Reptile News From Australia - The Update For 1997.
Originally published in 1999 in The Reptilian Magazine (UK).
by RAYMOND HOSER
The Lifting of the Herpetological Iron Curtain in NSW.
Although the following article was written in January 1998, it mainly represents some of the highlights and lowlights of the herpetological year 1997 in Australia.
Without doubt the main event of the year in Australia was the self-destruction of the New South Wales National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS), law enforcement branch and the other events surrounding this self-destruction.
For those who haven't read earlier editions of this magazine or the books Smuggled or Smuggled-2, the NPWS law enforcement branch has been a hotbed of corruption for over 20 years. The officials in this branch have responsibility for policing what are perhaps the most restrictive reptile-keeping laws and policies in world. They have also been involved in massive corruption and cover-ups, including the following:- reptile thefts, illegal armed raids, wildlife trafficking within Australia and overseas, bird smuggling, kangaroo meat substitution rackets, illegal marijuana crops in National Parks, arson, fraud, forgeries, court fixing, perverting the course of justice, bashings, murders (including of staff who have attempted to stop the corruption), sabotaging inquests, taking large cash bribes on a regular basis, media manipulation, defamation and other serious crimes.
For most reptile keepers in NSW, at a practical level this has meant a near total suppression of legal herpetology in that state. To all intents and purposes no licenses to keep or collect were issued, except in rare and/or unusual circumstances and keepers, (including and particularly those who were licensed) were routinely burgled and/or (when NPWS officials were caught) 'raided' by NPWS officials and their fauna (reptiles, birds, mammals) were taken and illegally sold on within Australia and/or overseas.
The rackets have gone on for over 20 years. In 1993, the book Smuggled was released and widely exposed many of the rackets conducted by these officials. An unlawful ban on selling the book was lifted in June 1993, following adverse publicity against NPWS in the media. This publicity against the banning of the book followed a threat to kill an ABC journalist, Helen Grasswell, by NPWS people.
Although everything in the book Smuggled was true and correct, NPWS officials (publicly at least) tended to state that the book was untrue and to all intents and purposes the rackets continued without impediment. In 1996, a sequel Smuggled-2 came out. this book was in many ways more damaging to NPWS's corruption interests as most of the information within the book came from internal informants, or employees within the department who'd had a gutful of the ongoing rackets. Officials, Clive Bennett, John Gallard and others, who'd been with the department for many, many years, provided thousands of pages of critical NPWS documents, tapes and other material that the corrupt NPWS officers thought they'd had destroyed in the late 1980's when Freedom of Information (FOI) laws came out. Any assertions by NPWS officials that Smuggled or it's sequel were untrue were effectively shuttled by what appeared in Smuggled-2.
In line with what are now routine practices within Australia, NPWS, effectively stopped sales of Smuggled-2 through mainstream bookshops following illegal threats to book distributors Gary Allen and Tower Books. However due to the fact that two previous corruption books had managed to sell thousands of copies in spite of similar suppression, the NPWS side panicked in their attempts to stop the public from buying the book.
Shortly after publication of Smuggled-2, (launched 1st October 1996) the NPWS side through Kangaroo meat processor Vacik Distributors on November 20th sued Raymond Hoser and his publishing company for defamation over material within both books Smuggled-2 and Smuggled. This case was lost by the NPWS side two days later and in his final ruling, Supreme Court Judge David Levine was unable to find a single word in either book that was in any way false or defamatory. This result was echoed in a number of other defamation actions (all of which the NPWS side lost), two more of which were settled against NPWS in the NSW Courts.
The defamation cases losses against NPWS had critical consequences for them. You see many of the key officers in the NPWS enforcement branch had been shown to be corrupt in Smuggled-2 and Smuggled. While these people had previously been able to dismiss the books contents as 'untrue' and untested by courts, therefore in the eyes of the law 'unsubstantiated', this was no longer the case.
NPWS officials and their lawyers had always treated the words of the courts as being the next thing down from God's. This suited them most of the time as the courts tended to side with them in most cases. Now the tide had turned and following the major losses by the NPWS side on 22nd November 1996 and again on 24th December 1996 (two cases that day), any credibility they had in court was now gone.
It wasn't until midway through 1997, that the magnitude of the damage to the NPWS enforcement branch became truly apparent. Until that time, to justify their illegal raids, they'd often follow-up with a prosecution of the victim for some trumped up offense. The victim would invariably lose the case, thereby allowing the rackets to go on, unimpeded. The reason for the losses of the cases by the victims was simple: the NPWS officials would present themselves in the witness box as people of credit and honesty, while attempting to portray the victims in the opposite light. With no court proven evidence to the contrary, the Judges and Magistrates would invariably side with NPWS and thus the victim would not only lose their reptiles (birds or whatever else), but also get stuck with a criminal conviction.
Typical of this scenario was the case of Newcastle woman Kim Mace. She applied for a NPWS license a few years ago. Instead she got the illegal armed raid, and had her entire collection of about 100 reptiles taken. Later in court NPWS officials took her to the cleaners and she went out the back door to the tune of several thousand dollars. Her lawyer, Richard Thomas of a firm called Pappas j. Attorney also effectively duped her of substantial sum of money, well over and above what Mace should have actually paid out on the case.
Licensed reptile keeper Bob Withey attempted to blow the whistle on NPWS corruption involving then Minister Chris Hartcher and other matters. He was illegally raided in September 1995 and had his most valuable snakes, Green Pythons (Chondropython (=Morelia) viridis) taken from him. This was followed up with criminal charges over the snakes. He too looked set to follow the usual fate of Mace and others. However this all changed by the time his case came up for hearing in September 1997. The credibility of the NPWS witnesses against him had been destroyed by what was documented in Smuggled-2. It wasn't so much what had been documented in the book that caused the NPWS witnesses credibility problems, but rather the fact that it had been "proven" by a court (legal language used here as Court "proof" is not the same as scientific proof). In other words the contents of the books now had a legal status akin to the word of God.
Withey won the case and the NPWS side were forced to return the snakes. It goes without saying that by the time all this happened, NPWS officials had illegally passed the snakes on to other people. Withey and three other colleges who had their Green Pythons taken, although cleared by the courts, only ever got a few of their total number back. (Details of the earlier stages of this case are covered on pages 90-96 of Smuggled-2).
Withey's victory against NPWS based largely on the lack of credibility of the NPWS enforcement branch wasn't by any means unique. In fact it was the trend for the whole of 1997. The most publicized case was that of bird keeper Neville Conners. He'd had rare Black Cockatoos taken from him by NPWS officials in 1994 who then falsely claimed he'd taken the birds from the wild. The raid was a direct reprisal for himself and colleague David Harrision attempting to expose NPWS corruption through their publications, including Avinews. Wildlife officials improperly set the tax office onto Harrison in a bid to send him bankrupt. Conners faced court over the raid and falsified charges and was convicted in the first instance by a Magistrate of dubious repute on October 14, 1996.
By the time the appeal hearing came up in mid 1997, it was a different picture. Smuggled-2 had been cleared by the courts (3 times) and the NPWS officials prosecuting him and named adversely in Smuggled-2 now lacked credibility. Conners was properly acquitted on September 3, 1997, awarded full costs in excess of $100,000 and NPWS were forced by the court to return the stolen birds. Although he got some of the birds back, they had clearly been maltreated by NPWS and Zoo officials from Sydney's Taronga Zoo. This was evidenced by one bird being dead, another allegedly too sick to travel, while NPWS officials had somehow removed a leg from another! This sort of gross maltreatment of wildlife is typical of NPWS officials and I've lost count of how many times it's occurred. In the Mace case, gung ho NPWS officials broke the back of reptile when taking it from Mace's place, (which they even had the gaul to videotape!). They weren't concerned at the time as Mace had plenty more!
The Conners case was particularly embarrassing for NPWS and the NSW State Government. You see the Minister in Charge of NPWS, Ms. Pam Allen had staked the credibility of herself and her department on successfully prosecuting Conners. All this was now totally out the window. Allen had already come under fire from several quarters for repeatedly telling lies in multiple public statements and her personal support for the NPWS attempts to stop circulation of Smuggled-2.
The failed NPWS prosecutions had even more serious consequences than one may at first think. In every case, the keepers sought just compensation for their losses. Conners in particular further sought his business losses and other costs to be re-imbursed, plus damages for the non-breeding of his birds. Furthermore he sought defamation damages from Pam Allen for her knowingly and falsely labeling him a criminal in her own personal media releases, which were widely reported in the largely government controlled Australian media.
In a media release dated October 14 1996, Allen had said that Conners had been convicted as a result of DNA testing of his birds. The statement was a lie as the birds were DNA tested and results showed the innocence of Conners, not his guilt. Consequently in the first case, NPWS prosecutors and the court chose to ignore the results of the DNA testing in their rush to improperly convict Conners. Through a local journalist, Harrison and Conners were able to sidestep the NPWS machine and put Conners and his victory on the front page of a major newspaper with a full page story. The story detailed the lies by Allen, NPWS and other material incriminating to both. Journalist Suellen Hinde said of NPWS, Pam Allen and their corruption, 'someone had to expose them'.
Conners went on to announce a civil claim against NPWS and Pam Allen for well over a million dollars, making this just another of several large claims against the department.
Following the repeated failure of high-profile prosecutions by the NPWS enforcement branch due to their credibility problems, and continuing financial losses, with prospects of worse to come, there became just one solution to the problem from a practical point of view. This was to disband the unit. You see due to their lack of credibility in future legal proceedings (due to court approval of the contents of Smuggled and Smuggled-2), Pam Allen, through NPWS was forced to announce that the unit was to be scrapped. This occurred just seven days after the failure of the NPWS case against Conners.
The officers in the unit were either transferred or pensioned off. For most of these officers, who'd spent many years raping and pillaging Australia's fauna this meant yet another major financial windfall. Thus the sequence of events can't be treated as a victory for the good guys. But at least this meant a major part of the corrupt NPWS bureaucracy was effectively neutralized. How much effect this will have on NPWS corruption and practices in the long term, only time will tell.
Another major event of significance to the scene in NSW was the reptile crash of 1997. No doubt most reptile people in the USA and Europe are aware of what happened to reptile prices in 1997. They went down! While you'd think that Australians would not be effected by such happenings, this wasn't the case. You see the NPWS officials who for many years had been happily stealing from keepers here and then exporting, suddenly found trouble justifying the costs involved in exporting many of the animals. You see there are several middle-men who get paid before a given reptile gets sold outside of Australia.
Also elsewhere within Australia, particularly Victoria, legally held reptiles were being bred in ever increasing numbers with an oversupply problem occurring here as well. Snakes formerly regarded as rare were effectively being given away due to a chronic oversupply. For NPWS officers in NSW it became an easier option to buy snakes than steal them, meaning the need for raids to get stock also diminished. And yes, it is on the official record that legally held reptiles had been transferred to NPWS staff by interstate keepers.
Further worrying to NPWS was a long promised Senate inquiry into wildlife smuggling matters. That inquiry had been announced on 12 November 1996 in direct response to the publication of Smuggled-2, formally launched just six weeks earlier and continuing pressure by the Democrats (political party) for such an inquiry. As part of a political compromise deal the terms of reference were drawn up in such a manner as to attempt to exclude wildlife trafficking and corruption as the main areas of interest, instead concentrating on the concept of 'sustainable use' of wildlife. Unfortunately any use of wildlife, sustainable or otherwise depends on the laws of the land and those who enforce them, so most of the evidence before the inquiry and submissions made to it concentrated on the issues of laws, law enforcement and corruption.
Evidence before that inquiry by myself and others in open public hearings in mid to late 1997 effectively compelled NPWS to be forced to issue keeping licenses to reptile enthusiasts in NSW. Appointed to head the inquiry was Senator John Woodley who has a long stating reputation for being soft on corruption. Both himself and others on the committee became visibly upset as witness after witness came foreword to document corruption in State Wildlife departments and elsewhere across the country. The pattern was repeated in capital cities around the country as the hearings moved from State to state.
Queensland's State government went into turmoil following new evidence from former Policeman Bill Zingelmann implicating senior wildlife officers in Queensland in new cases of smuggling, murder and other crimes.
A number of witnesses (including myself), took advantage of the Woodley inquiry to publicly point the finger at NPWS in NSW for not issuing reptile keeping permits, thereby further forcing their hand to do so.
What this combination of circumstances meant was that for the first time in many years it became the only reasonable option for NPWS to issue licenses to NSW keepers. Important to this decision by NPWS, was the fact that the need to raid keepers for stock had now (for the time being at least) receded and the officers doing these thefts had been made redundant after the failed defamation writs followed by the failed prosecutions. Nor was the government in a position to fend of all the damages claims now mounting and likely to continue to mount if they did not issue permits. Thus as a result of the above and unrelenting pressure by myself and others, NPWS and Pam Allen announced on 2nd October 1997, that they'd fall into line with the other Australian states of Victoria and South Australia and issue reptile keeping licenses to all who sought them.
The demand for these licenses was huge with thousands of license application forms being distributed in the 'amnesty period' (October 1997, being announced after the loss of the Conners case). Now for the first time since 1973-4 (24 years) NPWS have apparently raised what was best described as the herpetological iron curtain and people in NSW are legally allowed to keep reptiles.
This change of circumstance was not predicted by anyone as little as two years ago, but the incredible change of circumstances detailed above has made it all come true. This new opening up and bringing out from the underground of herpetology in New South Wales, if allowed to continue will almsot certainly herald the beginning of an explosion in new breeding by keepers and studies on wild and captive reptiles from that state, which up until recently has had an abysmal record on these matters.
Perhaps I should mention, that in 1993, at the time of release of Smuggled, NPWS had plans for an 'amnesty' in which they would issue reptile licenses to all applicants in a bid to deflect criticism of their non-issuing practices as detailed in the book. The plan was shelved at the last minute, when the alternative (and ultimately unsuccessful) plan of banning the book was enacted instead.
However it should be stated that the most important factor in finally forcing the NPWS hand into bringing in a workable licencing system was the self-destruction of the law-enforcement branch as demonstrated through their major legal losses, including the Withey and Conners cases and the fact that the NPWS position had now become financially unsustainable.
Also I should mention briefly how accurate my writings on corruption have been to date. As of now, I have been actioned for defamation no less than 8 times, with three cases ending up in court. From a legal point of view, defamation has reverse onus, in that I must prove what I say is correct. This puts myself as defendant at an immense disadvatage in each and every case. The plaintiff (usually a well-funded government employee) does not have to prove what I say is not correct. In every case I have used truth and public interest in the truth as primary defenses (as stated by Justice John Dowd in his judgement on 24th December 1996) and I have won them all unequivocally (100% my way). Those who have taken me on and lost in the defamation stakes include wildlife officials from NSW and Queensland, a NSW-based meat processor, the Victoria Police, Vicroads officials and a Victorian Politician. No doubt these facts will continue to upset quite a few of the people adversely named in the corruption books.
Also I should note another part of the defamation gravy-train racket in Australia. When government officials sue for defamation, all their legal costs are paid for by the taxpayer. (Mine, as plaintiff are not). If the government official loses the case, they pay nothing as it is the taxpayer that foots the bill. If and when the government official wins the case (upon which damages can be huge and run into the hundreds of thousands of dollars) the money is paid straight into their private pockets. In other words for them, issuing defamation proceedings is a a gamble they cannot lose.
Like I've reported previously, demand for exotic (non-Australian) reptiles in Australia has been ever increasing in recent years. Added to this has been a general accumulation of illegally imported animals combined with breeding of those already in the country. Evidence by myself to the Senate inquiry both in writing (in late 1996) and again in open public hearings in 1997, which was widely reported was perhaps critical in forcing State Wildlife departments in both New South Wales and Victoria to acknowledge that they had no legal control over what was coming into the country, who had it and so on; (There were several loopholes in the relevant laws). Customs, had formally abdicated responsibility within Australia (except at the barrier) for these matters some time earlier after it had been cited in a series of reports for corruption on these and related matters.
In late 1997, NPWS and their Victorian equivalent decided for the first time ever, to issue licences to private people to hold exotic reptiles. Keepers in both states were allowed to declare what they held in amnesties without fear of prosecution. In New South Wales, the turn out of keepers in response to the amnesty was substantial, while in Victoria few came foreword (about ten keepers only). The reason for the difference is that in Victoria, the keepers were initially only granted indemnity from prosecution, not necessarily permission to keep the animals, whereas in New South Wales, permission to keep was also promised. The wildlife department in Victoria refused to state what their long-term plans were (they had none!), so many keepers refused to declare what exotic reptiles they held for fear of losing their animals.
Following a series of meetings with representatives from the two local herpetological societies (which I was a party to), local wildlife officials changed their views to a more realistic one. They were told that if the small number who'd declared their foreign animals were not allowed to retain them, no one else who held them would ever come foreward again if asked to, meaning that most would remain underground. This wouldn't solve what they saw as the problem of people keeping foreign reptiles. The wildlife officials were told that they were the ones with the problem, not the keepers, as it was the department who were unable to find out who had what, not the other way around. If the department wanted to get an accurate picture of what exotic reptiles were in the state and have any control over it at all, then they'd have to be above board and issue permits in a fair and workable manner to the few who had effectively tested the waters by declaring stock.
Following nearly a year of procrastination the Victorian department finally issued permits for those who'd declared exotic reptiles. The problem then was what to do about those who'd not declared their holdings due to the earlier non-committal stand by the department. If I were a betting man, there will probably be another amnesty for the others to also come foreword with their holdings. It seems the only logical solution, although perhaps I should cover myself by saying that logic quite often has nothing to do with wildlife department policies.
Excess Reptiles In Australia?
The fact that keepers in NSW were issued licenses from October 1997 proved an added bonus for keepers elsewhere in Australia who suddenly found themselves with new avenues to sell their captive bred stock.
Neil Sonneman of Myrtleford, near Wangaratta, Victoria, was perhaps the largest single breeder in Australia for the 1997-8 season: (we run on opposite seasons to northern hemisphere people, meaning most matings, egg-layings and hatchings run on both sides of the new year as opposed to mid-year breedings). He bred the following:- Stimson's Pythons (Antaresia stimsoni) X 2 clutches, Spotted Pythons (A. maculosus) X 5 Clutches, Black-headed Pythons (Aspidites melanocephalus) x 1 clutch (13 eggs), Territory Carpet Pythons (Morelia spilota variegata) X 3 clutches, Olive Pythons (Liasis olivaceous) X 1 clutch, Speckled Brown Snakes (Pseudonaja guttata) X 2 clutches and a whole swag of Giant Cave Geckos (Pseudothecodactylus lindneri), Smooth Knob-tailed Geckos (Nehrurus levis levis) and Centralian Knob-tailed Geckos (Nephrurus laevissimus). Also mass producing various species of sought after gecko here is Steve Comber of Bayswater, a Melbourne suburb. His brother Peter now manages Fyfe's reptile park at Alice Springs and is credited with being the major force in making Victorian officials legally allow Spencer's Monitors (Varanus spenceri) into the state (see below).
Brian Barnett, traditionally one of Victoria's largest breeders, is breeding less herp in recent years due to his ever expanding cricket breeding business and other commitments. However recently he's pumped out a few species including Barkly Death Adders (Acanthophis antarcticus hawkei), Spotted Pythons (Antaresia maculosus), Scrub Pythons (Liasis amethistinus) and Black-headed Pythons (Aspidites melanocephalus), Brown Tree Snakes (Boiga irregularis) and others.
Northern Death Adders (Acanthophis praelongus) have been bred by several people in Victoria including Andrew Lowry of Hampton, and Brian Barnett, although the star performers are no doubt Roy Pails and Rob Valentic who consistently have bred breeding multiple females each year for the past few years. Last season (1996-7) Valentic (accidentally) mated a snake from Mount Isa (Queensland) male, currently classified as Acanthophis antarcticus, with a female 'hill country' Acanthophis praelongus. The approximately forty offspring had characteristics intermediate between the parents, although I'd suggest their appearance is slightly more like that of the mother than the father (see photo - this magazine). Most of the young were immediately passed on to various keepers and with few exceptions continue to thrive and grow like weeds. He also produced a large number of 'straight' 'hill country' A. praelongus, which were snapped up by local keepers. In the last few years, so many Death Adders (genus Acanthophis) have been bred here that they are now set to overtake Tiger Snakes (Notechis) as the most commonly kept venomous snake in Australia, a position that is likely to be maintained indefinitely. This event alone makes a mockery of the strict Australian laws preventing people from taking reptiles from the wild. Under normal circumstances, why would you spend up to a thousand dollars on fuel to drive from one side of the country to the other to look for a given Death Adder when you can buy the same snake for $50?
Having said this, if State wildlife departments allowed a few more reptiles to be taken from the wild, in the first instance, then the sooner we'd find ourselves in the above situation for more species. Also if this occurs we will find ourselves less likely to face debacles like the Rheobatrachus fiasco. In this case the Queensland National Parks and Wildlife Service prohibited the removal of the two species of gastric brooding frogs (Rheobatrachus) from the wild. They backed up their laws with strict enforcement and the threat of up to 15 years in jail for those who sought to hold the frogs in captivity. As a result none became established in captivity at a time when there were still huge numbers in the wild and apparently under no threat.
An as yet unknown natural disaster hit these and other local Queensland frogs (including several species of the genus Taudactylus), with the result that all are now thought to be extinct. (We think the Chytrid fungus may be partly to blame). However the real blame for this particular great frog extinction must rest firmly with the Queensland government wildlife bureaucrats who ensured none ever got up in captivity. They had also been advised of such potential events many times by many people. The above case was particularly bad for humanity as stomach enzymes produced by Rheobatrachus was able to be used to treat a number of potentially fatal human ailments including stomach ulcers and other complications in the digestive system.
Returning to the more positive side of reptile breeding in Australia, Roy Pails of Ballarat remains another major producer of reptiles. He consistently breeds venomous species such as Tiger Snakes (Notechis scutatus), Collett's (Pseudechis colletti), Northern Death Adders (Acanthophis praelongus) and many others. He breeds such numbers that lately he's been giving away surplus young due to a lack of demand, although for the next year or two at least, he should be able to sell surplus to NSW. The local wildlife department in Victoria had to hose down criticism after a document about Pails was accidentally leaked to another keeper in Geelong. Written by official Tony Zidarich, (who fortunately is no longer with the department), the document describes Pails as one of the most notorious reptile keepers in the State. The reason;- because he has a large collection! With rationale like that coming from our bureaucrats, what hope have the keepers or their reptiles got? For the record, Pails has devoted his life to keeping and breeding reptiles, contributing far more to the conservation cause than the petty bureaucrats who have spent hundreds of hours and thousands of dollars harassing him to enforce what are usually petty laws and red-tape. Pails is also regarded by many as having one of the best state of the art breeding set-ups in Australia, having spent about $100,000 on his facility. His most recent breeding result may not however be of benefit to herpetology. His wife gave birth to a child, which may divert Roy's attention away from his herps.
Recently when visiting Bendigo in regional Victoria I stayed with local herp, Dale Gibbons. I slept in a spare bed next to an incubator full of eggs from his Bredl's Pythons (Morelia bredli) and Spotted Black Snakes (Pseudechis guttatus). His Spotted (or Blue-bellied) black snakes are relatively unusual in colour and highly sought by other keepers. Bredl's Pythons are now being bred by several keepers across the country and they have gone from being a prohibitively expensive snake to just another affordable python. Another keeper in Bendigo, Drew Williams suffers a fate becoming common to many keepers of Collett's snakes. What to do with the young? Listed by early authors as rare, the species is now so common in captivity, that getting rid of young presents a major headache, even though they are one of the most attractive of the venomous species.
South Australia's main breeders, Roly Burrell and Tim Mensforth as well as Greg Fyfe of the Northern Territory also hope to sell surplus stock to New South Wales. The first two are perhaps best known for the large number of Barkly Tableland Death Adders that they breed although they actually breed lots more, while Fyfe breeds a host of arid zone species including Spencer's Monitors (Varanus spenceri) and Desert Death Adders (Acanthophis pyrrhus).
Even as I write, Valentic, Pails, Stuart Barnes (Sydney), Burrell, Fyfe and others seem set to produce over 200 more Death Adders in the first four months of 1998 as all are currently holding gravid females.
Those who are now breeding lizards on a sizeable scale here in Australia are too many to mention here, but in spite of recent gains tend to be minuscule compared to the scale of things in the USA and Europe. Prominent breeders here are now producing numbers of Storr's Monitors (Varanus storrii), Spiny-tailed Monitors (Varanus acanthurus) and lesser numbers of other Monitors. As I write, Stuart Bigmore of Lara, Victoria, is sitting on eggs produced by a female Centralian Sand Goanna (Varanus flavirufus). In spite of the abundance of these lizards in the wild, relatively few are held in captivity. (Bigmore has twice had reptiles taken from him by wildlife officials on false pretenses!). In Victoria Mip Pugh of Geelong is one of the major lizard breeders, concentrating on the common agamids and Pink Tongued Skinks (Hemisphaeridon gerrardii).
As mentioned in an earlier article in The Reptilian 5(4), wildlife officials in Victoria and elsewhere had been refusing to allow people to keep Spencer's monitors in captivity on the basis of their alleged rarity in captivity (they have always been common in the wild). A combination of Fyfe's continued yearly breeding of the species, along with pressure from Victorian keepers on their department (in particular Peter Comber) finally led to DNR (The Victorian Wildlife Department) relenting and allowing the species to be kept in Victoria.
Readers of Smuggled, Smuggled-2 and this magazine may wonder why I keep printing different names for the Victorian wildlife department. Perhaps here I should explain why. Due to their insatiable urge to waste taxpayer's money, the Victorian wildlife department keeps changing it's name every few years. This enables them to spend vast sums on new logos, signage for office buildings and cars, new letterheads and so on. Until recently they were known as Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, but then they dropped the word 'conservation' from their name. As Victorian herpetologist, Neil Davie stated, 'having conservation in their name was about as valid as Saddam Hussein's 'baby milk factory'!
The Victorian wildlife department is not alone in all these pointless name changes. I've lost count of the name changes of the Victorian roads department. Within the last decade or so, they have been variously referred to as The Transport Regulation Board, TRB, Road Traffic Authority, RTA, Roads Corporation, Vicroads, Transport Department, Department of Transport, DOT, Transport Victoria and Infrastructure Victoria and Department of Infrastructure. Every time they have changed their trading name or decided to trade under an acronym, they've spent millions changing logos on buildings, cars, letterheads and so on. The main common threads for this department/s has been the consistency of staff in that these haven't changed greatly (in spite of an October 1993 parliamentary report recommending mass sackings on the basis of entrenched corruption). A former second in charge of that department, Mr. David O'Sullivan, was publicly quoted describing other staff in his department as 'bastards' after which he lost his job.
Returning to herp's, even in Australia's west the thaw has continued. As reported previously in The Reptilian 5 (4), the number of reptile keeping license holders in that state hit the grand total of TEN, for the first time ever. It has now gone even higher to TWELVE! By the way, Western Australia has an area larger than that of Western Europe! With just a handful of herpetologists in such a huge area, it isn't surprising that most reptiles there remain little known other than what appears in museum bottles and photographs. The majority of species there are endemic to the area, meaning herpetologists on the eastern side of the country have no experiences of them. Although I suppose the same could even be said for the herpetologists who live in Western Australia!
Several have applied to the local wildlife department (CALM) for permits to trap and study locally common species including Ant-hill Pythons (Antaresia perthensis), Death Adders (genus Acanthophis) and so on. In most cases CALM don't even acknowledge receipt of incoming letters, let alone ever get to the stage of making a "decision" not to issue a permit. This has stifled local herpetology to a major extent, the result being that more and more keepers in that state are being driven "underground". These "underground" keepers are by their very nature precluded from publishing their findings and successes, further restricting knowledge of West Australian herptiles and their long term conservation. There is certainly no shortage of herpetological talent in the west either!
I am aware of at least two recent cases of captive breeding Ant-hill Pythons (eggs laid twice) by a West Australian keeper, with at least one lot hatching to produce young. As yet nothing has appeared in any journal on the subject, even though up until the present time only two such breedings are documented in the literature. The keeper had the snakes without a permit and thus publishing of these findings seems unlikely.
A major difference in these cases (unpublished) versus the two published results are the substantially higher clutch sizes (number of eggs laid) by the female snake/s.
In The Reptilian 5 (4) I referred to a number of new publications due out in the near future. I mentioned how Greer's new book on Australian snakes was due out in late 1996. Well in line with many other publishing projects, it has been further delayed and the book has yet to come out. However, Grant Turner who checked page proofs of the book in mid 1997 told me in January 1998, that the book is due out any day now. It will be well worth the wait. Turner mentions that Greer's review of the literature on Australian snakes alone is probably the most extensive ever done.
Cann's new Tortoise book, which was originally promised to be out in time for the second World Herpetology Congress at end 1993, is still not yet out, making it perhaps the most delayed herp book I can recall. Cann has now left publisher Charles Pierson as a result of what he described as intolerable delays and now appears to be publishing the book with Andy Highfield in the UK, at Carapace Press.
Having seen early proofs of Cann's book, I just hope it comes out soon. Another book on Australian tortoises is also in the pipeline. This is a smaller one by Darren Green of Bendigo, Victoria, and concentrates on the keeping of Australian species. Green maintains a sizable collection of herps, (mainly tortoises), although his most recent breeding success appears to have come from elsewhere. His wife Chris recently gave birth to her second child. She got offended when at a new years eve party I told her that her baby was ugly and that she should get a tortoise instead!
Andy Highfield's latest book called Practical Encyclopedia of Keeping and Breeding Freshwater Turtles, has been on sale in Australia through the Barnett 'Herp Shop' and has been widely touted by Green, Cann and others as the best book to date on the subject. They should know! In other words, those who have an interest in chelonians in captivity should get hold of the book as soon as they can. Up until now, there has never been a good publication available on how to keep Australian species, although it is safe to say Highfield's book covers virtually the lot (worldwide).
Gerry Swan of Sydney, also has another reptile book in pre-publication but as yet I have few details. It apparently has some orgasmic photos from Rob Valentic, most if not all of which have never been published before.
Australia is also home to most of the word's species of monitor lizard, so the recent crop of monitor books by non-Australian authors de Lisle, Bennett and Steele have been well received here. As all three works have tended to cover much the same subject, a number of people have chosen not to buy all three. My personal preference is for the German published English language edition of Daniel Bennett's book (published early 1998), which I find gives the most comprehensive coverage of the group, although all appear to be well written and presented. UK readers may be pleased to know that Bennett comes from Scotland, where I recall there being no native monitors (unless things have changed in the last 16 years!).
Dave and Tracy Barker's book on Australian Pythons was well received when it came out a few years ago. Another book on Australian pythons was also due out at about the same time, but got hit with a series of pre-publication delays. That book, Pythons of Australia, by Brian Kend of California will no doubt find a large audience due to the immense popularity of these snakes and the relative lack of books on the subject.
The fact that so many books on Australian reptiles are being written and published by non-Australian authors no doubt stems in part from the iron fisted enforcement of restrictive wildlife laws in Australia, coupled with a strong climate of intellectual suppression here. That's not to say we have no freedom in Australia, but it is fair to say that in many areas it is far less than can be found in places like the USA and most of Europe. Australia as a nation and it's conservation effort included will continue to suffer for as long as this current climate continues.
As an example of what I mean, scientists in Victoria and Western Australia have recently been disciplined for publishing papers and reports on environmental matters that went against policies of the State wildlife departments (in these cases on forestry matters). These incidents are far from isolated, but rather are common place. More disturbingly it surreptitiously forces other scientists to restrict their publications and activities to be strictly in line with those of the bureaucrats who control relevant departments, even if it is to overall detriment and against the public interest.
For example west Australian fisheries officer Jim Sutton had has career effectively destroyed after he criticized his department's senior management and reported on alleged corruption. West Australian opposition MP John Haldon, stated in Parliament recently that the Fisheries department in that state 'had been out of control for years'. Another opposition MP, Mark Nevill, stated 'good officers who brought credit to their department had been hounded from their jobs because they refused to stoop to dirty and illegal tactics'. Among recent activities by fisheries officers was the case of official Phillip Kendrick who improperly detained a woman and then gained access to her personal bank account. Kendrick also had a history of illegally breaking into people's homes and cars and other unlawful activity including planting bugging/tracking devices. In line with the entrenched culture of corruption, misconduct and mismanagement endemic in Australian bureaucracy he had been promoted.
Another event of significance in 1997 (from my point of view at least), was the fact I spent four months incarcerated in jail. This resulted from falsified charges by corrupt Police and Vicroads officers named in my book, The Hoser Files - the Fight Against Entrenched Official Corruption. Since being "convicted" and jailed a number of jurors have come foreword and complained that they were illegally forced by Police to return a guilty verdict against their wills due to threats of violence against them. Conduct of the County Court Judge running the trial, Thomas Neesham has already been found to be illegal by three Supreme Court judges. As a result of these facts (and many others not mentioned here) an overturning of the conviction is expected to be relatively straight foreword, but may take some years due to the vagaries of the legal system which at best is described as a deliberately planned mess anyway!
Jury nobbling, while obviously illegal, is not uncommon here in Australia. For example in another recent case, corruption whistleblower Alan Anthony "NAME SUPPRESSED" faced court on a series of falsified charges in 1992 and later. The charges were trumped up by the same officials who charged myself. He won the cases at committal stage but in violation of accepted procedure was charged with the same offenses twice (a second time); this time the Police and prosecutions department bypassing committal proceedings by a little known legal loophole called 'direct presentment'. "NAME SUPPRESSED" won his first trial, but then at yet another trial on these fabricated matters he was "convicted". He too spent four months in jail, where he was bashed and his house robbed by the same Police. The corrupt Policeman who had "NAME SUPPRESSED" charged and jailed, John Cullen was later found to have illegally spoken to the jury. After some further years and as a result of this illegal nobbling coming to light, "NAME SUPPRESSED" overturned the conviction by going through the long and winding legal process. Cullen came unstuck in the Police after he got busted stealing a hair dryer from an east Burwood K-mart store and then illegally attempted to silence the female security guard who caught him.
Another corruption whistleblower, Mick Sckrijel was jailed for some time on charges again falsified by the same officials involved in having me jailed, before he too overturned the conviction, while whistleblower Paul Charles Young spent nine months in jail on a falsified charge, which he was later able to clear himself of.
1997 was not the first time I have been sentenced to jail as a result of falsified charges in a criminal trial. In 1988 I was sentenced to two jail terms on other falsified criminal charges laid by the same people who charged me above. On December 21, 1988, the prosecuting Policeman, Ross Allen Bingley admitted that he'd gained the two jail convictions by bribing presiding Magistrate High Francis Adams. In spite of that admission, it took yet another two years for the conviction to be formally overturned. Details of those cases are in The Hoser Files, while the more recent case's details will be published in another book in 1998. All occurred in Victoria, although the pattern has been repeated for other people in other states.
Distressing in all the above cases is that at no time, have the officials who have acted illegally been in any way sacked, charged or disciplined for their proven illegal behavior. Nor has at any stage myself or the many other improperly sentenced (then cleared) people been given a single cent in compensation from the government for our illegal imprisonment. Perhaps I should mention that Adams quit his job following publication of The Hoser Files, which detailed his illegal behavior. Another case where Adams let a Policeman off the hook for murder has also been reopened by the new State coroner, following public pressure.
This (brief) summary of recent events is related here merely to show the hazards of being a corruption whistleblower in a place like Australia (or for that matter probably anywhere else!). While the cases involving myself were not reptile/wildlife related, those of Bob Withey, Neville Conners, Kim Mace, the others in the Smuggled books and many others are. It is in such a climate that herpetology in Australia operates and why so many opportunities (and for that matter in some cases, species) are being lost and lost forever.
Photos/Captions published with the above article:-
All were by Raymond Hoser.
1/ Hybrid Death Adder, crossed between a Mount Isa Qld. area snake currently classified as Acanthophis antarcticus and a 'hill country' snake classified as A. praelongus from Hayes Creek, NT. The specimen is nearly one year old and was bred in 1997 by Rob Valentic. They sometimes appear to change colour with age over and above that which usually occurs in 'normal' Death Adders. Photo: Raymond Hoser.
2/ Simoselaps semifasciatus from near Perth, WA. This little-known elapid is likely to remain little known unless the current restrictive laws and policies in Western Australia change. Photo: Raymond Hoser.
3/ Menetia greyi, from Perth region, Western Australia. This very common, yet little known skink is so little known that several species are almost certainly in error being classified as one. Photo: Raymond Hoser.
4/ Hybrid Death Adder, crossed between a Mount Isa Qld. area snake currently classified as Acanthophis antarcticus and a 'hill country' snake classified as A. praelongus from Hayes Creek, NT. The specimen is one year old and was bred in 1997 by Rob Valentic. Photo: Raymond Hoser.
5/ Ctenophorus fioni, female, from South Australia. An agamid that's common in the wild, but rare in captivity. Unknown in captivity outside Australia. Photo: Raymond Hoser.
6/ Newborn Pink-tongued Skink (Hemisphaeridon gerardii) born in Victoria. The species is a common captive throughout Australia, except the west, where nothing is common in captivity. Photo: Raymond Hoser.
7/ A scorpion of unknown species from near Castlemaine, Victoria where they are common. Increasing numbers of people keep these animals as pets because at this stage there is no bureaucratic interest or red tape involved with these animals. Photo: Raymond Hoser.
8/ Siaphos aqualis or Three-toed Skink, from Lane Cove (Sydney), New South Wales. Although one of the most common reptiles in suburban Sydney, the restrictive policies of NPWS over the last thirty years have ensured that for even this species next to nothing is known. Photo: Raymond Hoser.
9/ Simoselaps semifasciatus from near Perth, WA. This little-known elapid is likely to remain little known unless the current restrictive laws and policies in Western Australia change. Photo: Raymond Hoser.
10/ Bredl's Python (Morelia bredli), whose parents originated from near Alice Springs, NT. Formerly rare in captivity in Australia, steady breeding has reversed that position. Photo: Raymond Hoser.
11/ Victorian phase Carpet Python (Morelia spilota subsp.) . Government fauna officials in Victoria have taken a disproportionate interest in these snakes making many keepers avoid keeping them. Photo: Raymond Hoser.
12/ Lersita bouganvilli, from near Castlemaine in Victoria. In spite of being one of the most common small skinks in the state, few if any studies have ever been done it. Photo: Raymond Hoser.
13/ Typhlina australis from near Perth, WA. In line with all the Australian blind snakes, next to nothing is known about it. Photo: Raymond Hoser.
14/ Burton's Legless Lizard (Lialis burtonis), this phase from near Perth, WA. Few people in Australia keep these interesting reptiles as pets as to feed them is a jailable offence. Wildlife departments won't issue keepers a permit to collect small lizards to feed them which is their natural diet. Photo: Raymond Hoser.
15/ Striped Legless Lizard (Delma impar) from near Pyalong, Victoria. Restricted mainly to basalt grasslands, the species has been given much attention by Victorian authorities. However private keepers have been actively discouraged from keeping the species in spite of the demonstrated and acknowledged advantage to conservation in the species being maintained in captivity. Photo: Raymond Hoser.
16/ Young Inland Taipan (Oxyuranus microlepidotus) in captivity in Victoria. Recent changes to laws in Victoria have made it harder for some to obtain permits to keep venomous snakes legally. This could hamper the conservation effort in the long term. Photo: Raymond Hoser.
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