Friday, February 3, 2012

Friday Roundup-Rattlesnake Festivals and New Vipers Discovered

Making Strides in Georgia: In recent weeks, there have been many news stories coming out of Georgia that demonstrate how committed individuals and organizations have been making great strides in reptile conservation.

I have written previously about rattlesnake roundups in the southeastern United States (as have others). These events encourage people to catch rattlesnakes over the course of the year and transport them to one of a handful of Georgia and Alabama towns. At the roundups, the snakes are displayed, generally mistreated, and then killed. Many people who support these events dismiss critics as simply animal-rights fanatics. Although it is true that the individual animals captured for the roundups are killed, there are also concerns about wildlife populations and their habitats. Recent research has demonstrated that the sizes of the rattlesnakes brought into the roundups are decreasing over time, this is a sure-sign that populations are being over-harvested. In addition, collecting rattlesnakes often involves techniques that are damaging to natural habitats, like pouring gasoline down Gopher Tortoise burrows.

Many conservation organizations have offered assistance to roundup organizers if they wanted to transition to more wildlife-friendly events, but these offers have generally not been well-received.

That's not entirely true. Fitzgerald, Georgia stopped rounding up rattlesnakes and now holds a wild chicken festival; I encourage everyone to support that city by attending this annual event.

But recently, some big news from Claxton, Georgia. The Evans County Wildlife Club, which has organized the Claxton Rattlesnake Roundup since 1968, will no longer buy or sell wild rattlesnakes. Appropriately, they have switched the name of their event to the Claxton Rattlesnake and Wildlife Festival. From the article I link to above, the president of the Evans County Wildlife Club states,


 “We want to shift gears from a rattlesnake roundup where everybody came to see rattlesnakes to a wildlife festival where we’re promoting wildlife and educating people about wildlife and the conservation of wildlife. I think we can open this event up and the possibilities for our promoting and protecting wildlife are endless.”


I urge everyone to support the decision of the Evans County Wildlife Club by attending their festival, in the second week of March. Kudos to Claxton and all the organizations that helped assist with the transition.


Also from Georgia is the recent news that people will no longer be able to harvest as many turtles as they want. In the last few years, a lot of concern has been raised about the commercial exploitation of freshwater turtles. Apparently, people have been trapping turtles and then exporting these animals to other countries, where they are eaten. If it was only a few turtles, there would not have been much fuss, but we are talking about thousands upon thousands of our turtles being shipped off each year. 


In response to this threat to our native turtle populations, several southeastern states quickly adopted regulations that would limit this unregulated exploitation. But, Georgia was slow to act. Now, they've made up for their tortoise pace. Trappers can still harvest turtles, but the scale of this activity has been reduced to help ensure Georgia's turtles don't disappear overseas.


Congratulations to Georgia for working to stop unregulated harvest of their native species.


A New Species of Viper in Tanzania: Researchers have identified a new species of viper from the mountains of Tanzania. The exact location is being kept secret so snake-fanciers do not invade the area to collect the snake, which may already be highly imperiled. In fact, it has been suggested that the species is critically endangered because of the loss of its habitat. In response, the researchers have initiated some non-traditional conservation strategies.


What Does a Binturong Butt Smell Like? Many zookeepers will already know the answer to this question (popcorn). But, this article, which explains how some animals use scents to communicate, reminded me of the scent of Eastern Diamondback Rattlesnake musk (which I think smells like Doritos).

How Are Snakes Related? The business of figuring out how different species of snakes are related is a complicated matter. If you were at all intrigued by the discussion of snapping turtle genetics in the comments section of my last blog post, check out this relatively technical blog explaining snake relationships.


Rat Snake Freakout: Finally, just for fun. Here is another example of a harmless Florida species being mistaken for an exotic python.



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Much of what I write is based on my experience in the field. However, I also rely on the research of others. Links to relevant scientific articles are provided below.

D. B. Means (2009). EFFECTS OF RATTLESNAKE ROUNDUPS ON THE EASTERN DIAMONDBACK RATTLESNAKE (CROTALUS ADAMANTEUS) Herpetological Conservation and Biology, 4, 132-141

Brown, D., Farallo, V., Dixon, J., Baccus, J., Simpson, T., & Forstner, M. (2011). Freshwater turtle conservation in Texas: harvest effects and efficacy of the current management regime The Journal of Wildlife Management, 75 (3), 486-494 DOI: 10.1002/jwmg.73

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