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Letter To The Editor

Originally published in The Herptile 5 (3), pp. 1-2 September 1980

Dear Sir,

I have recently become a member of the I.H.S., and have received and read my first copy (i.e. March 1980 edition) of Herptile. I found the magazine of high quality and the topics brought up and discussed in it interested me greatly. Living in Australia, I thought that my comments on certain herpetological aspects might be of interest to your British members.

First let me refer to Nigel Bournes' letter dealing with indiscriminate herpetology, or bad keeping of reptiles in captivity. Nigel appears to be upset with the fact that at east one I.H.S. member is not maintaining proper herpetological ethics. Whilst in England recently, I saw a surprisingly large number of people involved in Herpetology not keeping their reptiles up to proper standard, particularly amongst people in the pet trade. This surprised me, as I thought that with reptiles being relatively hard to obtain in England, that once people got hold of reptiles in England, they would take extra care in looking after them. I even saw in various places, badly kept Chondropython viridis, Morelia spilotes varigata, Python reticulatus, P. molorus, etc. In Australia, where reptiles are very easy to obtain (relatively speaking) a large number of 'amateur herpetologists' maintain reptiles in substandard conditions, knowing that when their reptiles die or escape, they can be replaced without too much difficulty. This includes species almost unheard of in Britain, such as Python oenpelliensis, Liasis amethystinus, Morelia spilotes spilotes, etc. This is despite very strict protection laws that supposedly prevent people from holding reptiles except for scientific purposes, in all states.

In Australia, the counterpart of the I.H.S. Is the A.A.H.S. (Australian Affiliation of Herpetological Societies), for years it had problems with individual members who failed to maintain correct herpetological ethics, thereby damaging the reputations of such societies. Over the past twenty four months there has been a slightly harder line taken against "indiscriminate herpetologists" by societies who belong to the affiliation, with a moderate degree of success. The problem in Australia being that such a huge portion of the amateur herpetological community fail to maintain correct herpetological ethics, that to rid ourselves of this segment is virtually impossible.

In reference to Oliphant F. Jackson's letter, in Australia, many people treat reptiles with drugs unnecessarily for all types of ailments and pseudo-ailments in lieu of supplying the correct conditions for their reptiles. For example, many amateur herpetologists will treat snakes' scale ailments (contracted since the animal had been in captivity) with various antibiotics rather than simply initially supplying the correct conditions for the animal. These situations always end up with the reptile dying ever a period of time.

Another example can be seen in the western suburbs of Sydney where some "indiscriminate herpetologists" intramuscularly inject all newly obtained reptiles with mega-doses of multivitamins and are then surprised when half their reptiles die of hypervitaminosis shortly afterwards.

An important point brought out in Oliphant F. Jackson's letter is that for every ailment, there is a cause. An important theme arising from this is that prevention is always better than cure. Referring back to Nigel Bownes' letter, I would advise all reptile keepers to quarantine new reptiles for a period of at least 3 months (for several obvious reasons that I won't detail), and that all amateur herpetologists should have the lowest possible turnover of reptiles. By doing this, more accurate, long term research on individual specimens can be carried out and the likelihood of outside infections attacking a collection are reduced.

It is probable that the best guideline as to when reptiles are kept properly is when they breed. Briefly, I have found that to maximize breeding in all reptiles it is best to maintain all reptiles in a non-obese condition, in perfect physical health, and some form of periodic temperature variation scheme should be practiced. (I realize that everybody seems to have recipes for breeding reptiles, but obviously if certain reptiles breed according to some specific formula, that's all that matters).

Before I sign off, I should just touch on the lines of herpetological research in Australia. Much work is being done on themoregulation, genetics, and general ecology by various individuals; Australia is a world leader in many fields of herpetology. Many very close colleagues of mine are involved in research work on the physiology of aquatic reptiles. I myself am involved in research on the breeding of various Australian reptile species, and detailed research on all aspects of the biology of Death adders (Acanthophis antarcticus), although thus far with regard to Death Adders, most my research has been dealing with metabolic rates and breeding. I hope that I haven't been long-winded, and trust that this letter has enlightened Herptile readers about comparative aspects of Australian herpetology.

Raymond Hoser, 60 Arterial Road, St. Ives, 2075, N.S.W. Australia.

Important historical notes:

After this letter Harry Ehmann and Gerry Swan published a letter in the same journal stating that there was NO EVIDENCE of any bad keeping practices of reptiles in Australia. The statement was a bit like the fantasy of there being no such thing as police corruption.

This author (Raymond Hoser) confronted Harry Ehmann over his obvious lie and he countered saying:

'Look Raymond, the world is like one great big clothes line. And here in Australia, I don't want to see people like you trying to hang out our dirty washing'.

Ehmann was also aware of the cases cited within the original (above) letter.

Ehmann also said he would prefer lies to be told about Australian herpetology and practices in this country, rather than see the reputation of the country tarnished.

We agreed to disagree over this in that I did not regard an adverse comment on some herpetologists (or even some actions by some) to necessarily reflect on all - although Ehmann seemed unable to grasp this concept.

Furthermore to save an ongoing dispute through the pages of the Herptile, I agreed not to publish a response to Ehmann and Swan's letter in the Herptile (one had been written) and so the argument was effectively buried or so I thought.

At the time myself and the other two were in opposite camps (and at loggerheads) in that I sought the easing of reptile-keeping laws and policies in NSW, while those two supported the status quo and were beneficiaries in the current conditions in that they were relatively unusual in being friendly with the NSW NPWS people who issued them with licences they sought (unlike most other herpetologists).

The "indiscriminate herpetologist" referred to within the above letter was Jim Stopford, of Wilmot, NSW, who as a NPWS informant was allowed to get away with sub-standard conditions for his reptiles (over many years, including the period that the above letter was published), in return for being an informer for NSW NPWS officials who would then raid other unlicenced keepers and take their reptiles.

Further details about Jim Stopford and his activities both as a reptile keeper and active NPWS informant, appear in the book Smuggled-2, originally published in 1996.

Meanwhile Swan and Ehmann took other opportunities to attack myself in their herpetological publications, most notably in their so-called reviews of my books in the publication they edit, Herpetofauna.

On the whole Herpetofauna is a high-quality publication - save for a few articles here and there, including the so-called 'reviews' just mentioned.

A 'review; by Ehmann of my book Australian Reptiles and Frogs, was used as yet another platform to libel me and it contained a number of improper statements, which Ehmann later claimed to be 'a joke' and that I should have read the review with a sense of humor.

I hadn't done this, because Herpetofauna prostitutes itself as a serious journal (which it usually is).

A few years later, Swan published another so-called review. This time it was of my book Smuggled: The Underground Trade in Australia's Wildlife published in 1993.

In writing the review, Swan had clearly sought to appease his past and present friends in NPWS, putting little regard in the truth. Unfortunately in his case, for Swan just a little bit of information became dangerous. Most of Swan's criticisms were sweeping and of little validity, in that he clearly ignored a number of covering statements that I'd made early in Smuggled. Swan summed up with comments like 'I am no wiser' and 'no names and hard evidence'. Even a cursory reading of Smuggled would have revealed plenty of names, including of some who unsuccessfully took legal action against me and no fewer than 11 pages of sources of evidence. Needless to say, Swan had also appeared to deliberately ignore any legal constraints on naming particular people (in the few cases names were not printed), again mentioned by myself in Smuggled. Swan used a few so-called errors as a reason to place doubt on the entire book. Unfortunately it was Swan himself who was consistently in error.

Perhaps where Swan came unstuck the most was when he referred to the Peter Jones case (Smuggled pp. 73-74), which involved herpetologist Peter Jones being improperly arrested by NPWS officers and police while collecting reptiles in western NSW.

Swan and Jones had since become very close friends, even going on yet more reptile collecting trips together.

In his so-called review (which in effect was nothing more than a platform to libel myself), Swan wrote:

'Peter Jones is adamant that the author never discussed the incident with him, so where did he get his information particularly the first person conversations?'

Put bluntly, Swan had said I was liar.

Not only was Swan wrong, but he had apparently failed to take note of my comments re taped conversations on page 5 of Smuggled. That Swan had been deliberately negligent, was evident that he'd possessed my phone number and address for many years. A simple phone call would have resulted in his possession of a copy of the relevant tape recording, which would have confirmed the first person quotes.

In other words it was Peter Jones who was lying to Swan and Swan himself who was guilty of lying yet again, by hastily seizing on this alleged fact to improperly attack my credibility.

Swan further attempted to deny my statement in Smuggled that 'A Reptile Keepers Association (R.K.A.) had already formed in New South Wales to fight smugglers who broke into people's houses and took reptiles for smuggling purposes'. As a member of the R.K.A. in the 1980's Swan would have been well aware that these were key objectives of the group, resulting in a major submission being given to the State Government calling among other things for a reduction in the powers of N.P.W.S.. Furthermore Chris Chapman had been the lawyer who'd prepared that submission on behalf of the R.K.A., and he had clearly endorsed my comments in his preface to Smuggled.

Swan who although is a talented herpetologist, still has quite a history of mucking things up.

In 1990 he published a small book called 'A field guide to the Snakes and Lizards of New South Wales'. It had far too many mistakes to detail here. Suffice to say the front cover photo was miscaptioned, and in his description of the Eastern Tiger Snake (Notechis scutatus), one of the most common snakes in New South Wales, he presented a photo of an Eastern Brown Snake (Pseudonaja textilis) again another of the most common snakes, mislabeled as a Tiger snake. That the mistake wasn't a simple case of editorial error by transposition is shown by Swan's correct photo and caption on his page dealing with the Eastern Brown Snake.

One can only hope readers of that book never face a Tiger Snake!

Another small book by Swan published in 1995 had a Northern Death Adder (Acanthophis praelongus) miscaptioned as a Desert Death Adder (Acanthophis pyrrhus) accompanying a description of that species. Both snakes are radically different and have never been confused before by any other author (not even Glen Storr, who failed to separate A. wellsei from A. pyrrhus when inspecting both species). The same book also had a description of the Northern Death Adder, this time having a correct photo of the species. Much of the 'factual' information in relation to other species was simply wrong!

Following a threatening letter from myself to Swan in late 1993 threatening to sue for defamation unless he printed a full retraction of his so-called review (along with a duplicate of the Jones tape), he did just that. retracted his lies. The following issue of Herpetofauna carried a complete retraction of his review.

Swan had admitted to his mistake and apologised.

That much was to Mr. Swan's credit and since then we have both buried the hatchet.

By the way, Smuggled-2 (published in 1996) was not reviewed in Herpetofauna.

E-mail inquiries: adder@smuggled.com

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