THE AUSTRALIAN HERP SCENE AS OF EARLY 2003
488 Park Road
Park Orchards, Victoria, 3114, Australia.
E-mail: (see bottom of webpage)
Originally published in 2003 in the Bulletin of the Chicago Herpetological Society 38(8):157-165, 38(10):193-203, 38(12):233-239.
FROM RARE TO LESS RARE
This entire article was written as of end 2002, early 2003, so the following is more or less current for that date, even if you read it in several parts and some time after the above date.
Now unless you've been living in a cave or on Mars, you'd be familiar with the major downs and ups at the Australian Reptile Park just north of Sydney.
That includes the world's first breeding of Rough-scaled Pythons (Morelia carinata). But more on that one shortly.
Now the story starts a few years ago, when they moved their entire facility from the old spot just north of Gosford (Wyoming) to a better spot just south of Gosford (Somersby).
The new spot was better because it was closer to the main market, namely Sydney, and effectively on the main road there.
The old Park was built on the main highway as well, but about two or three decades ago, a new highway was built that effectively bypassed the park and the road took most of the business with it.
So the move by the Australian Reptile Park was a bold one, but it had to be done if the park was to remain a viable concern.
Although at the time of the move, it was touted as the first time that a zoo in Australia had moved, that wasn't really the truth although most of the media bought it.
Anyone whose read Smuggled would know that Sydney's main zoo (now known as Taronga) made a few moves before it came to rest at its current Mosman site.
But that was all so long ago, few people would remember this anyway.
Other Australian zoos have changed location as well, but I won't start listing them here.
But let's not underestimate what John Weigel, then manager Rob Porter and the crew did when they packed up and moved shop about 10-20 km down the road.
Carting loads of snakes, crocodiles, kangaroos, other mammals, birds, cages and the like is never easy, especially on the scale of what they had to do.
If you are not from Australia and land in Sydney for a holiday, the Australian Reptile Park is definitely worth checking out.
Now as for the Rough-scaled Pythons, the story of them began many years back - to the early 1980's in fact. You see it was about then that Laurie Smith of WA Museum described the species from an animal taken some time earlier by a museum collecting expedition in Australia's north-west.
As it happened, the snake had been known for quite some time before Smith finally got around to publishing his description.
However the WA Wildlife department otherwise known as CALM has been so tough on issuing collect permits for the snakes that no one was ever allowed to collect any.
Weigel and others went to the area looking for the snakes and evidently had no trouble finding them.
After all they are just a weird-looking Carpet Snake and like all in the genus Morelia, seem to be reasonably common in undisturbed habitat where they occur.
However like I already said, no one was allowed to collect the animals.
Were they under threat from collectors?
But since when has that made a difference to the bloody-minded bureaucrats here in Australia who just love to enforce rules, rules and more rules against everyone (except themselves).
But after years of intense lobbying by Weigel and continued embarrassment of the department's officials through government inquiry after inquiry that highlighted the errors of CALM's ways, the department finally buckled under the pressure and allowed Weigel to be the first to legally obtain some of the snakes to bring into captivity.
Now John Weigel's no slouch at these sorts of things and it didn't take him long to get about four of them back to NSW to try to breed them.
Then at about 12.30 AM on Sunday July 16, 2000 the brand new Australian Reptile Park burnt to the ground. News reports said the fire was caused by an electrical fault.
The main building which housed virtually all the 500 odd reptiles was wiped from the face of the earth - taking all the reptiles inside with it.
For the Reptile Park owners it was particularly bad. Losing the park just weeks before the Olympics tourist surge was bad enough. Losing the reptiles as well made it a double whammy. Particularly when the authorities here make it so hard for people to obtain reptiles legally.
However the Reptile Park people had a few bits of luck on their side and they worked well with what they had.
Firstly the Rough-scaled Pythons were being housed at John Weigel's private home, not at the park.
That was meant to be a secret, (and for security reasons), but it soon became apparent after the fire, when everyone started to ask about the pythons.
After all, they were the most notable reptiles that they had.
This meant that the attempted breeding program could continue.
The park was insured, so it meant that rebuilding the million dollar facility was a mere formality.
Weigel, Porter and the crew seized on the opportunity to iron out minor defects in the original set-up as they rebuilt it.
And then there were the reptiles.
Local private keepers offered the park more than they needed to get re-established. Even the NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service, usually a major headache, actually did the right thing for a change and allowed the Reptile Park people to recapture a few specimens that they needed.
Of course the fact that the Reptile Park is a well-known tourist, educational and venom supply facility certainly helped. The department was wise not to get into a public brawl by going slow on issuing permits.
It was a bit over a year after they legally caught the snakes before Weigel and company got their first Rough-scaled Python eggs hatching (on or about 2 January 2001). I think they were incubating about eight of them - but my number could be wrong, so stay tuned for a paper to be published on this by Weigel at some later stage.
Then you'll get the exact details.
And yes, it was probably the most widely publicized herp breeding in this country's history.
What did the young snakes look like?
Baby Carpets of course, and with a similar pattern to the parents.
And what are these snakes most like?
In my view, Bredl's Pythons (Morelia bredli).
But the Rough-scaled Python breeding wasn't the only success here in Australia in the summer of 2000-2001 (remember our seasons are opposite to the Northern Hemisphere).
Tim Mensforth (of Ultimate Reptiles fame) cranked out a load of baby Green Pythons (Chondropython viridis) and so too did Brian Barnett and a fellow herper working as another team.
A similar pattern happened the next summer and so for the first time in a long time (actuallt eh first time ever in Australia), there are starting to be quite a few Green Pythons in captivity here.
No doubt that upset a few wildlife bureaucrats who seem to have embarked on a ruthless campaign to eliminate the species from captive collections here.
What did that all mean. Snakes that should be available for a few hundred dollars instead cost many thousands oh and yes, there's a steady flow of them being smuggled in from Europe, New Guinea, the USA or anywhere else that people here can get them from.
Why are they coming in?
It's the cheapest way for people to get them.
What's my view of Green Pythons?
My advice is stick to carpets. They're not as snappy.
I reckon that if Green Pythons weren't green and they were more readily available in the pet trade, few people here in Australia would want them.
Is that likely to happen in the near future?
Bob Buckley's war with the Queensland NPWS and John O'Shea in particular remains an ongoing saga.
The early parts of the battle were covered in Smuggled-2, are probably known to most readers and are not repeated here. The whole saga started in 1994 with the "Operation Birdman" raids on Buckley's home, which led to the initial seizure of his Green Pythons.
In September 1999, Buckley was convicted in Herberton Court on charges of having tainted (illegally obtained) snakes.
DNA evidence given by the department and scientists it employed led to the magistrate declaring that the snakes allegedly bred by Buckley had in fact been derived from other (probably wild) sources.
The basis of the finding was that the DNA evidence indicated that the snakes had four different parents instead of one, as would have been the case if Buckley had bred them (as he claimed).
Buckley was fined $10,700, and sentenced to 21 weeks jail (with 18 suspended for two years).
He also had to repay $47,000 in 'profits' from 11 snakes he'd sold to breeders in other states.
The case was the first time in Queensland's history that someone had been jailed for a fauna offence.
Buckley's lawyers said that Buckley denied the allegations against him and had commenced an appeal.
They said that the DNA evidence was not convincing and that it was so vague that the 'expert witness' had been unable to identify conclusively whether the snakes had derived from Australia or New Guinea.
The lawyers also said that the magistrate had evidently made up his mind to convict Buckley before he'd heard a single word of evidence.
There was another appeal and this time Buckley won.
As a result of his immense financial losses through the affair he's now taking legal action against the Queensland National Parks and Wildlife Service (QNPWS) seeking financial compensation (damages).
While talking Chondros, the snakes have been illegally imported into Australia in their hundreds over recent years.
And yes, most have come in through the postal system.
They sell on the local black market for about $1-2 thousand dollars each or $5,000 'with paper'.
Most unlicenced specimens are held in NSW, which isn't surprising given that the state is Australia's most populous.
Here's a story that the newspapers got completely wrong.
It was in the summer of 1999 that the Melbourne media reported on a case where several bags of live reptiles, including Water Pythons (Katrinus fuscus) were found on the side of a road near Bendigo, an hour's drive north of Melbourne.
A passerby had seen the bags which held the snakes move as he drove past and he called the local police and wildlife officers.
The newspaper story said that police were looking for a person who had illegally 'dumped' the snakes by the road and left the to die in the summer heat.
But I knew the real story immediately.
Let me ask you one simple question.
Why would someone in Victoria drive 4,000 km north of their home to illegally capture a load of snakes simply to come home and dump them on the side of the road?
Can't answer the question?
Nor can I.
It was obvious that someone had gone north to capture the snakes and then on the way home they'd stopped their car for a rest-break or similar.
Due to the heat, they'd taken the snakes out of the car and stored them underneath it while the car was parked.
Then when they got back in and drove off, they'd forgotten about the snakes.
By the time they'd realised that they'd left the snakes behind, some hours had probably elapsed and by then the people had probably decided that they wouldn't go back for the snakes because they'd now all be dead.
How did I work this one out?
You see ten years earlier a mate of mine in Sydney had a similar experience.
He went on a tortoise hunting trip in the rivers of Queensland and far north NSW.
He caught heaps.
At Grafton, NSW, my friend and his companion stopped by the side of the road and took a stroll.
The bags with the tortoises were placed under the car to keep them cool.
And yes, they forgot their animals when they drove off, only to return an hour later to find all of them roasted in the sunlight.
Returning to the Bendigo case, there was just one survivor. That was a Water Python. The snake was called 'Lucky'.
Oh and the only part of the story I got wrong was the bit about the men not going back for their snakes.
The only problem was, that by the time they got to where they'd left the snakes the area was swarming with police and other officials, so they simply decided to drive past.
Were they upset?
Of course they were.
They'd just spent one month and several thousand dollars on a collecting trip and after all that got nothing.
Then again, had they been busted for collecting the animals and/or had them seized by officials later on, their losses may have even been greater.
EVEN MORE PYTHONS
Most readers of this magazine are aware of my recent python reclassification as published in Issue One of Ophidia Review.
There's actually two aspects of this. First is the taxonomy: that's deciding what forms are species, subspecies and the like. At the species and subspecies level, most people seem to think I got it right.
(For those who disagree with my taxonomy - my advice - keep disagreeing. Science is full of dissent and I reserve the right to also change my view at a later stage as well! Furthermore taxonomy at the higher (non-species) levels especially involves so-called value judgements and therefore will always contain differing views - even if people are confronted with identical facts).
At the generic level, there is quite a bit of dissent with regards to my papers. I was a "Splitter", in that I effectively carved up the genera into smaller more discreet groups.
"Lumpers" of which I am not in this case, prefer to stick them all in one group, (like merge Liasis, Antaresia, Chondropython, Leiopython and the like into one group such as Morelia). That's what Storr, Smith and Johnstone did in their book Snakes of Western Australia, published in 1986, when everything bar Aspidites was called Morelia.
For me that was simply untenable so I split the snakes into smaller groups (or genera), most of which already had names (like Liasis, Antaresia and the like).
Most of the splitters liked what I did and the lumpers hated it.
But then again, you can never please everyone on these things.
Second is the nomenclature. That's what I named the snakes.
Now most already had names, so I didn't assign (or 'coin') all that many.
One, for example, was 'Morelia harrisoni' for the New Guinea Carpet Snake.
And of course that's where the mud starts to fly, although most lay people seem unable to tell the difference between taxonomy and nomenclature.
But I'll give you a humorous example.
Within days of the paper being in circulation I got a phone call from a bureaucrat.
He told me what he thought.
'Your taxonomy's up the s..t'.
I asked him why.
He said 'How dare you name a snake Aspidites melanocephalus daveii?'
I asked him what was wrong with that, to which he said 'But he's a dead c..nt. He always gives us hell!'
Ok so I knew that he didn't know the difference between taxonomy and nomenclature, but I had to laugh anyway.
You see Neil Davie, the bloke whom I named the snake after, gave a few bureaucrats hell over their anti-conservation actions and policies. No wonder the bureaucrat hated seeing his adversary having a snake named after him.
Such is life in the world of herp politics.
I couldn't win.
Another friend had a whinge at me and told me that my taxonomy was stuffed.
I asked him why to which he said 'You've named a snake after your f ing dog, but never named one after me'.
My question was as follows: 'Ok, so what name would you have chosen. Steve Irwini, Darth Vader from Star Warsi or my dog?'
He said 'Your dog'.
Now if you thought my question was stupid, then think again. The other two people have also got Australian reptile species named after them; one by John Cann, the other by Wells and Wellington.
SCIENCE OR POLITICS
Then there was the Australian Herpetological Society herp conference I was at in October 1999.
At the dinner table I sat next to one of Australia's most eminent herpetologists. He asked me, 'Why the hell did you name a Death Adder after Richard Wells?' That was Acanthophis wellsei, the Black-headed form from the Pilbara.
I asked 'What was wrong with that?', to which he replied 'But Wells is the AID's of Australian herpetology'.
Wells hasn't been the most popular bloke in Australian herpetology ever since he published a pair of papers which had hundreds of taxonomic changes.
Instead of arguing the science or alleged lack of it in the papers, the whole debate in this country has centered around what people think of Richard Wells.
You hear things like 'I like Richard Wells, so I use his names', or 'Wells, he's a mongrel, I wouldn't use his names over my dead body!'
In fact the science seems to have very little to do with it, which in my view is a bit of a tragedy.
Surely if the taxonomy and the names are right they should be used. If they are wrong, they shouldn't be.
Why should personal likes and dislikes of the author matter?
Take for example the name given by Wells and Wellington for the smaller Australian pythons, Antaresia. Most people who read this magazine would have seen the name in books, magazines and the like.
When Wells and Wellington first proposed the name for these snakes, lots of herpetologists here in Australia wouldn't use the name.
Because Wells was 'out' as far as these people thought.
People here tended to look to Hal Cogger for guidance.
As author of the definitive book Reptiles and Amphibians of Australia, people tend to follow and use the names he prints in his books.
And for many years Hal Cogger refused to call the smaller Australian pythons Antaresia.
Science never came into it.
Then in the mid 1990's Dave Barker asked Hal Cogger about what names he should use in his book Pythons of the World: Part One, Australia.
According to Barker, the conversation was more or less as follows:
He asked Cogger:
'What should I do, is Antaresia correct?'
Cogger allegedly told Barker:
'Look, Antaresia is the correct name, but I dont want to be the first to use it. I'll cop too much flak. But if you put it in your book, I'll also follow with the name in my next edition.'
And so it was.
After years of stalling, Hal Cogger finally put the politics behind the science and used a Wells and Wellington name more than a decade after they'd first proposed and published it.
And what's my view of Wells and Wellington?
If the name's right I use it, if it isn't, I don't. Simple eh?
After all it's only a name.
FRIENDS COME AND GO, ENEMIES ACCUMULATE
Thats' an old saying, but from my experience it's also true.
I mentioned a number of cases involving a Queensland-based snake-man Mr. David Williams in my two Smuggled books.
The latter case was his involvement in the failed 'Austoxin' venture in New Guinea which turned out to be nothing more than a front for the illegal smuggling of rare snakes.
And as far as I was concerned that was the end of the matter, although perhaps I should mention that in 1999, his business partner Brian Starkey got busted doing more illegal smuggling of reptiles (see later).
Now also bear in mind that the Williams cases have also been plastered all through the media here in Australia, so in relation to his matters at least, my Smuggled books had nothing new in them, or nothing that most herpers here wouldn't have known already.
However David Williams took great offence at what I wrote and has been taking pot-shots at me ever since.
My taxonomic papers published in 1998 and 2000 really got his back up.
Well besides that he'd theoretically be obligated to refer to 'Hoser names' if he referred to the animals within the papers, I'd gone and named one of the snakes Pailsus pailsei.
Unbeknown to me, Williams and his business partner Brian Starkey absolutely hated Roy Pails, the man that the snake was named after.
They fell out after a failed business deal.
Roy Pails tells me he was financially ripped off by Starkey.
Starkey denies the allegation and counters with something similar, but in reverse.
None of that's terribly important, save for the fact that it gave Williams even greater incentive to attack me and/or the name I assigned to a snake.
And so in 1998, Williams and Starkey got onto the internet and posted far and wide that Pailsus pailsei was an invalid genus and species, with the hope that people would believe the posts.
Fortunately few people did.
Was I worried?
You see I had the same thing to a lesser extent when in 1981 I published the then radical proposition (as 'fact') that the Ant-hill Python was sympatric to and a different species from the Children's Python.
At the time everyone else, including Hal Cogger was writing that Liasis perthensis was not a valid species and it was another five or six years before most people cottoned on to the fact that I'd been right.
Now there's no hard feelings to anyone over that, because science and taxonomic changes often appear radical when first mooted and its routine for there to be a time-lag for the general acceptance of new propositions.
But getting back to Williams and his anti-Pailsus posts; word around the traps was that Williams intended jumping in and renaming the snake something else a few years later.
The idea might have been OK, save for the fact that the ICZN rule of priority (Article 23) would have probably precluded the move.
And then a few years later, Williams raised the 'art' of herp politics to a new low.
Shortly after the publication of my 2000 papers on taxonomy, Williams was at it again.
In a single post that he spammed all over the place he falsely accused me of nearly as many sins as Adolf Hitler.
I responded by rebutting the various bits of mis-information via the Kingsnake dot com 'forums', but soon found myself a captive of herp politics hiding behind the veil of 'science'.
You see Williams then ignored what I'd written and re-spammed his original alleged grievances in several thousand e-mails.
Seeing the decent into a pointless muck-fight I pulled the pin on further posts.
However others took the bull by the horns and launched their own rebuttals of the posts by Williams and his aliases.
Oh and Williams and his posts were in violation to the ICZN's code on taxonomy (Appendix A, Article 5), not that Williams had any known skills in the field or had probably ever actually read the code.
It turned out that Williams, in spite of his professed expertise, had told a friend in a private conversation that he'd never even seen a Pailsus!
Likewise for another of Williams' mates who claimed to be a scientist and with expertise on the subject, who later backed down and admitted in a later post that he also had never seen a Pailsus. That post was two years after he first began spamming all over the place that he (as an 'expert') thought Pailsus pailsei was an invalid species and genus and merely an underfed King Brown Snake (Cannia australis).
And yes, after a countless number of red-herrings, lies and misquotes, eventually the real grievance did come out.
Williams simply didn't want people to use 'Hoser names'.
And in eighty years time when we are all dead and buried, who cares what these animals are called? so long as they are called something.
As Neil Davie said: 'People can't call them 'sp.' for ever.
Like I said; the politics is always more fiery than the science.
KEEPING UP THE HUMOR
Then there was my end of 2000 trip to South Australia.
That's been a good place to visit for a few years now. You see the local wildlife department there seem to be doing more things right than wrong in terms of the herpetologists.
OK, so it means I don't sell as many copies of Smuggled to the herpers there, but I'd prefer it that way.
Fortunately the coppers there keep dealing drugs and running their other scams and rackets, so my various police corruption books sell there by the truckload.
I was in Adelaide for a corruption conference in November 2000 and spent most of the following week checking out the local herp scene.
The latter is always more interesting.
And here's a few of the highlights.
The biggest reptile dealer (of captive bred stock anyway) in the country is in Adelaide.
Known as Ultimate Reptile Suppliers, (located on the www at http;//www.ultimatereptiles.com.au) it's a business run equally by Tim Mensforth of Clearview and Roly Burrell of Reynalla (they had an amicable splt at end 2002, with Tim keeping Ultimate Reptiles).
I checked out their facilities and they were awesome.
Huge clean cages, loads of breeding pens and so on.
All the stock looked spick and span and they had lots of lovely critters.
Womas, Black-heads and a range of other pythons. Barkly Adders (Acanthophis hawkei), other elapids and loads of lizards of various types.
Tim's favorites seemed to be the Boyd's Forest Dragons (Gonocephalus boydii). But I have to say that I'm not an agamid man.
They just do nothing for me.
But Tim was breeding loads of them anyway.
Ditto for the pygmy monitors like Varanus acanthurus and so on.
Now where does the humor come into it.
Enter Roly Burrell.
I was taking a few pics of some herps on his front lawn. You know the deal a few rocks in place to make it look like bush.
Plonk the animal down on the surface and take the pics before it walks off.
That's the theory anyway.
Of course I ran out of film and so I had to drive off and get some.
Roly told me to take his car as it had parked mine in. the driveway.
I drove off and only stopped once on the way to the film shop.
The car had no brakes.
What did Roly say later?
'I was on a contract from the wildlife department'.
That's his sick sense of humor.
Then it was Woma time. Roly gave me a bin with a sub-adult from Moomba in South Australia to photograph.
I'd never photographed a Woma from that state.
It tried to eat me.
I asked him if the others were the same to which he replied 'No'.
Then I asked him why he gave me the stroppy one.
He said 'Look I told you, the wildlife department gave me a contact against you'.
But as it happened, Roly had done well. You see the snake sat still in a striking pose long enough for me to get some decent pics.
When Roly decided to feed me he said 'If you write anything about me, tell the readers how good my food is'.
So I will.
He fed me cold hard, half-frozen steak with green hairs on it.
After I nuked it in the microwave it was edible.
He said 'I couldn't feed it to the herps so you got it'.
Which reminded me of another Aussie herper Craig Latta.
He's the bloke in the Sydney suburb of Caringbah who built this huge concrete above-ground pool thing to breed his tortoises.
You might have seen the pictures of his set-up in a past issue of Monitor.
Anyway, I went to visit him one day and he was sitting at the dinner table eating a can of Pal dogfood. Yes, straight out of the tin with a spoon.
My wife asked him why he was eating it, to which Craig replied, 'If, I'm gonna feed it to the tortoises, I have to eat it first and make sure that it's OK'.
Or Euan Edwards.
He's the travelling snake dealer who actually hails from Australia (or at least lived here for many years).
At the Orlando Reptile Expo in 1993, he was having trouble selling some Pogona henrylawsoni (or P. brevis for the Philistines) at Chris Durham's dealer stand.
Euan made up a big sign and placed it on the table:
'All lizards unsold by 4 PM today will be eaten by myself here - in public - at 4.15.'
Thankfully they all sold.
But I'm sure Euan would have eaten the lizards had they not been sold.
Which reminds me of my youth.
I recall eating a large Helioporous australiacus tadpole in Sydney's suburb of Turramurra.
I've got to tell you that it felt strange having a huge ball of slime wriggle down your throat and then in your stomach.
SNAKES AND FOODS
While in Adelaide in November 2000, I stayed with another herper, Ian Renton and his girlfriend Therese.
Fortunately their eating habits are more 'normal'.
He doesn't eat much, nor does Therese, but when they do, it's mainly things like bread, butter and steaks.
Ian's main herp activity is his snake rescue service called 'Snake-Away'. His business collects snakes from people's backyards when they call him in distress.
And although Adelaide has only about a million odd people, the place is literally overrun with Eastern Brown Snakes (Pseudonaja textilis). So he's always busy.
Why so many snakes?
Because Adelaide's got great habitat for them. Sometimes it seems that the whole town and its outskirts is full of rubbish and sheets of tin and rats and mice for snakes to feed on.
Yes it's true, Adelaide really is a dump, and Ian thanks God for that every day!
It's just a pity there's no Death Adders there!
There are rival snake catching outfits in Adelaide like the Adelaide Snake Catchers and Ace Snake Catchers, but Renton's crew does the overwhelming bulk of the work.
A BIGGER SENSE OF HUMOR?
Now I'm talking about Tony Zidarich. He's the fauna officer who gave a lot of Victorian reptile keepers grief by seizing their animals time and time again. And yes, quite often an embarrassed wildlife department would have to return the animals back to their rightful owners.
That's why he became known as Tony ('Seize It') Zidarich.
Anyway he left Victoria a few years ago and has since taken up a post in the South Australian wildlife department. And yes, like a cowboy cop, he still likes to go for 'the bust'.
Why he left Victoria I don't know. I've heard heaps of stories, but been unable to substantiate any, so we'll just have to take that as an unknown.
Anyway, shortly after his arrival in South Australia he fronted up to Roly Burrell's place. Zidarich told Burrell 'I'm doing a raid', and then went through everything in the place.
Zidarich went through the snake shed and the house before checking out the fridge.
According to Burrell, Zidarich found some frozen dead Barkly Death Adders (Acanthophis hawkei) in the freezer.
Zidarich asked for an explanation, because they were over and above the number on Burrell's permit.
Burrell told him.
'They were stillborn young, can't you see'.
Zidarich said he didn't believe him and allegedly said:
'You will get a summons, I will see you in court and I will close you down'.
Understandably by the time Zidarich left the house, the two were in a state of war.
Burrell got on the phone to Zidarich's superior officer, David Barrington. After several years of cultivating a good working relationship with the department, Zidarich had swept into town like a tornado and turned it all upside down.
Burrell gave Barrington an ear-bashing and to his credit Barrington listened to him.
The next day Zidarich was back at Burrell's front door.
It was on again.
But this time it was slightly different.
Zidarich was allegedly complaining that 'I never said you'd get a summons' and 'You lied to my boss'.
Burrell stood his ground and said 'Look don't f..k with me, I was here'.
Shortly thereafter Zidarich held out his hand to shake Burrell's and said 'Look, I won't say I'm sorry, but I'm here to make amends'.
And that was the end of the saga.
But Zidarich isn't all bad.
Far from it.
In fact when he's not getting too carried away with his role as a wildlife policeman and going after 'the bust', he's actually a very helpful kind of bloke.
Many a herpetologist and wildlife keeper will attest to the fact.
Even when things were at their worst in Victoria and Tony Zidarich was seizing herps willy nilly here in Victoria he was still actually helping other reptile people with their paperwork and licences and giving them friendly advice as to how to further their goals.
And ditto for South Australia.
I recall talking to another reptile dealer in Adelaide who said that she thought Zidarich was the best thing to happen to the SA wildlife department.
'Look, when you ring up NPWS here, they are usually lazy bureaucratic slobs. You ask for something to be done and they tell you they will do it for you if and when they get around to it, and that's usually never. With Tony (Zidarich) I can pick up the phone at almost any time of day and he answers it. He's always polite and he gives everything his best shot. If he's slow in getting back to me he apologizes. How many officials do you know like that?'
She recalled the time that she had some reptiles stolen and went to the police. They were too busy dealing drugs to worry about some stolen snakes.
She then rang up Zidarich and reported it to him. Zidarich allegedly staked out the thieves for hours on end and got the reptiles back within days.
EVEN MORE HUMOR
Then there's the reptile trade itself.
Here in Australia we are having the same sort of pattern emerge as in the northern hemisphere.
As more and more reptiles get bred in captivity, they become more common and thus the retail prices drop.
The pet shops keep selling them, but their margins fall and so they have to look elsewhere to make their money.
At the moment the people doing best business here in Australia are those involved in breeding rats, mice, cockroaches, crickets and the like.
I recall going into the pet shop SA Fish and Reptile in Modbury, a northern suburb of Adelaide.
Now we've all heard the horror stories of pet shops and the pet trade, but this place wasn't one of them.
In fact I don't think I've seen Bearded Dragons (Pogona vitticeps) that looked so good.
I made the comment to the woman who ran the place and she moaned 'Funny you should say that. I think I overfeed them. Put it this way, I'm sure I'm loosing money on them as I never get back the money I spend on their food!'
A couple of suburbs over and Tim Mensforth of Ultimates said the same thing.
'Look, you can't make money breeding things like Collett's snakes (Paracedechis colletti) and the like any more. Unless it's things like Chondros, you'll never make a decent living breeding herps.'
And he'd put his money where his mouth was.
The company was shifting towards things like books, cages and other dry goods.
In fact they'd just spent about 30,000 dollars perfecting fibre-glass moulds for these new reptile cages to be wholesaled through shops Australia-wide.
FROM THE BUSH
Most Australian reptiles traded between keepers now are captive bred.
When you have people like Roy Pails, Russell Grant and Neil Sonneman in Victoria pumping out hundreds of captive-bred pythons and other herps each year, it doesn't take long for them to flood our relatively small market and send prices plummeting.
Poor old Roy Pails likes breeding his elapids, Tiger Snakes (Notechis) and the like, but nobody wants to buy them, so half the time he ends up giving them away.
Species that used to be 'rare' or 'expensive' and are now 'common' or relatively cheap include Bredl's Pythons (Morelia bredli), Diamond Pythons (Morelia spilota), Collett's Snakes (Paracedechis colletti) and quite a few of the Death Adders (Acanthophis spp.).
For some of the small monitors the price drop has been even more dramatic.
But that's not just from the major upswing in captive breeding.
Over the last 18 months or so, Gavin Bedford through his private company WOMA Research managed to entice the Northern Territory wildlife department to give him permits to collect thousands of reptiles from the bush, specifically for sale to the pet trade.
Bedford's critics say a 'rape and pillage' permit.
Bedford has widely touted the operation as 'sustainable use' of wildlife and in fairness to him, none of the reptiles being caught or traded are under any sort of threat, so yes, the term 'sustainable use' is perfectly valid.
In theory and on the surface the plan seems quite reasonable.
But in practice the whole thing has got a lot of Australian reptile people off-side and for a whole host of reasons.
In fact the Bedford operation is currently one of the most talked about reptile matters in Australia at present (2000-2001) and that's why I'm devoting space to it here.
For starters there are always those opposed to taking of anything from the bush for any reason.
I call them the lunatic fringe.
But as it happens they are not Bedford's biggest adversaries.
Then there's the breeders of things like Spiny Tailed Monitors (Varanus acanthurus).
After investing thousands of dollars in building breeding facilities and buying the breeding stock, some of them have seen their investments dry up as Bedford can sell his wild caught specimens to the pet shops in the thousands for half the price and still make a huge profit.
Bedford's operation has also come under fire, because he allegedly sells wild-caught animals to the pet trade that are clearly in ill-health.
The allegations were backed up with widely published photos of sick and dying monitors allegedly photographed in a pet shop in the Adelaide suburb of Prospect, which were sourced from Bedford.
So far, Bedford's denied the allegation in terms of his responsibility (you see the lizards may have become ill after being shipped). Furthermore it's reasonable to expect newly wild-caught reptiles to be generally inferior in terms of health and condition than their captive-bred counterparts and Bedford has never shied away from the fact.
And notwithstanding the obvious, it's also common knowledge that wild-caught Australian herps will usually adapt to captivity without incident if properly looked after remember they were all wild-caught at one stage.
But all that's not necessarily enough to put Bedford in the clear in the views of many reptile people here in Australia.
You see one of the less savory aspects of the past (legal) trade in reptiles was the disposable pet tortoise trade.
You've seen it in the northern hemisphere with the land tortoises, shipped from places like Turkey and Russia ending up languishing in pet shops where they die or end up being sold to novice keepers who don't know how to look after the animals or just don't want to. They still die.
And yes, over 90% of these disposable pets fail to live past their first year in captivity.
It was a big money making scam and yes, that's not what most reptile people want when they talk about the legal reptile trade.
But Bedford's operation appears to be heading in that direction.
In Australia we too had the disposable pet tortoise trade for many years, although the end of this trade was perhaps the only good thing about the restrictive wildlife laws that over-ran the country in the 1970's and early 80's.
The species in question were the freshwater tortoises, including Long-necked (Chelodina longicollis), Short-necked (Emydura macquarii) and Pet-shop Turtle (Elusor macrurus).
You see, among the species Bedford appears to be allowed to harvest in large numbers are the Northern Long Necked Tortoises (Chelodina sp.).
According to the plan, these are then on-sold to pet shops in the southern states to private keepers. Now it's a known fact that over 99% of tortoises sold in the past died within a short time in captivity, and they were species native to the areas they were being sold.
What hope does a tropical species have of long-term survival when being sold in pet shops 3,000 km further south?
Put simply, most would probably die by the end of their first winter!
Then there's the biggest criticism of the Bedford operation.
Indications are that Bedford's right to collect and sell large numbers of reptiles for the pet trade (as in to make money for himself) is an exclusive right and/or effectively so.
Others who have applied for permits to collect reptiles under the same, or even more restrictive terms have been refused. And that's what's really been getting people's backs up.
It gets back to the potential corruption sort of thing.
Now no allegations of impropriety or corruption are being made against Bedford here, but surely a system that gives one or a few people preferential treatment over all others (bearing in mind we are talking about trapping live animals for the pet trade) must be questioned.
That's even more so, when in recent times, people have been charged and even jailed for trapping the very same species Bedford is now allowed to trap for sale to the pet trade, when these same charged people were only collecting in ones and twos for their own private collections.
Bedford justifies his operation by claiming that he donates some of the profits he makes to fund reptile research and he touts this fact widely. He also says that he pays the landholders money for the reptiles he takes from their properties, but he hasnt disclosed to me how much these amounts actually are.
Some months before this article was written a series of fairly simple questions were e-mailed to Bedford, but I never got a reply. The information sought included lists of species allowed to be caught as per the permits, amounts paid to landholders, details of alleged research grants and the like.
However some of these numbers were listed in an article originally published in the Litchfield Times on 24.1.01.
My e-mail had been sent to Bedford after he had sent me an e-mail seeking my support for his objectives. He noted that in my books Smuggled and Smuggled-2 I supported the sustainable use of wildlife and he said that his operation fitted the bill.
Gavin didn't want to supply me with too many details about his operation for fear of being "set-up", which based on the number of people trying to close him down, was completely justified.
Put it this way, if I'd been in his position, I'd probably have given a similar response.
I can't make any overall findings in relation to Bedford's operation because quite simply I'm not privy to all the facts, and that's in spite of my efforts to find them out. However I can say that my support for sustainable use of wildlife is conditional upon it being part of a fair and equitable legal regime where all people are treated equally and not where a select few are more equal than everyone else and they can profiteer out of the legal regime at everyone else's expense.
However the exclusivity argument against Bedford (as I have outlined or implied above) is far from watertight.
It's been said that Bedford's scheme is a 'pilot', (or limited scheme) which means that if it is successful (in the eyes of the bureaucrats), it will be opened up to others.
There is some sense in running 'pilot schemes' for anything before introducing the schemes more widely.
If the scheme as outlined above is merely a pilot or a precursor to something wider, then Bedford will cease to be the target of most people's attacks and the main argument against him (exclusivity) evaporates.
Then the fact is that the biggest noises against Bedford and his operations have come from his business rivals (including those cited in the Litchfield Times article of 24.1.01).
They are those who keep and breed similar species of reptiles to those Bedford sells and are seeing their potential profits being undercut by him.
And yes, some of these people were also given relatively unobtainable permits a few years back to capture or otherwise obtain founder stock from the wild that now supports their breeding colonies.
Species in question include monitors and even Woma Pythons, which sell here in Australia for a small fortune.
So if Bedford currently has 'exclusive' permits at present in the NT (as it is thought), he may merely be in a similar position to that enjoyed by his biggest rivals just a few years earlier and who somehow managed to avoid the howls of protest. And from that perspective, is it really fair to bring out all the knives just for Bedford?
Or putting forth another perspective, so far the only people given permits to legally collect Morelia carinata from the bush in WA has been John Weigel and his business (The Australian Reptile Park) and yet there have been few howls of protest at their exclusivity in having a collect permit - a permit perhaps worth tens of thousands of dollars to them.
(In fairness to Weigel, few others have bothered applying to CALM for such permits because of a general feeling that they'd be refused).
And then it should also be mentioned that when the NSW NPWS had their amnesty for illegally held reptiles in the late 1990's, some prominent keepers went up north and caught hundreds of monitors which they now breed and sell offspring for a huge profit.
This jump-start has not since been given to those who entered the hobby since the amnesty was closed and those people must now usually buy the progeny from those breeders who exploited the amnesty loophole to collect numbers from the wild.
And some of these 'newbies' love Bedford because his monitors and other reptiles are often being sold at more affordable prices and/or forcing down prices generally.
In other words, the most serious claim against Bedford (exclusivity) when looked at closely, doesn't appear to be as bad as it may at first look, and that's why the most serious criticism of his operations has tended to only come from his main rivals.
And as one of Bedford's friends said, 'If he can make money trapping and selling herps legally and without endangering anything, why not? especially if he is making otherwise overly expensive animals more affordable to people who are new to the hobby'.
Finally, I should mention that in Early January 2001, Peter Whitehead, the Director of the Key Centre for Tropical Wildlife Management, at the Northern Territory University, Darwin, NT, 0909, Australia, announced that his department would partially fund four herpetological and/or other wildlife research projects in that state for honours students.
The grants up for grabs were said to be anything up to $4,000, although the details were still uncertain and in effect undecided, pending applications being received and looked at by the supervisors. However to Bedford's credit it was clear that he was a major mover behind the scheme.
What does all this mean?
Reptile trapping and keeping laws in Australia in all respects are inconsistent and a mess and with the added influence of commercial interests there will be lots of little battles going on in the foreseeable future.
And with sizeable sums of money at stake, some will clearly be herper versus herper.
BUT WHAT DOES IT ALL MEAN?
Now you've read what I think is a balanced account of the WOMA Research debate here in Australia. You can guarantee that not many of those involved in the debate will think I got it right and I'm prepared to cop a bit of flak for my account, even though (as always) I've tried to be as fair as could to all involved.
And here's what I think about the wider picture in terms of WOMA Research and their collecting of native herps for the pet trade.
I love it!
Well it doesn't have much to do with the much maligned Gavin Bedford or his WOMA Research company so much as it does with the Territory Parks and Wildlife Service themselves.
You see they have made an Australian first by being a State wildlife authority to issue permits to anyone to collect thousands of live reptiles solely for the pet trade.
Now for more than twenty years I've been advocating the government allow people to collect most species of herps to keep as pets and until now the government side have consistently said that the heavens would cave in if they allowed such to happen.
In fact in 1997, John O'Shea of the Queensland NPWS even went so far as to predict mass-extinction's of native herps if private people in New South Wales were legally allowed to keep reptiles as pets (following the then proposed amnesty).
Of course the extinction's never occurred.
Now at last Territory Parks and Wildlife have, by issuing collect permits to Bedford, finally admitted that I had been right all along.
THE BAD OLD DAYS
Back in the 1970's and 1980's reptile thefts were a major problem. Particularly in the state of New South Wales (NSW).
In the early 1990's the incidence of the problem declined, but in the last three years or so, it's mushroomed yet again.
The only good thing about this is that the fear of having his snakes stolen is perhaps what led to John Weigel keeping his Rough-scaled Pythons at his home rather than 'off-display' at the Reptile Park.
And like I said before, when the place burnt down, the snakes were spared.
I couldn't tell you about all the reptile thefts that have happened in recent times here in Australia there are too many of them.
But here's just a few.
On 15 May 2000 a shop in the Sydney suburb of Rozelle had 20 Bird-eating Spiders (Selenecosmia sterling) stolen. The spiders, worth between $40 and $50 each, were among $13,000 worth of exotic creatures stolen from Urban Animals Pet Care, in Darling Street, Rozelle, between 7pm and 11pm.
Matt Yorkston, a prominent keeper in Darwin had his facility busted into in the summer of 1999-2000.
He lost a pile of pythons including Greens, which are generally the most expensive and sought after in the country.
By the way its the paper that's worth the money, not the snake. Legal hatchlings sell here for about $5,000 each, while the illegal ones (smuggled in) go for about $1-2 thousand a pop.
How many smuggled Chondro's make it into Australia each year my guess is about a hundred a year.
But if you add all the other stuff like Burmese Pythons (Python molurus), Corn Snakes (Elaphe guttata) a and the like, you'd be talking thousands of reptiles coming in each year.
As for Boa Constrictors (Boa constrictor), well that's a slightly different story.
Legally there aren't too many here, well under a hundred anyway, but illegal ones probably number several thousand and by all indications they are breeding like er, well Boas, and we should be able to export the things within a few years.
But getting back to Matt Yorkston's snakes, there were allegations that some of the snakes resurfaced in a NSW collection later in 2000, from where they were being offered for sale. But when the NSW NPWS were called in to the house they allegedly found nothing.
Then there was a keeper in Victoria who had his facility broken into a few months later.
He lost a pile of exotics (herps that aren't native to Australia).
In fact he lost about 40 of them. Mainly the usual sort of things Burmese and Ball Pythons, Boas, Corn snakes or varying kind, etc.
His problem was that none of them were legal.
I first found out about the theft at a Victorian Herpetological Society meeting when I took leave from the lecture and walked my year old baby outside the lecture hall.
It was like a police stake-out.
Blokes hiding behind poles and cars spying on the people coming and going.
I asked one of them what was going.
'Oh don't worry Raymond, it's not you we're after. NAME DELETED had his snakes knocked off and we are seeing if any get offered for sale in the car park'.
Eventually NAME DELETED went to the police to report the theft. That was several weeks later. The delay of course was because of his own fear of being done over by the authorities for the illegal snakes.
The police weren't concerned with the legality of the snakes, but didn't seem too concerned with finding the thieves either.
Here in Australia the police often seem to be more concerned with peddling drugs to crime bosses, taking bribes for protection and so on.
Actual policing seems to be an unnecessary diversion for many.
I'm sure most readers have been told that they must be mad to want to keep reptiles as pets. And yes, most herpers are a bit different to what society calls 'normal'.
When in Adelaide, Roly Burrell told me that someone should write a book about the various personalities involved in the Australian herp scene.
I think that was while I was trying to eat the hairy steak.
I didn't know all the people he was thinking of, but he soon enough rattled off the names.
I thought of a few, who'd make interesting biographies.
Like Donkey Schlong Brian Bush, who's one of the best known herpetologists in Western Australia.
His other claim to fame is that he's extremely well-hung and when he's in the field looking for snakes, he doesn't hesitate to show his own off to his fellow herpers.
Or Roy Pails (the Ballarat snake breeder), whose most notable non-herp achievement was driving the 60 odd kms from Geelong to Ballarat after a herpetological society meeting when he was dead sober.
It was notable because every other time we could recall, he'd done the trip blind drunk!
And then of course one tiny word that you inadvertently put out of place can make you a ratbag for life. We call that herp politics.
Because I sometimes write about stuff on the edge, I'm always getting off-side with people, but have learnt to live with it. Fortunately time makes most (but not all) wounds heal.
But I've got to tell you about an innocent incident that made me laugh.
It was at my 1999 wedding.
That was quite a gathering.
My wife's friends were mainly pure and wholesome Catholics from the local God Squad. My crowd were mainly herpers, which also means that most were uncouth, unshaven loud-mouthed heavy drinkers.
It was like chalk and cheese.
And because the alcohol was laid on, all the herpers got drunk as could be and said and did a lot of things that they'd rather not remember.
And there was a bit of fireworks when the groups mixed but we all had fun.
About a week later young Scott Eipper (he's the bloke into Blacksnakes (Pseudechis)) told me that Roy Pails 'has the s..ts with me'.
I asked him why, to which he replied 'Well I spent about an hour talking to him at your wedding and he only grunted at me I don't think Roy likes me.'
I told Scott 'Don't worry, Pails grunts at everyone!'
Then there was the 20-year-old herper in Sydney who decided to have ten Puff Adders brought in during 1996. It was the usual sort of method through the postal system.
Like most reptiles brought in this way, they got through undetected.
He gave them to his mate to keep as pets.
And yes, one of them bit the friend and he landed up in hospital.
The newspapers got onto the story and then the NPWS came chasing them.
But they were never caught.
Because the two blokes gave false names to the media.
In hindsight it was quite a stunt, as one of them even got shown on TV doing an interview.
Some of those snakes were 'claimed on' in the NPWS amnesty the following year.
One of the pair did the same sort of thing with a Chameleon. It died in transit and because the parcel stank to high heaven, it got picked up by the postal workers and opened.
Even that's quite amazing as the fact is that the sniffer dogs aren't half as good as they're cracked up to be (every time I've seen them they've been licking their balls), and the postal staff are so lazy that they'd rather just let everything through.
You see there's no incentive for them to slow the flow.
In fact quite the contrary.
You see if they find some contraband and have to fill in the paperwork, they might be delayed in leaving work.
In the 1980's, I knew a bloke who worked in the Redfern Mail Exchange as a sorter. These are the blokes who are meant to be vigilant and on the ball and stopping the contraband from coming in. Near the end of the shift one of the staff had a heart attack and died almost instantly. It was approaching the weekend and the rest of the group wanted to go home in a hurry. So rather than deal with their newly dead co-worker they merely propped him up in a corner to make him look alive and then they went home.
The next shift's workers had to find the dead body and deal with it.
And you think that they are so keen to work that they'd worry about opening suspicious looking parcels.
But getting back to the dead Chameleon in the parcel, like I said before, this parcel was picked up.
The bloke who'd imported it was interviewed by NPWS, but they were unable to nab him as such.
You see the sender had given a fake name.
That wasn't a good start.
Inside the parcel was a letter. It said that the lizard was 'a gift'.
That implied that the recipient didn't even know it was coming thereby potentially making him innocent of any alleged smuggling.
And then there was the name of the person the parcel was addressed to.
It wasn't him.
The address was correct, but the name of the addressee wasn't.
But who was the addressee.
Rankin was one of Australia's most prominent herpers who died accidentally some 20 years ago in New Caledonia.
Why did the men pick that name for the recipient?
I never found out, but it probably had something to do with their warped sense of humor.
Now how do I know all this to be true?
One of the herpers told me the story in confidence.
When I checked up with a contact of mine in the NPWS, they agreed it was a correct account.
ARE ALL DEAD HERPERS CRIMS?
Well according to some wildlife officers, 'All herpetologists are smugglers'. We know it's a misconception, but the misconception goes even further with the dead herpers.
A few years ago there was a bust involving a number of illegal reptiles here in Victoria. The local wildlife department went through a heap of their paperwork and found out that people were keeping reptiles over and above what they were meant to.
In other words some wild-caught critters were being put onto the books as legally held and captive-bred.
Now there were allegedly quite a few herpers in on the scam, but they managed to arrange things so that just one herper took the rap (was found guilty of the whole lot). That was Big Wayne.
But he'd died a few months earlier.
And it's impossible to prosecute a dead man, so everyone was happy.
ARE ALL LIVE HERPERS CRIMS?
No, but some are.
When it comes to bringing snakes in or out of Australia the fact is most get through undetected. And, with the exception of the obvious computer data matching activities by customs officials at airports and the like, which inevitably target all 'high risk' persons such as known herpetologists (reptile smuggling), competitive body builders (steroids) and so on, the fact is that most wildlife smuggling busts are by accident rather than design.
But even so, there are far more busts than I could ever keep up with.
That may be because when someone like myself talks about 'big brother' activities like computers doing simple data-matching programs a lot of people get the idea that I'm talking about wild conspiracy theories and not the real world. Thus they don't believe that things like computer data matching are done as a routine and so they fall into the most obvious of traps.
In retrospect it's a bit like the rats going into the old-style wooden rat-traps.
And quite frankly, the data matching activities of the customs computers aren't really all that much more high tech than the wooden rat-traps I just referred to.
Put it this way, a crappy old 386 computer would probably do the trick, and yes, the Australian government can afford a lot more than that.
Government zoos like Adelaide, Taronga and Melbourne are always overflowing with exotic and native reptiles picked up from people coming and going out of Australia.
Like Czech tourist, Ales Havelka who was busted on 8 February 2000 trying to smuggle 11 Leaf-tailed geckos (Phyllurus platurus), 13 Knob-tailed geckos (Nephrurus sp.) and seven Beaked geckos (Lucasium sp.) onto a Vienna bound flight at Melbourne's Tullamarine airport.
Havelka was an 'easy' bust. The customs officers just walked up to him and searched him. He had the lizards secreted in pouches in his clothing, with a few more in his hand luggage.
For the customs officers it was dead easy in fact!
Why did they search him?
Data matching of course.
Havelka was a well-known herpetologist with a collection in his home at Brno numbering over 100 lizards.
Besides that, he'd previously been busted for trafficking reptiles in Mauritius and Peru and so was listed on half the world's customs data-bases.
You'd bet everything you'd own on him being searched before leaving Australia.
Ditto for Joseph Sin, another Czech nabbed at the same place two days later.
Data-matching got him too!
He'd been taking ten birds eggs out of the country.
Or the Christmas Eve 1999 bust of a 36-year-old German man attempting to export more than 80 native snakes and lizards.
He was arrested at Geraldton as he tried to send 59 Australian skinks by post to Germany.
Lutz Obelgoenner's car was searched revealing an assortment of 27 other Australian reptiles being discovered inside a portable cooler. The reptiles included monitors, skinks, geckos and pythons. Authorities alleged that the man had been under surveillance for a month before the bust.
Earlier the same month (2 December to be exact) another German, Ralph Deiter Zeiler, 43, was arrested as he boarded an international flight in Adelaide with 74 Australian lizards in his baggage.
Among the reptiles found in Zeiler's possession were 29 Starred Knob-tailed Geckos (Nephrurus sp.), two Pernatty Knob-tailed Geckos (Nephrurus sp.), 24 Southern Spiny-tailed Geckos (Diplodactylus sp.), six Barking Geckos (Underwoodisaurus mili) and one Burton's Legless Lizard (Lialis burtonis).
There were also Seven Western Stone Geckos (Diplodactylus sp.), three Bearded Geckos (Lucasium sp.) and three Shingleback Skinks (Trachydosaurus rugosa).
The Pernatty Knob-tailed Gecko in particular is a sought after species, currently known only from a few remote sites in inland South Australia near Woomera.
On 28 April 2000, Justice David Wicks effectively sentenced Zeiler, for six months jail, with the sentence commencing from that date of arrest.
Zeiler a well-known herper had been flagged by the customs computer (In the manner I noted above) and had little chance of boarding the flight out of Australia without being searched.
Yes, it was like the rat going into the rat-trap.
But again I ask the most logical question of all.
Why doesn't the Australian government stop making criminals out of otherwise law-abiding people and simply allow the legal export of a reasonable number of these reptiles.
I really can't imagine knob-tailed geckos overrunning the ice-covered fields of Bavaria in northern Europe and going feral.
Sometimes it's not the herpers that put themselves in - rather it's their herps themselves.
In December 1998, Norikazu Amagi came unstuck when lizards he'd posted his mates back to Japan began to scratch in their boxes.
The lizards in question were Shinglebacks and in a four-day period, he posted a total of four boxes containing 24 Shinglebacks. By virtue of the fact that he'd only arrived in Australia a few days earlier, it seems likely that someone in Perth had probably already got hold of the lizards for him, before he arrived.
On 24 December 1998, just three days after he'd been busted for posting the last of the parcels, Amagi pled guilty to trafficking charges and copped a $20,000 fine.
That was less than the lizards were worth.
The previous month two other Japanese Nationals were fined $23,000 for attempting to export fauna illegally. They'd also come unstuck when their parcels that they'd posted to Japan started to move and make noises.
GOOD AND BAD
Now in case you get the wrong idea I don't want to make out that these people getting busted by Australian officials for collecting reptiles from the wild and then taking them either interstate or out of the country to study or merely keep as pets are the bad guys.
Quite often the reverse is the truth.
It's often the ones who make the laws and enforce them who are doing more harm for the environment.
Remember, a simple piece of paper can make the difference between a legal trader like Gavin Bedford (see earlier) who can legally trap thousands of reptiles and effectively do what he likes with them, while some poor mug who wants a few for study goes to jail as an alleged smuggler, simply because he doesn't seem to have the same connections with the same wildlife officials.
Take for example my account of Roy Pails whom I mentioned in one of the Smuggled books.
He got busted for taking a few common Scrub Pythons (Austroliasis amethistina) from North Queensland into Victoria (contrary to his licence conditions).
His legal indiscretion wasn't because he was 'bad' or a 'monster', but rather because at the same time, the legal regime made it effectively impossible for him to get these common snakes legally.
So yes, he effectively 'smuggled' them interstate.
But who really were the bad guys?
Pails for shipping a few common snakes snakes that more often than not get a shovel through their heads when they encounter humans in their native North Queensland, or the fauna officers who spent tens of thousands of tax-payer's dollars pursuing him - money which would much better have been spent actually helping Pails move the snakes interstate and/or other projects to do with wildlife conservation and research.
When Pails was able to dodge the fauna officials who sometimes even camped outside his Ballarat home in their zeal to bust him for something, he actually managed to do quite a few captive breeding firsts for Australian reptiles.
And here's the sort of recognition he got for his pioneering work with reptiles from the authorities.
Tony Zidarich reported in an internal wildlife department memo that Pails was 'Notorious' on the basis that he had a 'large collection'.
Yes, it really seems that the mindset of wildlife officials here in Australia is that everyone here with a large collection is a smuggler and/or fare game to be busted for something.
Anyway Pails' good work for herpetology was recognized a few years back when he had a new genus and species of snake named in his honor (Pailsus pailsei).
REWARD FOR DOING THE RIGHT THING
While talking about persecuted herpetologists in my (new) home State of Victoria, I can't help but mention Stewart Bigmore from Lara, near Geelong.
His main claim to fame here is that he's one of the most prominent breeders of monitors in Australia. Those who have read Smuggled-2 would recall that he was one of the mugs who had his Sand Goannas (Varanus gouldii) seized by Tony Zidarich and his mates in the local wildlife department on the (then) false pretext that they were V. panoptes - a species that was 'unscheduled'.
'Unscheduled' meaning that you cannot keep them.
You'd recall that he didn't get an apology from the department for having his lizards illegally taken, but he did eventually get them back - provided he then shipped them out of the state.
In 1999 he bred his Lace Monitors (Varanus varius), by crossing his Broad Banded (Bells) form female with a normal phase male.
The genetics here appears to be a simple dominant/recessive relationship and the idea being bandied around outside Australia that they are different species is a complete myth.
His eggs hatched and he got both kinds of young, the broad banded (Bells) and the normal form.
Did the department officials ever congratulate Bigmore?
No of course not instead they rewarded him with one of their usual unannounced 'visits' to do a head count of his stock.
If for some reason your number is out - even by just one, you are deemed to have committed a greater crime than murder or raping a ten-year-old girl.
Anyway about a year later he got yet another of these so-called 'visits' and they did a head-count of his stock.
And the officials got what they were looking for.
That was a wrong head count.
Bigmore had one Lace Monitor over and above his licenced number.
Now what exactly are Lace Monitors like here in Australia.
Yes, we kill them as pests don't we do that to all our reptiles?
Does the wildlife department stop the slaughter?
Of course not.
Instead they go for the soft targets like Bigmore.
Now if Bigmore had a large protective bureaucracy on side like the local zoo or museum, he'd be in with a chance of arguing leniency, but because he wasn't an employee of such a body, he was basically thrown to the dogs. That's local terminology for the legal system.
So while in one part of the country you had Gavin Bedford capturing thousands of monitor lizards legally for the pet trade - solely or at least primarily to make money, a person who wasn't making a cent out of the animals was being thrown to the full force of the law for having just one too many.
And how did Bigmore get this excess lizard?
It was brought to him.
Yes, it was one of those countless lizards that had been bowled over by some motorist driving their car who either couldn't be bothered swerving to miss the lizard, or even more likely had swerved to hit it!
Bigmore was shelling out huge vet bills to keep the thing alive and nurse it back to health. And as I've already said, his reward for doing so was a criminal charge and thousands more dollars spent defending himself in court.
He plead guilty to the charge (one lizard too many) and it was heard on Wednesday January 17, 2001.
The magistrate made sure that he kept everyone happy.
He declared Bigmore 'guilty'.
But to make sure Bigmore was happy as well, the magistrate gave him a 'token fine' of $200 fine, plus $120 'costs' and a twelve month so-called 'Good Behavior Bond'.
Bigmore got 'no conviction'.
That meant his reptile keeping licence wasn't in danger.
Like I said before, the magistrate keeping every one as happy as he could while looking after the powers that be and those who paid his wages.
TRUEISMS ARE SOMETIMES TRUE
But truisms do sometimes come from the truth - or at least trends.
That includes the wildlife officer's fixation with the idea that all herpetologists are smugglers.
In Smuggled-2, I mentioned the case of Taronga Zoo employee Michael Muscatt who rorted the system in NSW at the time that licences to keep were generally unobtainable. Sydney-based Muscatt got himself a pair of Black-headed Pythons (Aspidites melaocaphalus) from unknown sources and then ironically sold them off sometime later - allegedly at a huge profit.
But again, Muscatt's actions can be defended in that they were the product of a system that drove an otherwise reasonable law-abiding person use his relatively unusual position as keeper in a government-owned zoo to break or at least rort a system of stupid laws.
In 1999 it wasn't Muscatt who came under official investigation, but rather one of his good mates. That was Brian Starkey, business partner of David Williams (mentioned earlier in this article and the two Smuggled books). Starkey calls himself and his reptile dealership in Ravenshoe, North Queensland, Black Knight Reptiles (BKR).
In 1999 Starkey unlawfully posted a Jungle Carpet Python (Morelia cheynei) and some geckos to Muscatt in Sydney.
Muscatt was busted.
According to a post by Bob Withey on the Australian herps list server dated 20 January 2000, Starkey later alleged that postal workers had been tipped off about the parcel by police. Starkey had allegedly said that he thought the culprit may have been his friend who drove him to the post office to post the parcel.
At the time of Withey's post, Starkey had just pled guilty (a few weeks earlier) to the interstate smuggling charge, been convicted and fined $1,200.
Muscatt again appeared to have escaped official scrutiny by the NSW and Queensland wildlife authorities. Although in fairness to both, if Muscatt had denied knowledge of the parcel being sent to him, there is probably little they could do in terms of prosecuting him.
Because of this anomaly, it is common practice for smugglers to post themselves reptiles. They simply put on the parcel a false return address and if they can avoid being monitored posting the parcel, then their odds of successfully smuggling the reptiles and/or not being successfully prosecuted if later caught receiving the packages are greatly increased.
But are Starkey and Muscatt the villains?
In a word no.
Firstly I have no hard evidence here to implicate Muscatt with anything either legally or morally wrong. As for Starkey, I think it's fair to say he did do a little bit of interstate smuggling. Remember he did plead guilty. But what exactly was he sending?
A snake and lizard that are almost in plague proportions where he lived. He wasn't posing any threat to any species or much else for that matter.
Again the case was more an advertisement for liberalizing the laws, rather than an indication that Starkey was a bad guy as such.
Or take the case of Mick Pugh in Geelong.
Now Mick's a good friend of mine and will no doubt be upset that I mention him as a smuggler in an article, but he knows my style I must write without fear or favor to retain my credibility.
He's been a herpetologist for decades, as has his wife Mip.
That's right, they're names are Mick and Mip, er Puke!
It gets confusing doesn't it?
Anyway he got busted on 22nd October 1999 bringing a few exotic (Non-Australian) herps into the country.
A mate in the Netherlands posted him some reptiles and for reasons I'm not certain of, the parcel was intercepted at Mick's local post office.
Mick went to collect the package, was monitored opening it and whammo! He was busted.
He was hit with charges and had to face the local court.
As it turned out, the smuggling scheme was pretty basic and so the local customs officers thought that Mick was a bit of a dope.
Anyway, it later turned out that it was them who were the dopes.
You see Mick was charged under the usual anti-smuggling laws and had to front the local Geelong Magistrate's Court.
The customs officers were led to believe that Mick would plead innocent to the charges and so the matter would be adjourned to another hearing date for the full-blown battle.
At the last minute Mick got up in court and pled guilty to the charge of intentionally and recklessly importing live animals without a (effectively impossible to get) permit.
Mick then gave a cock-and-bull story about how he'd been unknowingly posted the reptiles by a friend who owed him about $50.
He made out that he was a real fool and how he'd never expected the snakes in the first place because he'd merely written off the debt.
Magistrate Ian Von Einem fell for the ruse but decided to hit Mick hard. He got a $1,500 fine, plus $600 'costs' making a total of $2,100.
That's a lot for $50 worth of snake isn't it?
Yes and no.
You see the snakes were actually worth far more, but the magistrate was just another snake-hating Australian and so fell for the lie that the snakes were virtually worthless.
What were the snakes?
Two-western Diamond-back Rattlesnakes (Crotalus atrox). Also in the parcel were four Banana Geckos (Gehyra baliola) and a Leopard Gecko (Eublepharis macularis).
And here in Australia's black-market these snakes and lizards were probably worth more than the fine.
So if the magistrate had wanted to deter other would-be offenders, he failed. Maybe he should have actually looked closer at the snakes and worked out what they were really worth?
Mick was OK in terms of the law as well. You see he'd given his evidence in terms of mitigation of penalty, not sworn evidence and so he couldn't be charged with anything in terms of potentially misleading the court.
And so the game of snakes and ladders goes on and on.
And yes, while Mick got caught bringing exotic reptiles into Melbourne, he could even argue that he was unlucky on that score.
You see most still get in undetected.
And was Mick a threat to the local herpetofauna?
You see the snakes would probably freeze to death if they ever got loose and so there was no risk of them becoming feral.
So who does benefit from the laws used to prosecute Mick?
The bureaucrats who run them, that's who. Oh, and the dopey magistrates like Ian Von Einem who get paid nearly $2,000 for a five-hour working day to hear cases like the one above and then shoot through early for a game of golf with his fellow magistrates.
I'd say that's the real racket.
And while talking about Mick, perhaps I should also mention that for some years now he's been the president of the Victorian Association of Amateur Herpetologists.
Now anyone who knows anything about herpetological societies knows that running them is a huge and thankless task. And believe me, Mick's done an exceptional job in terms of running the society and it's objectives of public education, reptile conservation and so on.
So yes, Mick's done far more for the conservation of reptiles in Australia than the entire army of bureaucrats who administer the laws that were used to prosecute him for bringing into Australia a few lousy exotic reptiles.
Was Mick alone in his smuggling?
Yes and no.
You see in this smuggling action, there was just Mick and the bloke who posted him the reptiles.
To that extent they were alone.
But there's so many more parcels getting in to the countless other reptile people here in Australia, that the relatively few that get picked up by officials are notable for that very reason - they get picked up.
Just before Mick was nabbed, someone in Sydney got nabbed with a parcel sent from the UK containing 30 snakes and four iguanas.
And a week after Mick's bust in October 1999, someone else was nabbed at Melbourne airport with a pair of Malaysian Snail Eating Turtles (Malayemys subtriuga).
The passenger was searched as they got off the plane.
Data matching again.
But the interesting part of the story is what happened to the Malaysian Snail Eating Turtles. They were shunted off to Melbourne Zoo, (along with everything else that gets seized in Victoria).
Did the zoo really want them?
Probably not, but their job is to take the stuff the authorities give them diseases and all.
Anyway one of the turtles died within days of arriving from eating a snail.
The snail had just eaten snail bait.
Geelong's not a big place.
It's a cold, wet, miserable windswept hole of a town an hour's drive south of Melbourne.
But the town's mail system obviously does a roaring trade in illegal reptiles.
Sometimes you actually wonder if the locals ever post anything else.
Remember, the smugglers who get caught posting reptiles through the system who get caught are only the tip of the iceberg and yes, there's been heaps of busts in Geelong.
John Nelis came unstuck in 1998 after being caught posting a load of reptiles to Hong Kong and the UK.
Customs officers finally charged him with posting 39 reptiles in a number of parcels.
Included were a Gould's Monitor (Varanus gouldii), Shinglebacks, Bearded Dragons (Pogona vitticeps), Geckos and a Krefft's Tortoise (Emydura Krefftii).
Based on that list, it was evident that Nelis was posting out almost anything he could get his hands on.
Why do I say that?
Who in their right mind would bother sending Pogona vitticeps out of Australia?
After all, they breed like flies in the northern hemisphere already.
To cut a long story short, Nelis was charged and fronted court.
He did what Mick Pugh did and pleaded stupid.
Nelis' lawyer Michael Coglan said that Neilis wasn't getting paid for the stuff he was sending and had only received a measly $100 for his efforts.
The judge, Eugene Cullity decided not to jail him.
But Nelis got stung with a $12,250 fine.
A co-offender Trevor Bissell was also found guilty in court for his lesser role in the scheme. But he was let off with a good behavior bond.
Can you be half pregnant?
Of course not.
Can you have half-legal keeping of reptiles?
Well here in Victoria you can.
Let me explain.
A few years back in the late 1990's Neil Davie who happens to live in Geelong, had a Ball Python (Python regius) passed onto him.
He fronted the local wildlife department and said to them words to the effect of 'Look, I have this snake and I want to keep it. Are you going to have a punch-up with me trying to take it, or are you going to let me keep it peacefully'.
Now how that particular snake got to be here in Australia is a bit of mystery and you have already heard about how busy the postal system is down Geelong way.
But there are no allegations or evidence here about Neil in terms of the postal system and for the purposes of this account it doesn't matter anyway.
The situation at the time was that the local wildlife department just didn't want another brawl with Neil Davie.
He was one of the people who took it upon himself to fight the local authorities and eventually force them to relinquish their illegally seized Varanus gouldii from Stewart Bigmore and others.
It was an embarrassing loss for a department not used to losing fights and so they decided that this time they wouldn't take on Neil Davie.
After all, he only had one lousy exotic snake.
What's a Ball Python worth?
If you say next to nothing you are probably on the mark.
But here in Australia (like everywhere else) we always want what we can't have.
And because we aren't allowed to keep Ball Pythons, we all want them.
It's a bit like why everyone wants to keep Rough-scaled Pythons (Morelia carinata).
What Neil had done was set a precedent.
If he could keep an exotic snake, then why couldn't other people?
And yes, that coupled with the customs department openly refusing to police their laws beyond the entry barriers (meaning that Neil was effectively legally correct to demand the right to keep the snake) led to the beginning of a still ongoing upsurge of non-Australian reptiles coming into the country and being kept by hobbyists.
It was then that the Victorian wildlife department (DNRE as they called themselves that week) decided to have an amnesty on exotic snakes and other animals.
But unlike a normal amnesty whereby people could declare their holdings and not fear prosecution, the Victorian department decided to be very bureaucratic about the whole thing.
By being bureaucratic, I mean that they wanted to keep all their powers and let everyone knows who is boss 'We are!'
Thus the so-called amnesty was along the lines of 'You declare your snakes and we will decide A/ whether or not to prosecute you for having these illegal animals and B/ Whether or not to allow you to keep the snakes'.
It was a farce.
It's common knowledge that based on their own track records, you'd need to be certified to place your trust in anyone in government, especially people from wildlife departments.
Now just so that you know what I have said is true I will go on with this account.
Out of the thousands of people here in Victoria with exotic snakes, less than 20 people declared their holdings in the first year.
Mick Pugh (see above) was one of the front men who lobbied the government into trying to get reason out of their non-existent legal regime for exotic herps.
On behalf of thousands of reptile keepers, he said words to the effect of 'Why should we declare our snakes to you if you won't promise not to seize them?' He went on 'The exotic snakes in Australia are your problem and it will remain so until you actively seek a solution you need our trust, we don't need yours'.
For once the wildlife department listened to reason and thus they decided to issue licences for exotic reptiles.
But as always there was a catch. The only people to get licences were the dozen odd who'd actually declared that they had the exotic reptiles.
Without naming the individuals I know of one man who declared a single Boa Constrictor to the department when he actually had five.
Well he reasoned that if they decided not to issue a licence, he'd relinquish just one snake, not the other four, which he kept hidden. He was effectively testing the water with the department.
You can say ditto for some of the others who declared exotic reptiles to the department.
And then of course, most people didn't bother trusting the department in the first instance and so they didn't even declare their holdings.
And so you had a half-pregnant or half-legal licencing system for exotic reptiles in Victoria.
And as I write this piece now, I read in the papers that in December 2000, the local wildlife department officials have seized an Iguana, Boa Constrictor and Tarantula Spiders from an unlicenced person in suburban Mount Martha who hadn't declared his holdings in the recent pseudo-amnesty.
OUR OWN WORST ENEMY
Some people say that about herpetologists in terms of dealing with our adversaries in government and elsewhere.
Ask any half-honest wildlife law enforcement officer their best means of investigating wildlife crime, reptile smugglers and the like and they'll tell you, 'They put each other in'.
Like the Starkey matter detailed before. He'd probably have gotten away with posting the reptiles to Muscatt had his friend not put him in for it.
You can ditto this for loads of similar cases.
Which brings me back to the half-pregnant licencing of exotic herps here in Victoria.
Another over-riding theme here in Australia is that the government has money to burn. That is on everything except useful conservation initiatives.
Thus it was in late 2000 that the local Victorian wildlife department (called DNR now) decided to spend a lazy few thousand dollars on consultants that they didn't need.
The money could have gone a long way to saving several endangered species, but if they'd done that then they might have got rid of their reason to exist in the first place and that'd mean job losses and they didn't want that.
So they decided to burn the money on consultants instead.
A high-profile city firm was engaged to 'consult' with herpetologists and other so-called 'stake-holders' in relation to what the department wanted to do with licencing exotic reptiles.
There were four meetings in a city office building in Melbourne. The consultants employed by Price, Waterhouse Coopers knew about as much about the subject of exotic herps as I do about the inflation rate in 1965 in Mongolia.
Put it this way the woman running the show evidently didn't know the difference between a Burmese and a Carpet and up that point hadn't heard of either!
Anyway she was getting paid a heap for her 'expertise' so it didn't really matter.
Four long meetings and we all knew the story anyway. The keepers wanted to licence the keeping of non-native reptiles and the department didn't want to and/or if they had to, would do so kicking and screaming.
Then there were other meetings by the Price, Waterhouse Coopers people with the other 'sides', like the zoos, etc.
We already knew their arguments as well. The government zoos wanted a monopoly on the right to keep non-native reptiles and the private zoos wanted a piece of the action.
Private keepers were as always at the bottom of the pile.
But like I said, the Price, Waterhouse, Coopers people made a bundle of cash out of the 'consultancy'.
At the first meeting I attended, I hit the lady running the show with a simple question.
'How much will all this cost the department'.
The answer 'None of your business'.
So much for 'freedom of information' and 'open government'!
Someone in DNR later told me the cost of the meetings was in excess of $250,000 and worse still that they had no bearing on what the department was or wasn't going to do in other words they may as well have pulled out a match and burn the cash.
The department was merely using the meetings to try to get so-called recommendations that would coincide with what they had already decided.
And so it was.
But there was another interesting upshot to all this.
During the course of one of the meetings there was about 10 reptile people in the room telling the 'consultants' what they wanted legal exotics. One of the herpetologists mentioned in passing his Boa Constrictor. Now these meetings were supposedly 'in confidence' so that the participants could be open and frank in stating their views.
The next day his peace was broken by heavily armed police, wildlife officers and customs officials who came bursting through the front door of his Bayswater home.
He put his hands in the air.
The officials wanted to take his illegal Boa Constrictor.
But instead of leaving with a snake, they left with egg on their face.
You see, his was one of the snakes licenced by the wildlife department in their half-pregnant amnesty.
And who put him in to the department?
A lady who'd attended the meeting as a so-called reptile keeper and wildlife carer.
Tracey Williams (as she called herself) had also taken up the role of informant for the local wildlife department in the hope of obtaining favors (read special keeping licences) from them.
What was that I said about reptile keepers and the like sometimes being our own worst enemies?
OUR OWN WORST ENEMIES MARK TWO
Again I write about goings on in Victoria. But before you get the wrong impression about things here, I should give you my own opinion on the overall 'quality' of herpetologists in this second most populous Australian state.
While every state in Australia has their good, very good, bad and ugly people in the reptile business (like I assume everywhere else), here in Victoria I think the quality of herpetologists and keeping in general is probably higher than in all other states.
I have no idea.
And I'm not saying this because I live here.
I still think of Sydney as my home, so my loyalty is to that town, even though I don't live there anymore.
But it's generally conceded Australia-wide that the average quality of keeping and some of the keepers in NSW is the worst in the country.
Most of course are fine, but the bad element there is more prominent than elsewhere.
But my tale of woe here in Victoria relates to the story of Henrietta the 1.82 meter Queensland Carpet Python (Morelia mcdowelli ).
The snake disappeared from Travis Harding's Newport Flat in July 1998. Shortly thereafter some tradesmen working area saw the snake and called in a council contracted snake catcher.
Enter Tom Vida.
He quickly caught the snake and sold the snake to a Ballarat man for $100.
Normally these snakes sell for about $600.
Mr. Harding was later told by Vida that he'd found the snake dead and discarded the body.
However the snake world is not all that big and luck had it that Harding later found out the snake had been sold to the Ballarat keeper.
More than a year later (November 1999), Harding and his snake were reunited again.
Meanwhile Vida had pled guilty to charges relating to the illegal on-selling of the snake.
Vida justified his actions of lying and on-selling the snake for a quick profit by saying that he didn't think that Harding had been looking after his snake properly.
MICK AND MICK PART TWO
Mick and Mick Pugh (see earlier) were busted by the same wildlife department officials on 24 January 2003 for having more illegally obtained exotic (non-native) snakes. The officials seized some Corn Snakes (Elaphe g. guttata) and some Trinket snakes (Elaphe helena) from their Breakwater home.They were then charged with having illegally held exotic fauna.
But this time the story was slightly different, the reason being that these snakes had different origins.
You see the Pugh's had held these snakes for some years, these ones having been brought in by someone else and the Pugh's had in fact been authorised some years earlier by the department's own officials to have them at their property.
Even the paperwork and correspondences between the Pugh's and the department proved this.
However in the hurly burly of a major armed raid involving at least ten heavily weaponed police, officials from several departments and the like, everything gets confused and the snakes were taken by mistake.
Actually the sequence of events went more-or-less as follows:
The scene at the house was pure pandemonium. Guns being shoved in people's faces and men in suits running around like headless chickens.
You'd have thought that some kind of terrorist cell or perhaps Osama Bin Laden himself had been ambushed.
As the house was being trashed and cages being opened, shut, opened, shut, opened shut, opened, shut, opened shut er, I assume you get the drift, one of the blokes grabbed a bag and shot through with the snakes.
No seizure receipt as required by law, nothing.
In fact most of the other government people around had no idea that one of their own had made off with several snakes!
The upshot of this is the same as for every other raid.
The Pugh's were charged.
They were charged with having unlicenced fauna (not smuggling this time).
The charge is essential or else the department would themselves be liable for a compensation claim for bungling a raid.
It's for that reason, each and every raid on every person or property must result in charges.
Governments and their employees never want to be liable for their errors.
The charges against the Pugh's (Mip charged this time) have not been heard as of early 2003 and aren't likely to be settled for some time.
THE REAL REASON FOR THE RAID?
Unlike corrupt bureaucrats and equally corrupt Supreme Court judges, I do not make pretence of having the ability to read minds. I can't.
I can however speculate as to why the Pugh's fell out with the Victorian Wildlife bureaucrats so much as to get a heavy duty military-style raid on their place.
At the time DNR officials caught Mick and Mip brining in reptiles from overseas, they offered the Pugh's a deal.
That was that the officials would go light on the Pughs so long as they became informants for them.
The deal was that the Pughs would dob in (put in)_their mates for all sorts of violations and in return be allowed a free reign to do what they want and keep what they want.
The Pugh's were guaranteed anonymity via an 'informant number' and other means.
The same sort of actions by wildlife officers and police are detailed in my various corruption books, including Smuggled-2 and Victoria Police Corruption and so the Pugh case is not unique.
Now I'm offside with half the Australian bureaucracy already, so there was probably no love lost when I spilled the beans on what is in reality a well known system.
It's called the 'informant system'.
It also operates in the United States and in theory is a means by which enforcement officers can penetrate the criminal underworld.
The reality is that the informant system is usually a lazy way of gathering information and intelligence to enable easy busts so that the officials can then spend most of their work hours lazing around, playing golf and the like.
The whole thing is covered up at the time of the busts when they say things like 'Today's bust is the culmination of six-month's intensive investigation', when in reality it was probably the result of one man putting in his mate in return for not being prosecuted himself.
Now in terms of the Pugh's and the wildlife authorities, the informant game didn't quite run according to plan.
First the Pugh's taped the officials making the offers.
That wasn't a good start as it immediately turned the tables somewhat.
Instead of the officials having something on the Pugh's, it was actually the reverse.
The bombshell was dropped in late 2002 when in an editorial in Crocodilian - Journal of the Victorian Association of Amateur Herpetologists 4(1):3-4, Mick published the details of what the wildlife officials had sought.
Word got around that the DNR officials were 'ropeable' and were just itching to retaliate.
Hence the later raid!
MONEY, MONEY, MONEY
Some people may say I'm a bit harsh getting stuck into a department that's always been favorable to me.
Yes, it's true, the Victorian Department of Natural Resources (DNR) have always been reasonable and up front when dealing with me, er well, as much as can be expected from a government bureaucracy.
They've issued all manner of licences and permits as required and sought and been up front in terms of what they will and won't allow.
Although sometimes the advice from officials is contradictory and inconsistent, they've always been friendly and reasonable to deal with.
Such as the advice, 'If you get a Pilbara Adder, we'll seize it!'.
I liked that. At least I knew where I stood and so at the moment, I'm happy not having Acanthophis wellsei (even though plenty of other Australian people do).
I have no doubt, we'll cross the legal hurdles there in a few years when greater numbers are bred in other states and The Victorian officials will be badgered into letting them into this state.
Or for example the time in early 2002 that they dropped a bombshell and told me that I had an illegally held Death Adder.
Now for someone as paranoid about dotting my 'I's' and crossing my 't's', that as like being told I had aids.
Now I wasn't raided or anything and I should tell you the whole story.
It came out when I applied for a permit to import three female Death Adders (Acanthophis antarcticus) from New South Wales to match-up with my male.
At the present time, import/export permits from Victoria to NSW are routine and straight forward.
Anyway after I filed in my application an official from the Victorian wildlife department rang me and told me that I didn't have a licence to keep snakes as a private keeper.
This sounded strange to me as I'd had a licence continuously for many years prior and had been filing my 'returns' as per the rules without incident.
Now why would a department happily accept and file my returns if I wasn't licenced?
Anyway, I was told that 'Oh, we've upgraded the computer system recently and obviously never sent you a renewal form and hence you never paid and hence you are not licenced'.
When I asked if that meant that I had an illegal Death Adder at my home and if they'd seize it, the woman on the phone said 'Oh, no, it's obviously an "honest mistake" caused by both sides, so if you send us some money for the permit, we'll bank it and fix up the records'.
The cheque was in the post seconds after I hung up the phone.
Sure enough all was fixed up, the licence sent out to me (new licence and licence number) and so too was the import/export permit.
A month later I got another letter from the same department.
This one was a refund cheque for paying my licence fees twice!
Wow, it's a great computer they have in that department!
But what I'm trying to get to is the following. Just because I haven't (yet?) been burn't by the Victorian wildlife officials won't stop me from telling people when they do get thin gs wrong.
Otherwise I'd be censoring the truth and for me that's never acceptable.
MONEY, MONEY, MONEY, PART TWO
Anyway there is another possible reason as to why the Victorian Wildlife Department has such a crappy and mismanaged computer system. It may have something to do with the vast amou ts of money they spend on name changes.
In Smuggled and Smuggled-2 I mad reference to the many name changes this department's had.
Each name change blows millions of dollars in new signage, stationary, logos and the like.
For example just think how much it'd cost to respray new names on several hundred late-model cars!
And sure enough 2002 saw another multimillion dollar name change.
This time the department's name changed from Department of Natural Resources (DNR) to Department of Sustainability and Environment (DSE)!
Er well the last decade, they've been known as: Department of Natural Resources and Environment (DNRE), Department of Conservation and Environment (DCE), Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR), Conservation and Environment Department (C and E), Conservation and Natural Resources (CNR) and National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWSV).
Funnily, enough, in private conversations most of the bureaucrats in the department reckon my criticisms of them have been spot on!
But don't expect too many to go public on this. They're jobs are worth more.
A GOOD MOVE
Here's one for the Vic DSE or whatever they're called this week.
I've been against the willy-nilly releasing of herps into the bush.
This includes the so-called nuisance snakes that turn up in people's back yards and the like.
The DSE say the snakes must be released, that's the law and so that's myself and the other 'snake rescuers' do.
But for those of you who read my 1995 paper 'Release into hell', you'd know, that by and large I'm against this.
The released reptiles rarely survive, transmit disease and cause havock with gene pools, taxonomists and so on.
Put simply, it's a waste of a good resource.
Anyway, DSE have heard my call and part funded a study by University Student Heath Butler into what actually happens with translocated snakes in Melbourne.
Based on Tiger Snakes (Notechis scutatus) 'rescued' by myself and others he's hoping to find out how many actually survive when they are released and how they interact with other snakes in the areas they're released into.
Now just think how many other useful studies could be funded if the DNR had stayed as DNR instead of becoming DSE!
As a postscript, I should note that the snakes removed from properties here in Melbourne, Victoria are effectively only Tigers (Notechis scutatus), Copperheads (Austrelaps superbus) and Brown Snakes (Pseudonaja textilis) and two small species of venomous snake all of which are common in heretoculture here and literally can't be given away when bred.
However the results of the Heath Butler study may have a greater impact in other parts of Australia where species 'rescued' include sought after types like pythons.
In all other states, snake 'rescuers' must also release their snakes. The only exception is the Northern Territory, where just one licence has been issued for the whole of Darwin. Species caught may be onsold to keepers and dealers in the southern states.
Mine are usually corrupt bureaucrats and the like who have a chronic fear of the truth.
As an update for readers here who have read earlier articles and books of mine I should make a few recent events known.
Three more defamation writs have been fought off.
One related to the book Smuggled-2, so to that extent this section of the article is herp-related. That defamation writ was the fourth case involving Vacik distributors.
Then there was a pair of writs by a coalition of corrupt police, State Ombudsman and a convicted arsonist and extortionist by the name of Adam Anthony Zoccoli, who was trying to ban my book Victoria Police Corruption.
That book precipitated the upset election loss of the Victorian State Government in September 1999, as well as mass resignations by senior police, including the commissioner himself, two years ahead of the end of his five-year contract.
We offered the same defence in all cases. That was 'Truth' and 'Public interest', and like I said, our side won every case.
Then there was the improper imprisonment of myself in 1997, fraudulently held up by my adversaries as 'proof' of my innate criminality.
In a radical turnaround, the Victorian Office of Public Prosecutions (OPP) lodged a letter with the High Court admitting to unlawfully rigging the trial to force my imprisonment. The letter followed a belated admission by chief crown witness John Raymond Connell that he had conspired with Terry O'Keefe and David Robby of the local transport department (Vicroads) to fabricate evidence and documents in order to convict me of four offences I hadn't committed.
So far so good, but the OPP then went and said that they were not interested in paying out compensation for fear of setting a precedent.
So what does all this mean to you - the reader?
So far no person or law court have yet been able to find a single word in any of my seven corruption books (including the two Smuggled books) that are in any way false or incorrect.
But truth really is stranger than fiction and here's some further proof.
Up until the end of 2000, government officials had tried to ban my corruption books on the alleged basis that they were untrue and therefore the legal arguments were along the lines of 'the public shouldn't be told lies'.
If the government officials had been correct in their assertions, then you can actually see a bit of logic in their arguments. But like I've said before, they never even got to be able to satisfy their own appointed judges that a single word I'd ever printed was wrong.
So at end 2000 in an amazing turnaround, the NSW Police decided to try to ban one of my books (Taxi) on the basis that it was true.
That's not a misprint.
The inappropriately named NSW Police Integrity Commission (PIC) actually wrote to the publishers seeking to ban sales of the book Taxi - Indecent Exposures because it was true.
The letter dated 10 November 2000, relied on an arcane legal precedent to argue that the public had no right to know the facts about government corruption matters. That's right, the public had no right to be able to find out the truth.
In terms of my books, it meant that the government side had now attempted to ban six in a row!
We took legal advice from a Sydney lawyer and he told the NSW Police to get back to policing - not plumbing.
BUT PLEASE DON'T MAKE IT COMMON
But getting to the herp scene, perhaps I should mention Dale Gibbons.
I like to think he owns the Bendigo Hilton hotel.
Actually he doesn't, but when in Bendigo in rural Victoria, I stay at his place. I like the snake room.
It's the warmest place in the house.
He's a highly respected herpetologist who has also been doing field research with DNR scientists on Victorian Carpet Snakes at Wangaratta and other areas.
That part is the good bit.
Any money the department spends on research on reptiles in the field is probably far better than the vastly greater amounts spent on useless consultancies and the like
But a few years ago in the mid 1990's Dale actually came a cropper with the local wildlife department.
That was because he did the unspeakable and almost made a 'rare' animal 'common'.
Rare animals are a great propaganda piece for wildlife authorities. The departments flash their images around the place and tell the general public that without the department's bureaucracy, these species would be even rarer or 'God forbid' extinct.
It's a simple line and most people unthinkingly buy it.
Now so long as these species remain rare, the departments can continue to get government money and power and so their existence is justified.
If these species were to suddenly become common, then the main reason for these departments to exist is gone and hence in reality this must never happen.
Jobs are at stake!
In an Australian context there are at most about 300 species of vertebrate (mammals, birds, reptiles, frogs, fish) that could be classed as endangered. And quite frankly with the expenditure of a pitifully small amount of money (less than a hundred million dollars) and half-sensible wildlife laws, all bar a few marine and other species could be placed out of danger within a few years. And that's in the context of billions spent in this country each year ostensibly on conservation.
Now the numbers don't add up, and they aren't meant to.
That's what I mean about self-serving bureaucracies.
Enter Dale Gibbons again.
Okay, so he bred Bredl's pythons (Morelia bredli) and made them a common captive here in Australia. That wasn't a problem for the local officials as that's a Northern Territory native, and that's a different state.
But one day when he was out studying Powerful Owls (Ninox strenua) along a roadside near Bendigo he stumbled upon a series of huge populations of the Striped Legless Lizard (Delma impar).
Now these are supposed to critically endangered and Dale's find seemed to indicate that they were somewhat more common and widespread than was thought.
Instead of embracing the find as scientifically useful for the conservation of the species, Dale was told to 'keep your mouth shut'. You see the department wanted to use the supposedly critically endangered status of the species as a propaganda piece to justify the continued existence of a sizeable part of the bureaucracy.
But what exactly did this bureaucracy do for the benefit of the supposedly critically endangered reptile?
In two or less words the bureaucracy did effectively nothing.
SOUTH AUSTRALIA'S NPWS'S CONTINUED SELF JUSTIFICATION
Ditto the above for South Australia.
The rediscovery of the Adelaide Bluetongue (Tiliqua adelaidensis) near Burra in South Australia in 1992 was a boon for the South Australian wildlife department.
The lizard was thought to be extinct and until 1992 was only known from about seven specimens stored in museum jars.
The rediscovery of the species gave the wildlife department a great propaganda piece with which to justify their every growing budgets and continued existence.
Now the South Australian NPWS were onto the lizard's case real quick.
Just to make sure that the species didn't dare become common, they made sure that none entered captivity, save for a select few specimens that ended up at the SA Museum and the zoo.
The importance here was that none ended up in the hands of private keepers who may dare to do the unspeakable and breed the animals in such numbers that they became 'common'.
The NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service tried to do the same thing with the Green and Golden Bell frog (Litoria aurea), as soon as they realised that the frogs were in serious decline and thought that only a few hundred may be left in the wild in that state.
However because they breed like er, Bell Frogs in captivity, the plan didn't succeed when South Australians who were able to keep the frogs legally decided to go hard on the captive breeding. With an average of 1,500 eggs per mating, it didn't take long for this supposedly endangered frog to become dirt common in captivity.
And so the NSW NPWS spent hundreds of thousands of dollars in the late 1990's paying their own 'scientists' to count the supposedly last remaining members of that species, but at the same time do nothing to breed or preserve the species.
In NSW at least keeping Bell Frogs was strictly prohibited lest the unthinkable happen and the species actually become common again.
Put simply it was one colossal rort.
The farcical nature of these so-called studies became clear when captive breeders, pet-shops and the like in South Australia and Victoria ended up bursting at the seams with this supposedly endangered frog.
The money spent supposedly counting what were supposedly the last remaining Bell Frogs could have been far better spent elsewhere.
Getting back to the Adelaide Bluetongue and the SA NPWS and their reasons to keep the lizards rare, one mustn't forget the propaganda side of things.
To keep up the charade that the SA NPWS are trying to boost the numbers of the species, they have a few specimens at the local government owned zoo.
They'll breed a few token lizards just so that they can claim to be running a breeding program to 'save' the endangered species.
In reality, the effort is too little to make any real impact, but it helps perpetuate the charade that the department and the government are on the lizard's side.
Now we are at the turn of the millenium and Adelaide Bluetongues have turned up elsewhere. According to the newsletters of the South Australian Herpetology Group, at least ten other locations to be exact. The wild population is now known to be in the thousands.
Because they are known to inhabit spider burrows, people are in tune with where to look for the lizards. Localities they are now known from include private properties in the mid-north in a line from just south of Burra north towards Peterborough and the South Hummocks Range, north of Port Wakefield, as well as a property between Clare and Blyth.
But of course, the idea that private keepers be allowed to keep or breed the species remains a big 'no,no'.
Are the Adelaide Bluetongues hard to breed?
Based on the fact that all the other species breed like, er, Bluetongues, I'd say not likely.
But that of course is an even greater reason why the SA NPWS don't want private keepers to get hold of this 'critically endangered species'.
Like I said, if the private keepers start to breed them by the thousand, another reason for the SA NPWS to scam the taxpayer for funds will evaporate.
And if it ever became a simple choice between these lizards remaining rare and/or becoming extinct, or being bred by private keepers in huge numbers, thereby making them 'common', I think I know which way the bureaucrats would probably go.
HOT AND COLD
The trend in Australia in recent years has been for a liberalization of wildlife keeping laws here. That's been good for the reptile keepers.
But it's been different in every state.
By Australian standards and in terms of being a reptile keeper, Victoria and South Australia have had it pretty good for the last ten years or so. Maybe that's why I'm here in Melbourne (Victoria).
NSW which was terrible for over two decades has recently thawed out and finally got a workable licencing system in place. Smuggled-2 is what finally caused that (refer to an earlier edition of Reptilian).
Queensland has ranged from bad to not so bad over the last two decades and while bearable for most herpers, there is a constant tug by the wildlife authorities to tighten things up.
As I write this article, the Queensland NPWS are trying to stop private keepers from keeping venomous snakes.
Now to many people in the UK and the USA that mightn't sound like a bad thing, but here in Australia that's a calamity when you realize that a huge portion of what we have is venomous.
And so another battle is being fought.
Then there was that species of snake I named after Roy Pails: Pailsus pailsei.
When I described it in 1998, there were only two specimens known to science. That was the type specimen and another old-aged snake in Roy Pails' private collection.
I was led to believe that the Queensland NPWS would happily grant permits to anyone who wanted to go and catch them for a legitimate purpose.
But in Queensland when it comes to issuing permits there's usually a catch.
The local NPWS have this fixation with the idea that snakes are worth money - that's all snakes, and they choose to impose a so-called 'tariff' on any snakes that are collected from the wild.
A few years ago, Fred Rossignoli wanted to capture a few common kinds like Small-eyed Snakes (Cryptophis), Whip Snakes (Demansia) , Rough-scaled Snakes (Tropidechis) and Eastern Brown Snakes (Pseudonaja).
All are dirt common in Queensland and regularly killed as pests by people in cities and in the bush.
Fred was told that he could get the permits (for one or two of each - no more), but would have to pay between $1,000 and $2,000 per snake as a tariff to the wildlife department.
He did his maths.
Over $10,000 for eight lousy snakes.
They had to be kidding!
These snakes sell for about $50 each, tops. But because they are all snappy little rascals of things, no one in their right mind would want to keep them and so Fred had trouble buying them which is why he'd sought the collection permits in the first place.
And why did Fred want the snakes?
Well he was doing educational lectures for schools and he wanted them for the lectures. He didn't want them because they were 'nice', 'rare', 'worth money' or anything else that a wildlife bureaucrat would necessarily think of as 'bad'.
But then again, since when have wildlife bureaucrats ever really worried about things like educating school kids about identifying different kinds of snakes.
Fred couldn't afford to spend a couple of thousand dollars to go to Queensland to capture a few lousy snakes (he'd wanted at least four of each, so that he could rotate them through his shows on different days), and then pay another $10,000 to the department for the privilege, so he abandoned the idea and gave up.
And so ever since, Fred's never had any whip snakes, rough-scaled snakes or Small-eyed snakes in his shows, although he managed to pick up a few legal brown snakes from someone in South Australia.
Others who applied to the Queensland NPWS got the similar treatment. Most were refused permits to collect, or if they got lucky (?), then pay for the right to capture a pitifully small number of snakes.
And so the illegal collection of snakes in that state remains rife. That's because the alternative is just impossible for most people.
Now there is just one other thing I should mention in relation to the Queensland NPWS and their issuing of collect permits.
There have been for some years now a select group of academics and other individuals associated with some zoos in Queensland who have had unfettered rights to capture and collect what they like.
Ostensibly these permits have been granted for research, and yes, most have been bona-fide, but some have not been. Those were effectively just for the purposes of enhancing private collections.
That's usually called double standards.
And that's where the Pailsus pailsei comes back into the story.
You see after I described this new species of snake, the venom research people wanted to get hold of the venom to do their tests.
Peter Mirtschin of Venom Supplies at Tanunda in South Australia, shot across to Roy Pails' place in Ballarat and got some venom for a few initial tests.
But the snake is as old as they come and literally knocking on heaven's door.
Peter got a bit of venom, but he wanted more.
So he applied to the Queensland wildlife department for a permit.
And yes, they actually offered to give him one.
But at a price.
He had to pay for each snake that he captured.
Mirtschin didn't want a bar of it.
After all what really are Pailsus?
They are best described as snappy brown mongrels of things that no sane keeper in his right mind would want to keep. They are not what you'd call a 'money snake'.
Peter told the department he wanted the permit, but didn't want to pay for the snakes.
They said 'no deal'.
He noted that so-called academics at institutions were getting collect permits and not having to pay 'tariffs' and that he too was involved in bona-fide research.
But as far as Q/NPWS were concerned Mirtschin was private, and the sweetheart deals were in the main for fellow government employees only.
And so there was a deadlock.
Mirtschin put in a complaint to the Queensland Ombudsman (a so-called government watch-dog) and as I understand it, as of early 2001, the complaint is still being looked at.
Meanwhile, the Queensland NPWS have taken the complaint in their stride and simply gone hard on issuing any new permits, claiming they are awaiting the results of the Ombudsman's inquiries.
Fortunately it seems that the Pailsus snakes are a bit more widespread than at first thought, with specimens since turning up in Western Australia and the Northern Territory, as well as a similar species (P. rossignolii) in Irian Jaya. But with a civil war going on in Irian Jaya at the time of writing, it may not be too easy to get snakes from there at the moment.
Maybe Peter can get his snakes from elsewhere.
MONEY FOR SNAKES MARK TWO
Queensland NPWS aren't the only bureaucrats with this idea that every reptile in the state is theirs to hang onto (even if they get killed by shovels, run over and the like) and then sell the odd specimen to the few people stupid enough to apply for permits to collect them.
The same sort of mindset applies in the Northern Territory.
In this country, every wildlife department has as policy a no-mutants rule.
That is no one is allowed to breed things like Albinos and the like, because they are unnatural.
Er, except when someone in the bureaucracy can make a buck out of it for themselves.
In 1999 there was a bit of a brougha over an albino Carpet Snake that had been held at the Territory Wildlife Park for several years.
Policy of the NT Government and NPWS (who owned the park) was not to breed the snake because it was a mutant.
Tim Mensforth and Roly Burrell offered $20,000 for the snake and were knocked back. Another breeder Neil Simpson also tried unsuccessfully to get the snake, and for him, money was no object, he had heaps.
Thus, money wasn't the issue (or so it seemed) it was just the government's policy no breeding mutants.
However in late 1999, the same snake was shifted to Simon Stone of Adelaide for the sole purposes of breeding.
Bill Freeland (Director of Parks and Wildlife NT), released the snake to Mr. Stone on the apparent condition that when the snake does breed, half the offspring goes back to the Territory Wildlife Park.
With no one knowing the real reasons for the sudden shift in policy by the NT government, the losers in the deal (those who were unable to get the snake in the first instance) called for an investigation.
An allegation was made that a contact in a major (name deleted) phone company paid a substantial sum to Mr. Freeland or someone else in the NT Bureaucracy, but the allegation was hotly denied and there was no independent inquiry.
And yes, there was another brougha over another apparent reversal of policy in the Territory Parks and Wildlife Service over an albino Olive Python (Liasis olivaceous) that surfaced in the NT.
ARE ALL HERPETOLOGISTS ARE CRIMINALS? AGAIN?
When most people think about smugglers and law-breakers in herpetology, it's usually thought or implied that 'private' collectors are the biggest offenders.
But the evidence in this regard just doesn't stack up.
The so-called professionals are into the caper as well.
I suppose it's because they are human.
Now I'm not tarring all professionals (or 'amateurs') with the same brush, but like all humans, there are some who will try to scam the system for their own benefit and yes, some will get caught.
In 1999, the reptile curator at the San Diego Zoo, Earl Thomas Schultz got busted after legally importing Australian pythons and lizards to the United States.
Contrary to the terms of the permits he on-sold the reptiles to private breeders in the USA.
He later pled guilty to the charges.
Oh and yes, professional herpetologists also get picked up at airports by officials who have their names keyed into their computer databases.
BUGGER THE PERMITS?
Then there's that other well-known Australian herpetologist with rich parents.
So rich in fact that this enables this person to spend most of his spare time travelling in search of herps.
For the moment, I'll keep his name confidential, although you don't need to be a Rhodes Scholar to work out who he is.
He's the bloke who claims to be a sparkie (that's Australian slang for an electrician), but besides being a herper (of which he is a very talented one), he'd probably have trouble working an Iron Lung.
He spends most of his time going all over Australia (and more recently overseas) capturing reptiles and photographing them. His photos are as good as they get, and many readers will have seen them in a number of books and magazines.
He doesn't usually bother with the permits because he says 'Why should I bother? If I apply for them, I'd wait a year to be told "No fucking way", so I just get in the car and go and grab what I like and by the time anyone knows what's happening, I'm back here in Melbourne'.
And in fairness to him, most other reptile people in Australia operate the same way, because it's the only feasible alternative.
He's been busted twice in the field capturing reptiles, but managed to beat the charges both times because he had sensible (and/or snake-hating) magistrates hearing the charges.
He's also had a couple of near misses.
Once in South Australia.
He thinks he was put into the wildlife department over there by an enemy here in Melbourne, but evidence suggests that it was more likely it was because he spoke to someone whose phone was being monitored by police at the time over other matters and so he got caught up in the mess that way.
In the Australian bush there is usually only one road in and out of a town and if the local wildlife people decide to stake out a town to grab you, you usually have no feasible means of escape.
To get out of his spot of bother in Whyalla, South Australia he released the reptiles he had in his possession and then drove back via little-known dirt tracks running several hundred kilometers further to avoid the noose.
Then he drove to Melbourne via another back-route adding another 500 km to his round trip.
He later said 'I was like a f..king fugitive!'
This herp photographer had another near miss in the spring of 1997 when he went to Mount Isa in search of Acanthophis woolfi. They are those big red Death Adders found just to the south of the town in places like Djarra and Dutchess.
Our man is also notorious for having a 'big mouth' and that is a common downfall for herpetologists.
A few hundred km north of Melbourne he pulled into a roadhouse in Northern Victoria and told the attendant that he was going to Mount Isa to collect some Death Adders. He also made it clear that he'd be bringing home any that he found.
Like Steve Irwin infers on the TV, this man also loves to tell everyone that he's the 'best' snakeman around.
Why did he tell the service station attendant all this?
Well it was just a passing conversation as he filled up with petrol. And why should the conversation go any further?
But as any fauna official will tell you, reptile people are often their own worst enemies and in this case it was no different.
You, see this herper had just put himself into the authorities.
The service station attendant phoned the local police to tell them of a 'wildlife smuggler' heading for Queensland and that was effectively the end of his latest herp capturing escapade.
The police monitored his every movement as he traveled through NSW, and into Queensland capturing and photographing reptiles.
Many weren't released.
Firstly, he was bringing selected specimens back for his mates back in Melbourne.
But of even greater importance is that It's also necessary for him to retain the animals until after his films are processed - just in case the photos he takes don't match his very high standards.
By retaining the animals he always has a second (or even third) chance at getting the best photos he can.
At Mount Isa, the Queensland NPWS had been alerted to this unlicenced reptile collector and the police then forfeited their running of the operation to them. And yes, they spent the best part of a week covertly following their man.
It's here that the herper got lucky.
You see one of the fundamentals of many bureaucrats is that they are lazy. Another relevant fact is that many are merely money hungry scum, and so it was the case for these Queensland officials.
You see they were called out to watch and then bust the herper for illegally collecting reptiles preferably when he had a car full and was heading back south.
The reason for this is because the more they bust him for, the better it looks for them and the more likelihood they'll get a greater penalty against him when he finally fronts court.
However the department refused to pay the enforcement officers 'over-time' to do the bust.
There was an internal dispute over the matter and senior management offered the workers 'normal pay' to follow him for a few more days and then do the bust.
However 'normal pay' is only about half the 'over-time' rate.
In the end the officers told their superiors 'No overtime pay, no bust'.
There was no deal, and so the operation was terminated.
Thus the herper was allowed to return to Melbourne with a car full of snakes and lizards.
Then the herper did what he always did.
He set up a stage in his lounge-room and took yet more photos of the various snakes and lizards, waiting for his slides to return and then palming them off to other willing keepers in Melbourne.
Some have probably since been 'laundered onto the books' as legally held and/or captive-bred reptiles. The remainder would have disappeared into that black-hole called the underground or black market.
Was he morally wrong to do what he did?
In my view no.
In the overall scheme of things, the number of reptiles we are talking about is but a drop in the ocean. Not only that, but he was contributing to the overall body of knowledge about Australia's reptiles including little-known forms.
Was he legally wrong?
And if he'd been busted, he ran the very real risk of jail.
So what's the moral to the story for all would-be reptile traffickers or even those who merely wish to take photos of reptiles without a permit?
Remember - even that's illegal in Australia.
Keep your mouth shut!
Tell no one.
Even the mug who fills your car's tank with petrol may be all that is needed to have you busted by an army of police and bureaucrats.
Or like I mentioned in one of the Smuggled books, it was one tourist who overheard another talking to a friend in German (about smuggling) that led to the second one getting busted for posting lizards back home after the first one put him in to Police.
And again I stress, remember, jail is a very likely consequence if you do get busted.
MORE OF THE SAME
In 1998, this same Melbourne-based herper decided to spend some time capturing critters at Groote Eylandt off the east coast of the Northern Territory.
Like I said before, money was no object as his parents have bucket loads and although he's aged about thirty years old, he never actually has to work to pay the bills.
In fact at the time of writing, he still lived at home with them.
He originally went to Groote Eylandt for just a few weeks. But then he liked it so much that he spent a few months there.
Like for most trips he brought home some of the 'more interesting' critters.
Included was an (alleged) Pailsus pailsei. He found two on the trip and immediately knew that they were something unusual.
One was a road-kill which he photographed.
The live one he promptly gave to another keeper in one of Melbourne's southern suburbs.
By the time I found out about the snake, it had died.
Meanwhile the herper who caught the (alleged) Pailsus and had formally been a good friend of mine had 'black-listed me'.
In 1998 I formally described a few new species of Death Adders. And because I didn't name any after him, he decided I was a 'C..t'.
That also made my taxonomy 'sh..house', (even though his actual grievance was about the nomenclature).
Like I said before, in herpetology, the science is never as dramatic as the politics.
The irony of all this was that I had another paper about to be printed naming other new species of snakes, one of which was to be named after him.
After the childish abuse meted out at me and a series of lies (mostly behind my back), I pulled the name and substituted another.
What was that I said about how in herpetology, the science is never as dramatic as the politics?
THAT DRUG BUST
Then in March 2001 this person was busted with a stash of exotic reptiles that made the Pugh's matters seem trivial by comparison.
Actually he wasn't exactly busted for exotics.
Er, well, not in the first instance.
Before the bust and using his skills as an electrician (OK so we're talking about Rob Valentic), he wired up his new house in Donnybrook.
Not just for herps though.
The house was wired up to grow a massive hydroponic marijuana crop.
Not only that, but to avoid detection he bypassed the electricity meter box.
This is actually fairly routine for illegal drug crops, so in as much as all this, none of what Rob did was all that exceptional, except perhaps for the scale.
In law, the theft of the electricity is far worse than the drug crop itself!
Somehow the police got onto the crop and decided to do a raid.
When they rocked up, they found a load of snakes that seemed a bit aggressive, so the local wildlife department were called in.
As it happened, it was later revealed that the officials had 'flexed' the day off (This is a rort, whereby Australian bureaucrats use so-called 'flexitime' to take days off work).
The bureaucrats were tracked down and soon a collection of them and some local snake experts were brought to the house.
Now Rob was a licenced snake keeper so the fact that he had reptiles in his home wasn't a matter for concern.
However some of the reptiles were!
Besides his legally held locally occurring species, he had a number of illegal species, including Pilbara Death Adders (Acanthophis wellsei). That was 'bad'.
What was worse was the fact that he also had a load of illegal exotic (non-native) species including Indian and Cape cobras (Naja nivea), Gaboon vipers (Bitis gabonica), Venezuelan rattlesnakes (Crotalus durissus culmanensis) , Puff adders (Bitis arietans) and Yellow Rat Snakes (Elaphe obsoleta quadrivittata).
These were carted off to the City Zoo and Rob was set to be charged with various offences.
Fellow herpetologist Chris Hay was then raided and more illegal reptiles were seized.
The two-men faced charges for the following:
Now bearing in mind that for the smuggling charges alone the usual term of penalty is a year or two in jail and/or huge fines, the prognosis wasn't good for the pair.
Added to that the drugs matters and the governments claims of zero-tolerance on illegal activities, neither men seemed to have much hope of escaping this pickle without serious repercussions.
The case came up for hearing in December the same year and the result was a bombshell.
At the last moment, both men pled guilty to everything in a 'no-contest'.
In a decision that shocked the wildlife officials, the magistrate Alan Spillane refused to convict the men of any charges and gave them so-called 'Good behaviour bonds'.
This meant that they effectively walked free from the court without penalty.
This is a question that many people here have tried to answer and here's a few potential explanations.
Word soon got around after the case that just prior to the hearing, $40,000 was paid directly into Spillane's TAB account. This was said to have been an inducement for the shock 'decision' by Spillane.
Approaches by myself to Spillane seeking an answer to the relevant questions were ignored.
However, Spillane has for many years been known to be corrupt (refer to The Hoser Files, published in 1995 or Victoria Police Corruption - 2 published in 1999 for details).
As it happened, the judgement was fantastic news for virtually every other herper as it now meant that a legal 'precedent' had been set and that a person caught doing some serious large-scale smuggling of reptiles could expect complete leniency from the courts.
The reason for this is a thing known as 'parity of sentence'.
That is, if a person is sentenced to say five years jail for a crime, then another person found guilty in a court of law for doing the same thing should get the same sentence.
Under parity of sentence, this meant that the Valentic/Hay case was a precedent and that another person caught smuggling reptiles into Australia should expect the same (or no) penalty.
The wildlife officials prosecuting the case knew all this and so in a rare move they formally appealed the result.
In yet another shock for the wildlife officials, the appeal was lost by the wildlife officials.
The result Rob and Chris walked free and other potential smugglers took the finding as a green light to start smuggling in reptiles.
Within weeks, masses of exotic reptiles started to show up at the Melbourne international mail exchange.
One parcel found on 8 March 2002 had 11 more vipers and rattlesnakes.
was found in a random mail check at Melbourne's Airmail Transit Centre.
The customs declaration had 'ceramic vase' written on it. The 45 cm snakes were held inside socks.
It'd been sent from Sweden.
A well-known snakie Nyngan, NSW was charged.
IN NEW SOUTH WALES
And it wasn't just in Victoria that the floodgates to exotic reptile imports were opened.
The same thing happened elsewhere in Australia.
There were loads of busts around Sydney.
In 2001/2002 there was a series NPWS/Police raids on keepers that yielded exotic reptiles.
Based on the Hay/Valentic precedent, NPWS didn't bother charging most people because they knew that under 'parity of sentence' they'd be let effectively off by the courts.
However there was one notable event that occurred.
A collection in the Blue Mountains (west of Sydney) was seized.
There were about 60 exotic and Australian snakes that all ended up at Sydney's Taronga Zoo.
Shortly after arrival, two of the (Australian) Jungle Carpet Pythons (Morelia cheynei) were found to have IBD-like symptoms and were euthanazed.
They were examined and the diagnosis (IBD) was confirmed.
As a result the rest of the snakes were also killed.
NPWS sent out media releases and within a short time the story was garbled enough to imply that the foreign snakes had been found to have the disease.
Regardless of the truth, the case was used as an impetus by wildlife authorities across Australia to try again to put the exotic reptiles genie back into the bottle.
For those who legally held such reptiles, they had additional licence requirements imposed and wildlife authorities across the country became more vigilant in terms of seeking and seizing any exotic reptiles in private hands.
Brad Maryan, the man the WA Wildlife department (CALM) told the media was a criminal and a wildlife trafficker, actually turned out to be one of the 'good guys'.
He eventually won the court case against CALM, although it cost him $3,800.
And CALM failed to gain a conviction against Brad Maryan, who was the man they wrongly portrayed as monster raping and pillaging our wildlife.
In 1998, the local wildlife officials did an armed raid on Maryan's place and cleaned out his reptile cages.
It was a normal Australian-style sort of caper.
Government hoods running around stuffing snakes into bags and carting them off.
The next day the papers ran the usual stories about Maryan being part of some international ring that was critically endangering our fauna. And then he was hit with a load of criminal charges.
The reptiles were then treated like dirt and started dropping off like flies, but then again the wildlife officials didn't care.
Via the mass media they'd justified their existence and their highly paid jobs for another year or two.
And then in January 2000, Maryan was cleared by the courts of any serious wrongdoing and the department had a bit more egg on their face. They were told to return all Maryan's snakes.
Did he get them back?
The wildlife department had taxpayer's funds to burn so decided to take the matter all the way to the High Court of Australia.
And while the appeal was being dragged through the courts, Maryan's remaining snakes continued to get sick and drop dead, one by one.
How much did that appeal to the High Court cost?
Probably several hundred thousand dollars.
Six months later, the wildlife department lost that case as well. But they didn't really care.
It wasn't their money they were spending.
The taxpayer footed that bill as well.
And yes, that's money the Australian government tells us is being spent on 'conservation'.
Where were the poor hapless reptiles, the alleged reason for the raid in the first place, being held?
At a place called the Armadale Reptile center (ARC), which according to a detailed submission to the government by Brian Bush, et. al. dated 1 February 2000 is a mite infested hole of a place which has had serious outbreaks of IBD and other notable reptile diseases.
How do we know this?
The autopsy reports by the government's own veterinary surgeons told us that.
So why did they raid Maryan in the first place?
Well he was an office bearer for the group known as WASAH, The West Australian Association of Amateur Herpetologists, and they'd been criticizing CALM's anti-conservation policies for years.
So what's the upshot of all this?
Hopefully the WA government will finally bring in a reptile licensing system whereby people can legally keep snakes as pets and even trade with other states legally.
The omens are good for the introduction of such a system. That's because unlike Western Australia, all the other mainland states and territories now have some sort of workable licensing systems for reptiles and the pressure is on to make the West Australian government step into line.
Oh and there's the Section 92 argument as well.
Anyone whose read Smuggled, would know that Section 92 of the Australian constitution expressly forbids impediments to interstate trade and at the moment the West Australian wildlife laws are illegal and unconstitutional because they serve to do this.
While betting on when governments do things is a bit like trying rearrange the deck chairs on the Titanic, my bet is that there'll be a workable licensing system in Western Australia operating by end 2001.
BUT DO THEY WORK?
Yes and no is the answer.
Licencing systems only work properly when they are the most viable alternative for a majority of the law-abiding population.
However that still isn't really the case here in Australia.
Exotics (non-Australian) reptiles have long been put into the 'too-hard' basket by authorities.
A few years ago, Customs effectively forfeited responsibility for exotic reptiles when they said that they'd only police the barriers (entry points) and not the whole country as they had previously.
The change of policy was part of a wider industrial dispute whereby the bureaucracy was trying to get the government to employ more staff.
This changed the situation here from one whereby one could be busted by customs, not only for illegally importing foreign reptiles, but also keeping them anywhere in Australia, to one whereby if you got them into the country without detection, then you were safe from prosecution, even if later on the authorities found out you had exotics in your home.
And so the trickle of exotic reptiles into the country became a flood.
I know of some herpers here who have been getting incoming parcels of snakes on a daily basis for two or three years now and only been caught once or twice.
The fines they got were worth less than the reptiles in the parcels. That was because the men pled guilty and then gave the presiding magistrates cock-and-bull stories about how the snakes were worthless and the magistrates bought the lies.
The result of all this?
More and more parcels of snakes coming into Australia.
Now we still pay more than the Europeans and the Americans for our Ball Pythons, Burmese or whatever, but the differential is dropping all the time and ones without paper (illegal ones) are only worth a few times more than what non-Australians pay.
The wildlife departments of New South Wales and Victoria have both made half-hearted attempts at filling the regulatory void that has emerged in terms of exotic herps. But they've made an even bigger mess of things because they failed to specify what their ground rules are. They keep saying they are looking at things and may bring in a new licencing system in future.
Rightly or wrongly, the word around the traps is that there may be an amnesty on foreign reptiles and so people are bringing in as many as they can in anticipation of such an amnesty in the hope that they can make a quick killing.
By way of example, when NSW NPWS announced it's amnesty for illegal reptiles a few years back, some herpers went bush for a month and caught everything they could. They claimed the whole lot on at the expiry of the amnesty and then commenced selling most of their (now legal) stock off.
Some made thousands of dollars overnight.
Here in Australia we make jokes about Tasmania. It's that small island state to the south of the mainland. Hardly anyone lives there and hardly anybody goes there.
Why should they?
It's a cold, miserable hole of a place with very few reptiles. Three kinds of snake only and not many more lizards.
Australians joke about the Tasmanians and how they are allegedly inbred. Tasmanians are the butt of all the jokes about the kids having two heads and webbed feet.
Maybe even the Tasmanian wildlife department are inbred.
After all, how else could they justify such idiotic reptile laws?
Just the day before I wrote this, I received a media release from the Tasmanian wildlife department justifying what are now among the most restrictive wildlife laws in the country.
Residents there can only keep the three local species of snake (Tiger, Copperhead and White-lipped).
Anything else is banned.
In justifying this prohibition the Tasmanian department said it was concerned that snakes from the mainland may become feral if allowed in Tasmania.
But can you image it?
Scrub Pythons overrunning the Snow-capped peaks of Lake Pedder, Perenties (Varanus giganteus) trampling the meadows of Launceston, or Frill-necked Dragons colonizing the Franklin Gorge.
These things can't even survive in the wild in Victoria, so how are they meant to get a foothold in the even colder climes of Tasmania.
Me thinks that the Tasmanian wildlife department's view of the world can only be reached by two-headed bureaucrats playing with themselves.
BUT DO THEY SWIM?
Another standing joke is that Geelong is proof that Tasmanians can swim.
Geelong is cold-wet, windy muck-hole of a town about an hour's drive south of Melbourne. It's also got a reputation as being an inbred hole of a town. Hence the jibe about Geelong and Tasmanians.
Bendigo is another one of those sorts of towns. But it's about an hour and a half's drive north-west of Melbourne.
Both of them have some top-class resident herpers, but then there are also those who may be of the two-headed variety.
Here's what I mean.
Bendigo has about 70,000 people, give or take a few heads.
It's one of those places where everyone knows everyone, or at least it seems that way.
You could count the major snake collections in the town on both hands (using one head).
So if you were a criminal and wanted to steal a snake or two, you wouldn't try to hock your stolen goods to someone else in the same town, would you?
But that's exactly what happened.
Rob Jealous is one of the resident herpers from Bendigo. He's a mate of mine and nice bloke, but he's had more than his fair share of bad luck in 2000.
Firstly he got picked up by the SA wildlife department when catching Tiger Snakes without a permit. I think he was just taking a few holiday photos, but in this country that's highly illegal.
I don't know the end result of the case, but in this country to kill a snake is fine by the authorities, but to try to capture or study them is a 'no no'.
Anyway he came back to his home of Bendigo and got a visit from a young bloke who said he was interested in buying some snakes off him.
The next day Jealous was burgled and lost the lot.
A few days later, Jealous was speaking to a mate of his, Drew Williams, who worked at a local pet shop, the Bendigo pet and reptile shop. And yes, they'd just bought a pile of cheap snakes including a few Bredl's Pythons and elapids.
It goes without saying that they'd been Jealous's snakes.
The police were called in and this time they did their job and nabbed the thief.
While talking about Bendigo, one of the local herpers Darren Green (one head only), has been putting out a series of books on the keeping and breeding of commonly kept reptiles. Things like bearded dragons, tortoises and the like.
The books are inexpensive and simple and great for new keepers. They're Australia's answer to the AVS and Barron's guides.
In South Australia Paul Curtis was doing similar books, but it seems that he stopped doing them a while ago. My understanding is that the South Australian Herpetology Group (SAHG) is preparing to keep the books in production.
GOULDII GOING THE WAY OF PANOPTES
Things in the west are going from bad to worse in terms of these monitors. In 1999, the ICZN used its plenary (read dictatorial) powers to declare the Northern sand Goanna as a new species Varanus panoptes and the southern variety Varanus gouldii.
In fact the brand new type specimen of Varanus gouldii is from south-west Australia.
So from a nomenclatural point of view we had the situation of Varanus panoptes being born, then exterminated by Wolfgang Bohme in 1992 and then resurrected by the ICZN in 1999.
Thankfully that only involved a few name changes and not the lizards themselves.
But now the tide is turning against the lizards themselves. Wild specimens of the 'new' Varanus gouldii as in the south-west Australian form have been getting exterminated at a rate of knots.
And, yes, it's the government bureaucrats who are leading this extermination.
So while you can't get a permit to trap or keep one of these lizards from the government bureaucrats, their off-siders are out there killing them in droves.
In January 2001, zoologists said that the West Australian government's ongoing management of sale and distribution of the toxic poison 1080 was killing vast numbers of native animals including scavengers and predators such as Varanus gouldii.
Formerly, feral animals such as foxes and cats were controlled most effectively by shooters, who only killed the target animals.
However with the advent of laws making gun ownership in Australia all but illegal, 1080 poisoning has become the preferred method of controlling these feral pests.
Unfortunately the baits often miss their mark and get native predators instead, including the lizards.
This is particularly so as the poison remains in the ecosystem for some time and may move up the food chain to animals that feed on poisoned animals.
The frogs worldwide have been declining now for a few decades. But now scientists are onto the cause.
Here in Australia (and most other places it seems), the main culprit seems to be the Chytrid fungus and the likes of Gerry Marantelli at the Amphibian Research Centre (ARC) are working to find a cure.
The fungus wipes out frogs, not the tadpoles and so far attempts at finding a cure have failed.
However Marantelli says that in the short term it seems that it may be easiest to find a cure for infected tadpoles, who carry the fungus but are not killed by it.
If populations of Chytrid free frogs can be raised and maintained then they may be used as an insurance against unforeseen Chytrid induced crashes of wild populations.
But then there's the knock-on effect.
Frog eating reptiles have also taken a dive in number.
Peter Mirtschin of Venom Supplies at Tanunda in South Australia and others have noticed a two or more decade drop in Tiger Snake (Notechis scutatus) numbers.
In past years, the Tiger Snake was responsible for most Australian snake-bite deaths, but this position is now occupied by the Eastern Brown Snake (Pseudonaja textilis). As the former's numbers have declined the numbers of the latter have gone up, due to a general increase in the population of feral rats and mice, which is what the snakes feed on.
(By the way, if you want a real brawl on taxonomy, start talking Tiger Snakes (Notechis). Here in Australia every herpetologist seems to have firm opinion on these snakes and yes, every one seems to be different).
Meanwhile in relatively remote areas of northern Australia, zoologist John Woinarski in 2000 said he found a sharp drop in wildlife numbers in the Kakadu National Park. The drops could not be explained by seasonal variations such as rainfall and based on CSIRO Research, indicated a serious long-term decline.
While the studies concentrated on small native mammals, it was thought that the decline was also reflected in other animal groups such as the reptiles.
It was thought that the declines across northern Australia from areas as far afield as Broome and Townsville was due to excessive and annual burning of grassland habitats as well as excessive grazing by farming stock, such as cattle, pigs and horses.
A GREAT EXTERMINATION
Then there's the Cane Toads (Bufo marinus).
These are the invasive pests over-running northern Australia.
These critters were deliberately introduced by the government in the early part of last century by the thousands. Ostensibly the introduction was to control insect pests that ate Sugar Cane in North Queensland, in particular the so-called Grayback Cane Beetle (Dermolepida albohirtum).
It was pretty stupid act really.
You see the beetles fly and the toads don't (unless you pick them up and throw them - which is cruel).
So the toads gave up trying to eat the beetles and went feral instead, eating anything else they could.
This included anything native that fitted in their mouths, including small snakes, other frogs and the like.
In the law of the jungle, or should I say Australian bush, it is 'eat or be eaten' and so things bigger than the toads tried to eat them. The toads carry toxic poison in glands over their skin, in particular at the back of the head.
Thus animals that ate the toads died.
Frog eating snakes and the like really took a tumble, with some local populations even being exterminated.
The flow through effect went through species who under normal circumstances wouldn't have contact with frogs (or now the toads).
And yes, the toads have also been found to be an important vector for the Chytrid fungus, which we now know to have caused the extinction's of numerous native frogs in Queensland.
Now in 1987, I tried to spearhead a major campaign to have the toads exterminated from Australia.
I had series of letters published in major city newspapers, wildlife magazines and everywhere else I could get exposure. I got myself on radio and TV again calling for extermination of these pests.
UK readers may recall seeing one of the letters from 1997 published in the Herptile 12(3), pp. 86-87. It opened saying 'One of the greatest ongoing threats to Australian herpetofauna remains largely ignored. It is the Cane Toad (Bufo marinus).
What was the net result of all this?
In one word 'Nothing'.
Instead of getting support from the government I was vilified.
One government employee wrote to the major news outlets and said that I was an idiot who didn't know what I was talking about and that the toads were 'no threat' to any native species.
Other bureaucrats also vilified me publicly for campaigning against the toads.
My calls for a biological control to exterminate the toads was written off as 'a waste of public money'.
My assertion that if nothing was done by the government, then within decades the toads would march on to Kakadu and beyond was written off as 'fantasy'.
And so the march of the toads continued.
Fast forward to 2001 (14 years later) and I picked up the daily papers on Thursday January 18. An AAP News release said that government employed biologists had gone into panic mode over the impending invasion by Cane Toads of the World Heritage listed Kakadu National Park. The first toads were expected in the park within weeks and the so-called 'experts' were now claiming that they didn't have enough time to do anything useful to stop the invasion.
Numerous endemic species of frog and reptile were now at risk.
Oh and yes, the people from the government who develop biological controls against pests said that they could develop a biological weapon to attack and possibly eliminate the toads, but would need between 5 and 10 years to do so.
Maybe if the government officials in charge of wildlife had taken heed of my warnings 14 years ago, the toad invasion of Kakadu would never have occurred.
What was that I said before about wildlife bureaucrats actually wanting animals to become rare and endangered and remaining so in order that they can justify their existence?
Well as the toads rape and pillage species in their wake, more reptiles and frogs will become rare and endangered, thereby enabling an ever larger army of bureaucrats to justify their existence.
On that basis is it any wonder that I was vilified all those years ago and even now, no government in Australia is seriously trying to tackle to Cane Toad problem?
Less toads means less rare and endangered wildlife and that means we'd need less bureaucrats to run around enforcing laws against those who may try to keep or breed these newly endangered species.
After my wife gave birth to our daughter, a number of friends suggested I feed Adelyn to their snake. And yes the papers regularly carry stories of young kids being eaten up by pet snakes or monsters from the bush.
Such as the case in the United States heard in court in March 2000 where 3-year-old Jessie Altom was virtually gobbled up by her parent's pet African Rock Python (Python sebae). Robert Altom, 26, and his wife, Melissa, 21, were charged with child endangerment and keeping a dangerous animal, the seven and a half foot African Rock Python, in their home in Centralia, Illinois.
You'll find details the case at: http://www.kingsnake.com/forum/python/messages/33981.html
But there was at least one near miss in Australia 2000.
On Friday 17 March, 2000, a three-year-old boy narrowly escaped death after a large python attacked him in his bed at Cooktown, north Queensland.
As reported by Australian Associated Press (AAP), the boy survived, but the family pet silky terrier was not so lucky.
Benson's father, Mr Terry Wiseman, later told ABC radio: "He didn't even cry after the initial snake bite. He didn't even cry when bitten. I'd be screaming my head off, but he's a brave little fella, you know."
Mr Wiseman said the snake might have strangled Benson if the family had not found it first. "If nobody came to the scene, the snake would probably have got around Benson's neck and it would have been a few minutes and he would have been gone. But the snake was obviously on a killing rampage because it didn't crush the dog ready to eat, it just strangled it and there wasn't even a broken bone in its body. It then just went into the cot and started biting his hand."
AAP ended the story stating 'The python was later found in the Wiseman home and killed.'
And that accurately sums up the official Australian attitude to snakes the only good snake is a dead one.
|Herpetology papers index.|
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