough time in the light of real scientific or legal scrutiny.


There are so many fairy tales promoted as fact that it is difficult to decide where to start. The most repeated misstatement is that the population of pythons in the Everglades is the result of irresponsible owners releasing their charges once they have grown too large or difficult to be maintained.

That is false. There is no doubt that individuals have released pythons, but evidence suggests that they are not the ones responsible for the feral population in the Everglades.

There was a genetics study done by the National Park service and Florida International University indicating that the pythons in the Everglades are almost genetically identical. This points away from a slow introduction over time of many varied specimens and indicates a more isolated and catastrophic event such as Hurricane Andrew destroying a single breeding facility or importer of all like animals.

According to Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, as many as half or more of the pythons in the wild died during Florida’s recent cold snap.

It is confirmed that all of the pythons in the outdoor facility run by the U.S. Department of Agriculture in Gainesville died. The word is that all of the pythons with radio markers being studied by the National Park Service in the Everglades died as well.

It is also said that all of the pythons in the outdoor experiment at the Savannah River Ecological Lab in Aiken, S.C., also died. Neither the park service nor the Savannah River Ecological Lab will confirm or deny the death of their study groups. This all demonstrates that this is a state problem in Florida and not a national problem worthy of listing on the Lacey Act. The U.S. Association of Reptile Keepers’ scientists reiterate that Burmese pythons can not survive in the wild north of Lake Okeechobee for more than a short time.

The “science” being forwarded by the Fish and Wildlife Service and the U.S. Geological Survey has serious problems as demonstrated by the recent cold in Florida. It has been criticized as “not scientific” and “not suitable for use as the basis for legislative or regulatory policy” by a group of independent scientists that hail from institutions like the University of Florida and the National Geographic Society.

Under the light of day the public will see that the pythons in the Everglades are currently being protected by the National Park Service as a study group. It is illegal for anyone to remove or kill pythons in the national park, the epicenter of the population. Only on state lands can they be extirpated. The federal government position is that no one but park service staff can eliminate pythons in the Everglades National Park, but they don’t have the staff to address the issue.

If enacted, the rule change to the federal Lacey Act would create a situation where millions of Americans would be in possession of “injurious wildlife” and potentially subject to prosecution. There are approximately two million boas and pythons that would be subject to a rule change currently in captivity in 48 states.

A much larger problem, feral cats, a serious problem in Florida and all the other states, is not being considered for listing because too many people already own them.

Pythons are only a problem in south Florida, yet are being considered for a federal controls, even though millions are in captivity.

Komodo Dragon Eggs Hatched at Memphis Zoo

By Erika N. Chen-Walsh


Fewer than 20 zoos in the United States have successfully bred Komodo dragons, and only approximately half of those who have done have been able to do it multiple times. However, the Memphis Zoo has recently hatched baby Komodo dragons for the third time in just a bit more than a year.  This is good news for this endangered species. Fewer than 4,000 are believed to survive, on the eastern Indonesian islands of Komodo.

“It certainly is significant (for) any institution that is producing dragons,” said Rick Haeffner with the Denver Zoo. “For very many years, U.S. zoos had dragons, but they weren’t successfully reproduced until the early ’90s.”

The baby dragons began hatching from eggs that are the  size of potatoes on Jan. 2nd to parents Hollywood Jeff and Norberta.  

Congratulations to the Memphis Zoo, Hollywood Jeff and Norberta on their progress in conservation through captive breeding!

Captive Bred Chinese Alligators Breeding In The Wild In China

From July 18, 2009

chinese alligators

At the International Congress for Conservation Biology, convened by the Society for Conservation Biology in Beijing, China (July 11-16, 2009), it was  announced that critically endangered alligators in China have a new chance for survival in that Chinese alligators had been successfully reintroduced into the wild and are now multiplying on their own.

The alligator hatchlings—15 in number—are the offspring of a group of alligators that includes animals from the Bronx Zoo. The baby alligators represent a milestone for the 10-year effort to reintroduce the Chinese alligator on Chongming Island, located at the mouth of China’s Yangtze River.

“This is fantastic news,” said WCS researcher Dr. John Thorbjarnarson, one of the world’s foremost experts on crocodilians and a participant in the project. “The success of this small population suggests that there’s hope for bringing the Chinese alligator back to some parts of its former distribution.”

Plans to reintroduce Chinese alligators started in 1999 with a survey conducted by WCS, the Anhui Forestry Bureau, and the East China Normal University in Anhui Province, the only remaining location where the reptiles are still found in the wild in what is a small fraction of the alligator’s former range. The results of the survey were dire, with an estimate of fewer than 130 animals in a declining population.

An international workshop on the species was held in 2001, followed by recommendations for the reintroduction of captive bred alligators. The first three animals released in Hongxing Reserve of Xuancheng County in Anhui in 2003 were from the Anhui Research Center of Chinese Alligator Reproduction (ARCCAR).

To ensure the maximum genetic diversity for the effort, project participants imported 12 more animals to Changxing Yinjiabian Chinese Alligator Nature Reserve from North America, including four from the Bronx Zoo. From this group, three animals from the U.S. were released in 2007 along with three more alligators from Changxing. The alligators were given health examinations by veterinary professionals from WCS’s Global Health Program and the Shanghai Wildlife Zoo and fitted with radio transmitters for remote monitoring before being released.

Experts reported that the reintroduced alligators successfully hibernated, and then in 2008, bred in the wild.

With a former range that covered a wide watershed area of East China, the Chinese alligator—or “tu long,” which means “muddy dragon”—is now listed as “Critically Endangered” on IUCN’s Red List of Threatened Species and is the most threatened of the 23 species of crocodilians in the world today. It is one of only two alligator species in existence (the other is the better known, and much better off, American alligator).

The Yangtze River, where the reintroduction of these alligators took place, is the third longest river in the world (after the Amazon and the Nile) and is China’s most economically important waterway. The world’s largest hydro-electric dam—the Three Gorges Dam—is also located on the river. The high levels of development along the river have become a challenge for native wildlife; in 2006, a comprehensive search for the Yangtze River dolphin, or baiji, didn’t find any, although one isolated sighting of a dolphin was made in 2007.

Other participants in the project include the East China Normal University, Shanghai Forestry Bureau, Changxing Yinjiabian Chinese Alligator Nature Reserve, and Wetland Park of Shanghai Industrial Investment (Holdings) Co. Ltd.

The project is being supported by the Ocean Park Conservation Foundation, Hong Kong.

The Year of the Snake at the Oregon Zoo

Photo by Michael Durham, courtesy of the Oregon Zoo.
Photo by Michael Durham, courtesy of the Oregon Zoo.

By Erika N. Chen-Walsh

The Oregon Zoo will be featuring its 15′ Burmese python, Bubba in the spotlight this month beginning on February 10, 2013 in celebration of the start of the Chinese Lunar New Year. According to Chinese astrology, this one will be the Year of the Snake, and the zoo will be offering free admission on February 10th as part of its celebration.

Visitors to the zoo Feb. 10 will have the opportunity to have an up-close encounter with a live snake, and learn more about conserving endangered Asian wildlife.

“Celebrating the Lunar New Year helps us bring attention to Asian animals that are imperiled, including snakes,” said Kim Smith, zoo director. “We want visitors to make a connection with the animals here — even the cold-blooded ones — so that they leave the zoo wanting to make the world a better place for wildlife.”

The snake is the sixth animal featured in the 12-year cycle of the Chinese zodiac and traditionally symbolizes intelligence and grace.

Burmese pythons, the vilified subject of Florida’s grisly Python Challenge, have generally docile dispositions and are native to tropical  jungles and grassy marshes of Southeast Asia.  Habitat depletion and hunting for their skins and flesh have landed these graceful giants on the threatened species list.

Snakes Stir Our Fascination, and Of Course Fear

All shake and no bite. This snake is harmless, but it shakes the end of its tail to pretend it's a rattler and shoots its head forward like it is going to bite, but doesn't.

By Robert Hughes for Florida Today
Reprinted from Florida Today

Bryan Hocknull had something of a confession to make.

“My wife believes there’s such a thing as a hoop snake that puts its tail in its mouth to make itself into something of a hula hoop so it can roll down hills and attack people,” he said. “And she has a graduate degree.”

The Port St. John resident shook his head in disbelief after giving his worst example of what he called the “demonization of snakes.” The admission is particularly difficult for him because he’s an outdoorsman who’s “always” outdoors. And he loves snakes.

“Outdoors people are out there all the time, and we relish a sighting of any animal,” he said. “I remember when I saw my first sidewinder (snake) go by in the sand. It just mesmerized me the way it whipped itself along, sideways.”

Florida has become the home for four non-native species of snakes, including the Burmese Python, which made the news recently as the target of a hunt aimed to reduce its harm on native wildlife.

It is also home to 46 species of native snakes, but only six of those species are venomous: the copperhead, cottonmouth (water moccasin), timber, diamondback and pigmy rattlesnakes, and the coral snake.

Only about six people die in the United States from snake bites a year, which makes it nine times more likely a person will be killed by lightning. And about one in 37,500 people gets bitten, so odds are small a person will even get hurt by one.

Still, when Shelly Mungua of Wildstock Photography in Lakeland gave some tips on identifying snakes during a presentation at Brevard Community College in Titusville last week, her main tip was, “Don’t mess with anything you’re not sure about.”

She gave as an example of the remarkable similarity between the venomous coral snake and the harmless milk snake, which mimics the coral snake’s colors to protect itself. The tricky difference between the two brightly color-banded snakes is summarized by the saying: “Red on yellow, kill a fellow; red on black, friend of Jack.”

“But, boy! It’s easy to get that little ditty wrong, and then you’re in big trouble,” Mungua said. And since even some non-venomous snakes can bite, she said it’s best to leave all of them alone.

“Besides, they normally try to flee and will bite only when threatened,” Mungua said.

She then let the audience handle live snakes and reptiles, which was a big hit, especially with the children who were apparently behind in their animal “demonizing” skills.

“Ooh, I want to take him home!” one young girl said as a milk snake wrapped her arm like a bright bracelet.

Mungua explained that snakes are very helpful because they eat rodents, insects and other snakes as well as being food for other prey.

There are outdoors people who go on what Mungua called “herping” trips to view reptiles, just as birders go birding. But Hocknull is among those who only sees them by chance in the wild.

“Actually, most of the snakes I see are in my yard,” he said. “Just a few days ago, I found a tiny ring-necked snake in my living room and I couldn’t believe how beautiful and calm it was when I held it.

“But then I realized I had to get it the heck out of the house before my wife saw it.”

DNA Reveals Mating Patterns of Critically Endangered Sea Turtle

New University of East Anglia research into the mating habits of a critically endangered sea turtle will help conservationists understand more about its mating patterns.

Research published today in Molecular Ecology shows that female hawksbill turtles mate at the beginning of the season and store sperm for up to 75 days to use when laying multiple nests on the beach.

It also reveals that these turtles are mainly monogamous and don’t tend to re-mate during the season.

Because the turtles live underwater, and often far out to sea, little has been understood about their breeding habits until now. The breakthrough was made by studying DNA samples taken from turtles on Cousine Island in the Seychelles.

The hawksbill turtle (Eretmochelys imbricata) was listed as critically endangered in 1996 by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), largely due to a dramatic reduction in their numbers driven by the international trade in tortoiseshell as a decorative material – an activity which was banned in the same year.

The Seychelles are home to the largest remaining population of hawksbill turtles in the western Indian Ocean. Cousine Island is an important nesting ground for the hawksbill and has a long running turtle monitoring program. It is hoped that the research will help focus conservation efforts in future.

Lead researcher Dr David Richardson, from UEA’s school of Biological Sciences, said: “We now know much more about the mating system of this critically endangered species. By looking at DNA samples from female turtles and their offspring, we can identify and count the number of breeding males involved. This would otherwise be impossible from observation alone because they live and mate in the water, often far out to sea.

“We now know that female turtles mate at the beginning of the season – probably before migrating to the nesting beaches. They then store sperm from that mating to use over the next couple of months when laying multiple nests.

“Our research also shows that, unlike in many other species, the females normally mate with just one male, they rarely re-mate within a season and they do not seem to be selecting specific ‘better quality’ males to mate with.

“Understanding more about when and where they are mating is important because it will help conservationists target areas to focus their efforts on.

“It also lets us calculate how many different males contribute to the next generation of turtles, as well as giving an idea of how many adult males are out there, which we never see because they live out in the ocean.

“Perhaps most importantly, it gives us a measure of how genetically viable the population is – despite all the hunting of this beautiful and enigmatic species over the last 100 years.

“The good news is that each female is pairing up with a different male – which suggests that there are plenty of males out there. This may be why we still see high levels of genetic variation in the population, which is crucial for its long term survival .This endangered species does seem to be doing well in the Seychelles at least.”

Lead author Karl Phillips, a PhD student in UEA’s school of Biological Sciences, added: “This is an excellent example of how studying DNA can reveal previously unknown aspects of species’ life histories.”


The research was funded by UEA and the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) Biomolecular Analysis Facility (NBAF).

‘Reconstructing paternal genotypes to infer patterns of sperm storage and sexual selection in the hawksbill turtle’ by David S. Richardson, Karl P. Phillips, and Tove H.Jorgensen (all UEA) and Kevin G. Jolliffe, San-Marie Jolliffe and Jock Henwood (Cousine Island) is published by the journal Molecular Ecology on Monday,

Tortoise Center Wants Out of the Shelter Business

This article is from the Las Vegas Review-Journal.  The Desert Tortoise Conservation Center, a federal facility, is moving to discontinue accepting more than 1,000 unwanted tortoises per year and is considering partnering with HSUS or another animal group to take over the function of tortoise adoption.  As a community, we should be part of the solution to tortoise rescue in Nevada. Who can help?