Most readers of this magazine would be aware that another part of my life is snakes. People like me are usually called herpetologists or sometimes snake scientists.
In this article, I'm going to talk (in simple language) about a number of snake exterminations that have affected Australia in the not-too-distant past, including events that I have been intimately involved in, either via discovery, or as an unwitting participant.
You'll also read here about what may be a coming Armageddon for some Australian snakes as well as other wildlife, including one government-created wipe-out already happening right-now.
WHY CONSERVE SNAKES?
Most people are afraid of snakes. Some people think that they bite and are dangerous.
Er, well, a few species can in fact kill if they bite, if you happen to avoid medical attention and if a whole stack of other factors are working against you.
Put another way, even if you live in a snake infested part of Australia, your chances of death by snakebite are effectively remote.
But let's look at some statistics.
About two out of 20 million Australians a year die from snake-bite.
There are about a billion living snakes in Australia at any given time.
Put another way, there are about 10 million motor vehicles in Australia and they kill over 1,000 Australians a year
and yet there's no mass panic in relation to cars and trucks is there?
Or with just 40,000 police who shoot and kill over 10 people a year across the country, year in year out, they are really dangerous by comparison.
Statistically this means you have a one in 500 million chance of being bitten and killed if you randomly encounter an Australian snake (over a full year). By comparison you have a one in 4,000 chance of being killed if you spend a similar time with a police officer. This means you are 125,000 times more likely to be killed by a rogue copper than a snake!
Now you know why I fear crooked police, but never fear reptiles!
And in terms of the police killings above, that's only counting direct deaths by shootings. So-called 'hot-shots' (accidental on purpose heroin overdoses), fake suicides, domestics and the like, more than double the police number.
Perhaps a mass panic against bent coppers makes sense!
And what are the benefits of snakes?
Well they get rid of vermin like rats and fat cats!
I wish that included evil government bureaucrats, but it doesn't.
Snakes kill and eat rodents. Of the larger common species like Black, Brown, Taipans and the like, an adult may kill and eat an average of three rogue mice a week. That's a conservative figure.
Multiply that by many millions of snakes and across a year, you can soon see how important snakes are in terms of keeping the pests in check.
No snakes = means rat and mouse plagues. And yes, in areas where farmers have killed too many snakes that's the very result you see.
Well this wasn't one I had anything to do with, but I can say, it's one I actually discovered.
Throughout evolutionary history, you have seen a situation whereby one species evolves and takes over an area of suitable habitat. After a period of time another similar species evolves. It favorably out-competes the older species and over time tends to supersede it over most of it's range.
We see this in all manner of animals.
In the wallabies and kangaroos, you've seen a situation whereby one species has become common, only to be superseded by another similar species several thousand years later. The earlier evolved species either declines in number and distribution, or maybe even becomes extinct.
The record of this is seen in disjunct distributions of declining species or the recent fossil record at places like Riversleigh in north-west Queensland.
In the Apes, various proto-humans evolved and out-competed one another.
Hence we saw pre-humans like Australopithicus out-competed by the Neanderthals, who in turn were out-competed by the cro-magnons (modern humans).
Sometimes a 'new' species doesn't just have an impact on similar species. In fact it's number and impact is far wider and sometimes this may mean extinction's across a whole range of species.
Once again, the most obvious example is the humans. Most people are aware of the human induced mass extinction's over the last few hundred years.
What most people are probably not aware of though is that many of these extinction's have resulted not just from humans seeking out and destroying animals themselves, but sometimes as a result of pest species we have brought into a new continent.
Rabbits, cats and foxes did a great job of wiping out more than a dozen small marsupials from Australia's mainland.
Sometimes a similar situation may occur, albeit to a lesser scale in wild animals, an example of which I'll give you later.
So here's the story of the first great snake wipeout, including my own role in it.
In 1998 I described a new species of snake from Mount Isa in Queensland.
It was superficially similar to the much more common King Brown Snake (Cannia australis), with which it'd obviously been confused in the past.
I named it Pailsus pailsei in honor of Roy Pails, a Ballarat-based snake keeper who held a pair of these snakes and drew it to my attention.
The first name denotes a new genus and the second is the species name.
The species was perhaps doomed within days of it coming into existence!
Well that in part stems from my own background as a corruption author.
One of the consequences of assigning a scientific name to a species is that it gets fixed for ever. The 'rule of priority' literally means 'first in, best dressed'.
That's why dogs are known as Canis familiaris and no one can ever change it.
And as anyone who has read a wildlife book would know, most species are described thus Common name>Scientific Name>Name of describer, sometimes followed by the year of description. Hence you'd see future snake books with the following: Pailsus pailsei Hoser 1998.
Now for my enemies (as in the crooks I've named in the corruption books), that was like waving a red rag to a bull.
You see part of the general plan to avoid being caught as corrupt is to discredit the whistleblower. In terms of the science or sometimes so-called science of snakes, this means to never cite my work, plagiarize and fail to cite if necessary and do whatever else if necessary to suppress anything useful or significant I have done. The idea is to ensure I never have any credibility.
This has been problematic for my detractors for some years as since 1980 I've published well over 100 papers. But notwithstanding this, I've lost count as to how many times I've had my papers copied and re-written by other so-called researchers, only to see them deliberately fail to cite their original source.
Unfortunately it's not something you can actually sue for
unless they use your photos as well and falsely claim they are someone else's as well.
This actually happened once and I did sue. Not because my work had been plagiarized, but because the person who stole and used my material and then failed to cite my work, had also made a deliberate point of publicly claiming that my material wasn't credible!
End result: An apology for the lies and intellectual fraud on their part as well as a $10,000 pay-out for breach of copyright.
The problem for my detractors with the naming business is that I was now effectively forcing my detractors to use names I had assigned.
Failure by them to do so, couldn't be merely looked at as oversight, but rather as plain stupidity on their part and hence the effective compulsion on them to do so.
You see the naming rules for species are totally pervasive and for any half-baked scientist upwards, they are literally inescapable.
And so the battle against Pailsus pailsei began.
First cab off the rank was a convicted wildlife smuggler, David John Williams.
He'd got passing mentions in both Smuggled and Smuggled-2 in relation to some of his criminal enterprises, perhaps most notably the Austoxin debacle.
In that one he set up what was to perhaps become the largest ever wildlife smuggling operation from New Guinea.
As it happens, Williams was probably lucky that he'd only had a few pages written about him.
As other victims of his enterprises will readily attest, I could probably write several books about his unethical exploits if I ever had the inclination.
Williams rapidly published a swag of so-called 'papers' on the internet claiming that Pailsus pailsei was nothing more than an underfed King Brown Snake and hence 'nomen nudem' (an invalid name).
He was supported by a few other misfits with a similar agenda to peddle, which later widened into a more general attack on all other species I'd assigned names to previously.
Why did he publish on the internet?
The reasons were probably as follows:
No journal or magazine would publish his tripe and by placing material on the web, he was able to make a lot of 'noise' in a hurry.
In terms of running a campaign, prolific use of the internet really does work wonders!
The problem was that the attack by Williams was invariably not just on myself as by end 1998 many of the names I'd put on other species before I'd named Pailsus pailsei were by now in general usage.
In the first instance, David Williams had moderate success in wiping out Pailsus pailsei. You see there were only two specimens known to science and they were both stuck in Victoria.
A quick check of some of the many hundreds of King Brown Snakes at the Queensland Museum and elsewhere also failed to yield any specimens different to normal King Brown Snake. Due in part to the 'noise' by Williams, the aliases he cross-posted under and a few of his mates, in particular a UK mate of his Wolfgang Wuster, by end 1999, it seemed that the campaign to kill Pailsus pailsei was starting to have success.
I knew that I was onto a new species, but it seemed that the lies and misinformation had effectively convinced many others that perhaps I had in fact got it wrong.
THE RAYMOND HOSER SNAKE EXTERMINATION
In 2000 I did my own snake wipe out.
This one was totally successful and not only that, it involved a common and well-known species. In fact it involved the King Brown Snake! Now I couldn't claim that King Brown Snakes were Pailsus pailsei, because the rule of priority prevented that.
But as part of a wider examination of these snakes I made what was in 1999-2000 a startling discovery.
Before then all the relevant snake books said that King Brown Snakes were found in Southern New Guinea, including Irian Jaya. In fact evidence suggested that they were common there.
And yes, there were some of these snakes in museum collections and still kept as pets in private zoos and the like.
An examination of these snakes revealed a startling fact. These snakes were a new Pailsus species, not King Browns as previously thought. That was the case for each and every one of them. In other words there were no King Brown Snakes in New Guinea.
Hence in 2000 I published a paper formally wiping the King Brown Snake species out from New Guinea!
As for how such an obvious fact could be overlooked over the previous decades, the wildlife laws of Australia provided the answer.
Because no Australian wildlife is legally exported from this country, non-Australian people were never able to line up an Australian King Brown Snake with a New Guinea one and compare the differences.
As the presumption had been that they were the same, no one until 1999 had ever bothered to engage in this very simple comparison.
As King Brown Snakes get to nearly 3 metres and a Pailsus only gets to about one metre, the differences on the basis of size are obvious for a start.
Non-Australians had overlooked this difference on the basis that the snakes they shipped from New Guinea were all immature, or so they had thought.
Keepers who ended up with the specimens and kept them for some years, overlooked the difference in size on the basis that they were probably getting 'runts'.
And as for the obvious scalation and morpholgy differences, well they were overlooked on the basis that they never had Australian snakes to compare with.
And of course, by way of example, there was the obvious situation of 'why bother to compare rostral scales? As it happens, this scale (at the snout) is different in the two kinds of snake.
As a result I described these New Guinea snakes in 2000 as a new species Pailsus rossignollii, in honor of Fred Rosignolli a Melbourne-based snake handler and lecturer.
The description of Pailsus rossignollii also gave the species Pailsus pailsei a new lease of life
if in fact it were ever 'dead'.
I make the last comment on the basis that a 'species' declared invalid on the basis of synonymy (as what Williams was trying to do) is resurrected again and under the original name, if and when someone else comes along and decides that the species is in fact different. That's true even if this resurrection takes place a hundred years hence.
But David Williams was evidently unaware of this fact and hence his continued campaign to exterminate Pailsus pailsei.
Now unlike for Pailsus pailsei, of which still only two were known, there were lots of Pailsus rossignollii scattered about the northern hemisphere.
People were able to line up their own snakes and then compare with the known characters of the common (in Australia) King Brown Snakes.
The obvious differences confirmed that Pailsus rossignollii was a proper and new species in it's own right.
By extension and simple interpolation, this meant that Pailsus pailsei must be a new species as well.
Another herpetologist, Richard Wells, described a similar species from Western Australia, based on one specimen, naming it "Cannia weigeli" after his friend John Weigel, who caught the snake, the species later being transferred to the genus "Pailsus".
As a result of all this taxonomy (classifying species), the idea peddled by David Williams that Pailsus pailsei was not a valid species was by early 2001, literally dead in the water.
Pailsus pailsei had survived the first attempted wipe-out.
But the defeat for Williams didn't come with grace.
A with many evil people, he merely changed his tack.
Williams then engaged in a bit of scientific fraud.
He removed his numerous posts from the internet in relation to denying that Pailsus pailsei or Pailsus rossignollii were new species. These he replaced with new and altered posts claiming that Williams himself was about to name these species and that I had somehow stolen his naming rights.
The theory was absurd in the extreme as Williams had no access to any of the specimens that formed the basis of the descriptions as well as other inalienable facts.
But in what was the biggest blunder of all, Williams failed to remove all of the countless posts he'd originally put over the web denying the existence of these new species.
Because he posted his new claims far and wide, including on lists with many hundreds of recipients, it was not surprising that he got picked up for this by other correspondents.
As a result, he then remorselessly altered and re-altered his online 'papers' digging himself an even bigger hole.
In his rush, he even failed to remove all the earlier versions of his online papers, the net result being that the same alleged paper was to be seen in multiple versions and all saying different and yet patently false things!
The end result was that Williams was exposed as a complete fraudster and the (now) three new species of Pailsus (as recognized) remained distinct and separate from the King Brown Snakes.
ANSWERS AND QUESTIONS AND THE FIRST PAILSUS WIPEOUT
In 1998 I also named several new species of Death Adders. Now, snake enthusiasts trade on novelty. Hence when a new species is discovered or named, people go into the bush and catch more. In other words, people start to get hold of them. This is exactly what happened to most of these Death Adders.
Now although Pailsus pailsei came from Mount Isa and that is a commonly traveled to place, no more Pailsus surfaced.
Of the original pair that Roy Pails had, one had been lodged at the local Melbourne Museum as a name-bearing holotype (the holotype being necessary to formally name a new species) and the other was nearly dead with old age. They'd been caught in November 1984.
In other words Pails couldn't breed them. In spite of a series of false alarms by other snake catchers and so-called experts no more surfaced.
I checked out claims of Pailsus from all over the place and in every case they turned out to be nothing more than King Brown Snakes
mainly very normal ones at that!
As a result, I had no choice but to get involved again.
I decided to go through Museum holdings of King Brown Snakes to see if they had any misidentified Pailsus.
For those unaware, away from the public display areas, State Museums have massive holdings of dead animals, fossils and the like for research purposes.
In terms of reptiles this means many thousands of them, neatly stored in jars and drums and catalogued as best as possible by staff and volunteers.
After several days at the Queensland Museum and looking at hundreds of dead King Brown Snakes I finally found a single Pailsus pailsei buried in a jar full of otherwise normal King Browns.
No wonder they'd been unable to find one after a quick search!
A similar search at the Australian Museum in Sydney found just one more.
This got the total to four known to science.
In other words the species wasn't common. In fact, as far as I could see, it appeared to be restricted to Mount Isa and adjacent areas. Even if it were present elsewhere, one thing was obvious. It would not be common and widespread across tropical Australia.
Noting that Pailsus (of different species) was also apparently found in the Kimberly and in New Guinea, the burning question then became why had the distribution become so disjunct.
Richard Wells hit the nail on the head when he speculated that it was an ancient or relictual lineage. He didn't however speculate as to why it had declined.
But the real answer to this question came from New Guinea.
This was the only area that Pailsus remained demonstrably common.
The obvious difference between southern New Guinea and northern Australia was that there were no King Brown Snakes in New Guinea.
In other words, the King Browns were literally outcompeting the Pailsus.
This also explained why the King Browns in Australia had a widespread and continuous distribution and the Pailsus were instead confined to some areas.
In other words, in Australia at least, the Pailsus had been through a major wipe-out in the recent geological past.
Well this can be easily inferred.
We know that King Brown Snakes are not in New Guinea. The land bridge between New Guinea and Australia is believed to have closed as recently as 12,000-20,000 years ago. It appears that then at least, there were no King Brown Snakes in the north Australia/New Guinea region.
However King Brown Snakes are on Groote Eylandt off the Northern Territory coast.
That got separated from the mainland just 5,000 years ago.
Hence it can be inferred that King Brown snakes appeared in northern Australia sometime between 5,000 and 12,000 years ago.
And that's probably also when the great wipe-out of Pailsus in Australia began.
A BIGGER WIPEOUT
The King Brown Snakes didn't just impact on the Pailsus. Other kinds of snakes have a similar distribution pattern.
The other snakes in the King Brown Genus (Cannia) are also similarly disjunct or restricted in distribution. These species, the Collett's and Blue-bellied Black (sometimes placed in Panacedechis) and Butler's Snakes all occur in relatively small areas and where King Browns tend to be uncommon or generally smaller in size.
Then there's the Taipans (genus Oxyuranus).
Both King Browns and Taipans are very large and similar in many respects. But unlike the Taipans, the King Browns are voracious eaters of other snakes, perhaps giving them the edge in head-to-head competition in the wild.
When the two species are put together in captivity, the King Browns tend to come out trumps.
The result is that where King Browns are common, the Taipans are either rare or non-existent.
Hence Taipans are common in coastal Queensland and even more so in New Guinea, but elsewhere in northern Australia they are scarce. The inland Taipan (O. microlepidota) is restricted to black-soil plains in eastern inland Australia which also happens to have relatively few King Browns.
Have King Brown snakes wiped out other species in the recent geological past, including species that may now be totally extinct and not just less common?
I don't know. Put simply, I haven't looked that far.
SCIENCE OR LAW?
Now you'd think that after his bungled attempt to kill off Pailsus pailsei and his widespread exposure as a fraudster, David Williams would pull his head in when it came to trying to exterminate species or attack my own scientific research.
That wasn't to be the case.
All it meant was that he went to the drawing board to think of new ways to stop people using so-called 'Hoser names'.
From my own perspective, I'd learnt something else in all this.
Past experience has told me that if I do something and my enemies try desperately to stop it, then it must be working. Put another way, it means that I am doing the right thing and that I should keep doing it.
It's the desperate attempts by my enemies to ban my corruption books that tells me that I am writing stuff that gets close to the bone
truth hurts some!
In terms of the science of snakes, there was something I'd learnt.
Not in 20 years of publishing papers on reptiles had I ever seen such a strong campaign by my known adversaries to stop or suppress my work.
In other words I must have been doing something right!
So what did I do?
I simply went out and named more species.
One of these was a reclassification of Australasian pythons naming several new species and subspecies.
Williams and his mate Wuster tried to stop people from using the names, but the rules are so fixed in stone that their attempts were worthless.
You'll see them being used in the latest books.
In 2001 I published another paper naming three subspecies of King Brown Snake (Cannia australis).
Subspecies are generally not a big deal in terms of the science of snakes as it's generally recognized that many remain unnamed. Furthermore subspecies are generally ignored in the generalist snake books.
As with all my papers on snakes, they were posted on my website shortly after the hard-copy was published.
Online publication alone is not recognised as publishing in terms of naming species and hence I can only publish the papers online after the hard copy version.
However this latter part is actually encouraged by the ICZN (the body who set the rules) as they want people to widely disseminate their works after publication.
However this time the ever obsessive David Williams decided to try another means to kill off these snakes.
This time he wrote a letter to the editors of the journal Boydii and said that he'd sue all of them personally unless they formally recalled each and every issue of the magazine and formally retracted my paper in it's entirety!
The retraction ploy was an attempt to literally kill off these new subspecies.
However what Williams didn't know is that while formal retraction can invalidate a scientific description, it can only be 'legal' if done by the author, not the publisher or anyone else.
Hence we had the first ever attempt in history to stop a scientific publication by way of legal threat!
Legal advice was taken and the Williams threat was ignored by the Boydii editors.
It came to nothing!
For those interested in the detail of the Williams frauds and wanting to read the exact posts, e-mails and the like, an article with this information was published in Crocodilian in 2001. It's also online at:
WHY DO PEOPLE WHO ARE OTHERWISE LAW ABIDING CATCH SNAKES ILLEGALLY?
If you are not into snakes that's a good question.
For snake fanciers it's a no brainer.
You see the government has made doing things the legal way nearly impossible.
In the period 1998-2001 several people applied to the Queensland National Parks and Wildlife Service (QNPWS), since renaming themselves the Environment Protection Agency (EPA) for permits to trap Pailsus pailsei for research purposes.
The venom labs wanted them to check out the venom. Private keepers and zoos wanted them as they were a 'new' and interesting species.
Museums wanted them as they effectively had none making comparative study of specimens virtually impossible.
No permits were issued. The reason was simple.
He QNPWS knew that this would force the keener individuals to go outside the law in order to get hold of their snakes.
Sure enough this happened.
There were several major busts of people in the Mount Isa area. All were in search of Pailsus pailsei and Acanthophis woolfi (a newly named Death Adder from the same area).
The QNPWS spent thousands of dollars enforcing these collecting bans on the very people whom they should have been encouraging to seek out and study the snakes.
This is somewhat ironic as the same department happily allows self-styled Rambos to run around the countryside killing snakes. They also happily allow land-clearing to kill off millions of snakes and yet prohibit the taking of small numbers for legitimate science.
The double standards stinks, but goes a long way to explaining why Australia's conservation record is perhaps the worst in the world.
Put simply the wildlife bureaucracy is generally working against the environment, not for it.
One of the arguments put by QNPWS against applicants seeking to legally collect Pailsus pailsei was that their own departmental experts said that the snake shouldn't be collected.
No sane reason was ever given, but that's never been an issue for government departments.
As a result of this, several people approached me to seek a permit to collect the snakes.
A trip to Mount Isa was the last thing I wanted (or could afford), but when the Queensland Herpetological Society (HSQI) offered to fund most of it, I decided to investigate the possibility of getting a permit to collect the snakes.
A few phone calls to QNPWS and the other government departments of relevant promised that I'd get a permit if I filled in all the relevant forms.
Now for those unaware, the basis of John Howard's original sell-off of Telstra was to put $1 billion into saving Australia's environment and wildlife.
Now with that sort of cash, everything rare or endangered could have been saved several times.
As it happens, not one red-cent has probably been used for useful purposes.
Instead, the Federal and State Governments created a mountain of bureaucracy to use up the cash and generally hamper any useful scientific activity, work on the environment and the like.
For my Pailsus permit the following was the situation:
At least 8 separate permits or licences were required - yes 8!
4 were needed from Victoria and 4 from Queensland.
Over a foot of paperwork was generated just filling forms and that excluded the online stuff which in many cases was mandatory.
In other words, no internet access, no permits!
To make sure that the permit application would succeed, I got the backing of leading snake researchers across the country, including various museum curators, reptile societies all relevant experts on venomous snakes and the like.
So that there could be no allegation that I was seeking snakes of commercial value (which Pailsus weren't anyway) I sought as a condition of the permit that all snakes would end up at the Queensland Museum upon death.
In other words the Queensland government would get the snakes in the end anyway.
And so the various bits of paperwork went back and forth.
This process commenced early 2002 and took many months.
The trip to Mount Isa was planned for the first fortnight of November 2002.
The dates were significance.
Three of four known Pailsus had been caught in November in the post-full moon phase, which is the time we had planned.
The effects of lunar cycles on snake activity is well-known.
In due course 7 of eight permits were issued, including all from Victoria.
Just one remained to be issued from Queensland.
At the last moment at end October 2002 I was advised by a bureaucrat in QNPWS that a permit would be issued by 1 November and so I flew to Brisbane as planned.
Myself and the others assembled, ready to head to Mount Isa by road.
The whole mission had over previous months gained a much greater sense of urgency.
You see new information had come to light indicating that Pailsus pailsei was literally on the brink of extinction and likely to die out in the wild (more of which you'll hear about shortly). Hence the even greater need to catch some live snakes and breed them.
Now as this information had come to hand, the QNPWS were advised of it, myself naively thinking that the QNPWS would act in the public interest and issue a permit.
No permit arrived.
Everyone was keen to go to Mount Isa and in spite of encouragement to go, particularly in light of the permit being promised anyway, I refused to leave Brisbane unless and until I had the permit in my hand.
After days of promises and procrastination, the lunar cycle progressed and I returned to Melbourne at the end of the first week of November.
Everyone was told we'd have to wait to 2003 at the earliest.
Hundreds of hours of time wasted to get eight permits to legally collect some small brown snakes had come to an end.
The cost to us all?
Many thousands of dollars, wasted time, including wasted holiday time from work for several people.
The QNPWS had (we since found out) deliberately led me up the garden path knowing full well that they'd never issue the last collect permit for the snakes
snakes which are killed on roads by cars and trucks daily, smashed over the head by people daily and killed in land clearing daily
and yet legitimate research and conservation is banned!
And now you know why it is so much easier for people to ignore the laws and simply go bush and catch what they want!
THE HIDDEN AGENDA
We later found out that QNPWS had since the word 'go' planned to not issue the permit and literally entice me to Mount Isa. A vast amount of money was then spent having the area staked out with officials ready to 'bust' me when I appeared trapping snakes.
Then the great Hoser bust would become a big media story.
Yes, I came within a hair's width of being in a headline like "Smuggled author caught smuggling!"
The question then becomes why?
As I can't read the mind of a bureaucrat, I can only guess what went on in the warped brain of the bureaucrat who masterminded the operation.
For that matter I can only guess who the mastermind of the operation was.
You see in a bureaucracy, there is so much back-passing that the most serious culprit often remains obscured.
It turned out that one of the masterminds behind this great waste was a bureaucrat by the name of Jesse Low.
He was subject of a CJC complaint in that he used his work position at QNPWS to peddle and promote a private holiday lodge that he ran at Cairns.
Instead of doing QNPWS work during business hours, he instead took phone calls from people interested in staying at his lodge called the Galvin's Edge Hill Bed and Breakfast.
(For reservations e-mail: , or phone him at QNPWS at 0740466662).
Bearing in mind he was being paid over $1,000 a week by QNPWS for this, and that no one could ever get hold of him on official QNPWS business it's no wonder that a complaint ended up with the CJC (now CMC).
(By the way, the CJC didn't think that Low's moonlighting was worth investigating or censure, thereby greenlighting other bureaucrats to moonlight at taxpayer's expense).
Now bearing in mind that in 1996 the same QNPWS did in fact issue me with a permit to collect any species of reptile from any part of Queensland, the question then begs, what changed between 1996 and 2002?
In one word it may have been Smuggled-2.
You see some of Low's closest colleagues were named in Smuggled-2, published in 1996, and it turned out that they were still nasty about this six years later!
Included here were bureaucrats from the NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service, shown to be corrupt and who had since taken golden parachutes. They'd resurfaced in Low's wildlife bureaucracy in Queensland.
Low was quoted by a work colleague saying:
'If the difference between extinction of preservation of Pailsus depended on whether or not I gave Hoser a permit, then I'd prefer to see them wiped out".
Low himself refused to answer calls and so I tried a more direct tack.
By pretending to be a person interested in staying at his Cairns holiday lodge, the QNPWS staff put me straight through to him.
This incoming call was obviously far more important than those related to the QNPWS business - that Low was being paid for.
Low still hung up as soon as he realised I was more interested in his statutory duties instead.
After a period of agitation, Low came clean and wrote to me saying in a letter that I was not to be given a permit to collect Pailsus because I wrote books about corruption. This meant I was not a fit and proper person to hold a licence.
Now you know what 'fit and proper' means.
I then posed the obvious question as follows: Assuming Raymond Hoser is somehow unsuitable for the permit, does the project have scientific and conservation merit and if not why not and if it does, then can Raymond Hoser totally divorce himself from it and one of a number of other keen snake scientists get such a permit?
My motive was simple
to conserve and study the species (more of which you'll read about shortly).
Now the question was pertinent. You see two other herpetologists (Paul Woolf from Queensland and Scott Eipper in Victoria) were ready, willing and able to take over the project in toto.
Furthermore in the first instance and in writing, both the Queensland and Victorian wildlife authorities had decided that the project had scientific and conservation merit, as did most of the State Museums and the like who were co-signatories to the project.
And surely the conservation of a species should go above petty bureaucratic vendettas?
A complaint was lodged with various higher and external authorities in Queensland, which posed the simple questions above, but all regarded conservation matters as 'not important', or 'not worth investigating'.
The QNPWS themselves merely appointed two of Low's mates to do an internal investigation into him.
Their names were Clive Cook and John Gilmour, who even worked out of the same office.
They are perhaps best known for their failure to prosecute some local Rambos who made a point of going bush and killing all the snakes they saw on sight.
The law of the land says that's an offence and that they should be prosecuted, but Gilmour and Cook ignored their statutory duties and didn't.
They were however it seems a party to the failed entrapment operation in terms of myself as mentioned above.
Cook and Gilmour wrote to me saying that I did not know them in any way, had never dealt with them or immediate collegues in any way and that they would therefore impartially look at my grievances.
When I reminded them that some of them had been adversely named in Smuggled-2, since cleared as true and correct in defamation proceedings, the men apparently dropped all pretence of impartiality and like the CJC apparently decided that Low's activities was not worth investigating.
AUSTRALIA'S FIRST EXTINCT SNAKE?
Just so you know, so far, not one single species of snake has been exterminated from Australia since European settlement.
Yes, Australia's lost birds, mammals and frogs, but so far, no snakes.
Pailsus pailsei may well be the first!
Is Low to be the evil person responsible? Or was he beaten to the punch by some other terrible bureaucratic act?
The answer to this may never be known, but I'll fill you in on the detail.
Then there was another burning question about these snakes. All four Pailsus pailsei known to science came from the Riversleigh/Mount Isa area of North West Queensland.
All had been caught either in the early 1980's or even before then. None had been seen since.
The question soon became: Why?
My initial theory that the snake was probably just being confused with the more common King Brown Snakes was starting to look shaky.
You see since 1998 plenty of snake people had been looking in the exact locations Pailsus pailsei were known from and yet none were turning up.
These people didn't have permits, but it seems that Raymond Hoser's one of the few snake scientists hamstrung by such niceties. Noting the difficulties of dealing with the wildlife bureaucracy, most snake scientists prefer to ignore them and just do things without permits and hope like mad that they don't get caught!
Then in late 2001/2002 John Scanlon an old School friend, now working as a snake scientist at the South Australian Museum e-mailed me telling me about a Pailsus he'd found in about 1987.
He'd found the snake dead on a road at Riversleigh (near Mount Isa) and at the time was unable to identify it. The snake had been catalogued (as in scale counts made), photographed and shoved in a jar for preservation.
Until my papers appeared, Scanlon had all but forgotten about the snake.
Scanlon was on the money and for the first time ever, someone besides myself had actually found and identified a real Pailsus pailsei!
That was the good news.
The bad news was that it was found dead, having poisoned itself on a Cane Toad.
ANOTHER GOVERNMENT IMPOSED ENVIRONMENTAL NIGHTMARE
Cane Toads (Bufo marinus) are a non-native species of Anuran (of the frog family) native to South America.
At the turn of the 19th and 20th century the species was introduced to a number of Pacific Islands, most notably Hawaii to control insect pests in Sugar Cane plantations.
They were an abject failure. Because they don't climb, they were useless against insects on the cane itself. The toads merely hopped about the ground below.
They then mass-produced themselves (producing hundreds or thousands of eggs per toad per season), the end result being decimation of local native wildlife, which they either ate, or poisoned as they were eaten.
Now by the 1930's this failure was clear for all to see and yet in spite of this, bureaucrats in the Australian government chose to act against better advice and bring these Toads to Australia.
It was an immensely expensive campaign to convince a skeptical public of the virtues of the Toads. Most of the sensible and law-abiding public knew better and didn't want the Toads to make a debut here.
Ignoring common sense and public opinion the Australian and State government of Queensland embarked on a major media campaign promoting the virtues of the Cane Toads. The campaign is much like the 'dob-in your neighbor who may be a terrorist' campaign of the last couple of years, in that it is promoting an absurdity.
Toads were brought into Queensland in the 1930's and released in large numbers in various locations along the Queensland coast.
People who opposed the Toads importation's were threatened with criminal sanctions dare they try to stop it.
Within a few short years the toads had established a foothold here and a few decades later the toads were found in most parts of coastal Queensland and destroying native wildlife in their wake.
By 1975, Cane Toads were found more-or-less continuously along the entire coast from Grafton New South Wales to the tip of Cape York, Queensland and were then spreading at the rate of about 30 km a year west and across the Gulf of Carpentaria.
Declines in numbers of native frogs were there for all to see, as were the corresponding declines in numbers of snakes and lizards and pretty much anything else that in the normal course of events fed on frogs.
Even in the wake of all this destruction, the Queensland and Federal Governments were still promoting the virtues of the Toads.
The mobility of the toads meant that they were also vectors for various diseases and parasites, meaning that even if the toads did not directly feed on or compete with native species, they could cause harm, merely by being in the same area.
As late as 1987, the Federal and State governments persisted with the lie that Cane Toads were actually good for the environment.
That year I wrote a letter to several newspapers, magazines and the like, which by virtue of how many outlets I sent the letter to, it got widely disseminated.
I said it as it was and pointed out that the toads were an environmental menace and should be wiped out as soon as possible and before they kill more species.
In response to my letter a Queensland government employee, Glen Ingram wrote a letter saying that I'd got it wrong and that Toads weren't as bad as I'd made out. (Seven years later and to his credit, Ingram apologized and admitted that he'd got it wrong).
Other government employees who made similar claims against me and my views against Cane Toads never showed remorse.
And so as recently as 1987, the march of the Toads continued and with full government backing.
My claim that Cane Toads would eventually overrun world heritage areas including Kakadu in the Northern Territory was labeled 'a wild conspiracy theory'. In 2001-2002 this happened!
One of the diseases carried by Toads is a little-known fungus called the Chytrid fungus. It attacks the keratin in frogs and kills them.
Once Chytrid is in a waterway, the wipe-out is usually general.
Several species of Queensland frog are now extinct as a result of this fungus. One species Taudactylus diurnis from virgin forests and streams near Brisbane became extinct as far back as the 1970's!
Cane Toads eat any living thing small enough to fit in their mouths. Hence they wipe out things smaller than themselves. Larger creatures that feed of them ingest poison from large glands all over their skin and they too die.
In other words, in the Australian context the Toads are virtually indestructible.
As they breed prolifically, they are literally in plague proportions where they are and where they are spreading to.
So-called frog-eating snakes, such as Black and King Browns are particularly vulnerable to wipe-out in the wake of Toads and their numbers tend to crash when Cane Toads move in.
And when did the Toads finally manage to invade the Mount Isa area?
Hence Scanlon may have found the last known Pailsus pailsei literally at the cusp of their final wipe-out!
In other words the species may have died out even before the evil efforts of moonlighting QNPWS bureaucrat Jesse Low.
A LAST CHANCE FOR PAILSUS PAILSEI?
In terms of Pailsus pailsei, it may not yet be extinct.
You see as Toads move through an area, bits of habitat may be unsuitable (usually too dry) for them and sometimes frog-feeding species may persist in these areas for some years. This pattern is seen in the now fragmented but still declining populations of Death Adders and Red-bellied Black Snakes in north Queensland. These species may persist in ever declining numbers for some years after the initial movement of Toads into an area.
But one thing is certain.
The picture for Pailsus pailsei is not good and yes, because of the efforts of evil Australian bureaucrats, it may well become the first species of snake to become extinct since European settlement
that is if it isn't already!
ACANTHOPHIS CUMMINGI, NEXT IN LINE FOR EXTINCTION?
This is a species of Death Adder found in the top-end of the Northern Territory, which happens to be where the Cane Toads are running riot at the moment.
They are perhaps the most vulnerable species of snake up there in terms of the likely consequences of Cane Toad invasion.
When Toads move in, they literally die out. None survive!
It's one of several species of Death Adder I've named and it was named after an investigative journalist Fia Cumming.
Fortunately a few dozen of these snakes ended up in captivity over the last decade and so even if they do die out in the wild, the species may well persist indefinitely.
As for most kinds of snake, Death Adders are easily bred in captivity.
And so as you read this article, the last of the A. cummingi Death Adders are being wiped out from the Northern Territory.
In February 2003, a Ballarat-based reptile keeper Roy Pails bred this species. It was the second time he'd done so and to date he is the only person yet to be breeding these snakes.
Of the dozen-odd young produced he distributed them to other snake people so as to aid in the conservation of the species. The idea being that they too could breed the snakes and the survival chances of the species improved.
I got four.
As with all young Death Adders mine grew like weeds and were problem free captives.
That was until June 2003. Then without warning two literally dropped dead. Two other Death Adders of a different species also dropped dead.
Dying Death Adders are so rare as to be exceptional. Four dead Death Adders was completely out of the ordinary.
I got lucky and actually watched the fourth one die and it was clear that it was dying of a severe neurological disorder.
Other symptoms present in the sick snakes included a respiratory ailment and a rapid decline in condition.
After a detailed analysis of the snake's captive records and appraisal of all the facts, it became clear that the snakes had died of a viral disease not previously known from Australia.
A presumptive diagnosis of Ophidio Paramyxovirus (OPMV) was made.
"Presumptive diagnosis" means what is presumed, based on the signs and is a general practice in medicine.
In lawman's terms, it's like when a person presents at a doctor's surgery with runny nose and cough and is diagnosed with influenza. The diagnosis is made, but in the absence of time consuming and costly electron microscopy tests, the diagnosis is not "positive".
Noting the seriousness of the virus in terms of Australian species, Electron microscopy was sought to confirm the presence of the virus.
Instead it revealed the cause of death as a so-called Reovirus, which although different in molecular structure to OPMV, presents similar symptoms in snakes.
As it turned out, it was a previously unknown form and at the time of writing, more research is going on.
Ophidio Paramyxovirus (or OPMV) and similar viruses, including Reoviruses, known from non-Australian collections causes mass die-offs of snakes, in particular small ones. Hence my loss of four young Death Adders.
I traced my infection back to a large A. cummingi I'd received from another keeper Stuart Bigmore a few months earlier.
Bigmore, who worked for Ford Motor Company had been transferred to Japan from Lara (Melbourne) for 18 months and his collection had been split up to be held by several keepers.
Noting that this virus was waterborne and how his snakes had been kept, I was able to ascertain that his entire collection was infected and as a result so too were the several collections that his snakes had been distributed to.
As a result, most were now dealing with their own mass-wipe-outs of snakes.
Now this reovirus doesn't affect all snakes. Many, if not most, just carry the virus. These are known as 'asymptomatic carriers'. The result being that, other than myself, to that point, none of the keepers had known that they had a viral infection in their snakes.
They were merely dealing with a huge number of apparently unexplainable deaths.
As soon as I put the word out, further movement of snakes was stopped by the keepers, all snakes quarantined and hopefully the plague (as it's known) was stopped.
This wasn't quite to be, but yes, it's progress was arrested.
But that didn't however explain how Bigmore had got the virus.
Via a detailed process of elimination and cross-checking it became clear that the virus had come into Bigmore's collection on an asymptomatic Taipan (Oxyuranus scutellatus) received by Bigmore in October 2002.
That had come from the Australian Reptile Park (ARP), at Somersby, New South Wales owned by John Weigel.
As to why Weigel hadn't advised Bigmore of the fact that the snake was a virus carrier, well that was simple. At the time he didn't know. Likewise for Bigmore and those other keepers downline from him who had also unknowingly traded or received virus infected snakes.
But that's when the story starts to get grubby.
You see it turned out that in February/March 2002, the ARP had a mass die-off of snakes from causes unknown. This continued through until November 2002, whereupon they brought in several vets from outside the ARP to try to identify the cause.
They made a "presumptive diagnosis" of OPMV.
A presumptive diagnosis is one based on histology and symptoms. A definitive diagnosis is one based on electron microscopy, specifically looking for the virus, which incidentally is what happened to the last Death Adder that died at my facility and should have been done with at least one of the ARP's corpses. The ARP were negligent in not following up the "presumptive diagnosis" with a positive one.
While Weigel attempted to keep this "presumptive diagnosis" under wraps, the Chief Veterinary Officer of NSW, a Mr. Bruce M. Christie, thought the matter was serious enough to write a memo about it and circulate it to other bureaucrats.
This memo was in turn leaked to a keeper (Peter Mirtschin of South Australia), who'd received snakes from Weigel, via a friend in the NT Government (Maurico Perez-Ruiz), and this was in turn leaked out to others via e-mail and ended up getting posted onto a German internet list.
In response, in January 2003, Weigel sent out a mass-email to all those he thought may have got the original leaked memo saying that the "Paramyxovirus" outbreak at the ARP had been out of control to November 2002 but now was under control and with no losses since November 2002.
He also said that all persons who may have received infected snakes from the ARP during the relevant time period had been properly notified that they may have received infected snake.
It turned out that the second statement wasn't true.
Bigmore had never been notified, something Weigel himself belatedly confirmed in June 2003.
If Bigmore had been notified by Weigel in November 2003 of the potentially infected Taipan, then more than a dozen other collections and over 100 other snakes would probably not have been infected with the deadly reovirus.
As to where the ARP got their infection from, no one knows. Not even Weigel it seems, or so he says!
It may have come from another Australian facility from where the ARP got it's snakes (considered unlikely based on a detailed series of checks since carried out), or more likely from some recently imported snakes, including perhaps some King Cobras ((Ophiophagus hannah) received by the ARP during the relevant time period.
What's worse is that no one except perhaps Weigel himself know how many other infected snakes have now gone into general circulation from the ARP and are as yet unidentified carriers of the reovirus or some other infectious viral disease.
This new reovirus is particularly deadly on young and small snakes.
For venomous snakes under 3 months old, which includes most Australian species, it's fatal to virtually 100%.
In other words if this new reovirus does get loose into wild populations, which appears to be likely, we could perhaps see the largest snake wipe-out in Australia's history. The result could be a far wider environmental disaster, manifesting in increased disease in small mammals, rodent plagues and the like.
Now bearing in mind that most, if not all the reovirus so far positively identified in Australian collections has been identified as coming from the ARP, if the reovirus does make a debut in wild snakes in the near future, Weigel and the ARP may well be to blame for the problem.
THE ROUGH-SCALED PYTHONS
The ARP has had more than it's fair share of criticism of late. On Sunday 16 July 2000, the facility burnt down at night and they (allegedly) lost all their snakes.
They claimed insurance, citing the cause as an 'electrical fault', although word soon got around the traps was that it was an arson job by Weigel or someone else with the ARP.
This was vigorously denied by Weigel and in due course the insurance people paid up.
Shortly after the fire, it became evident that some of the rarer and hard to get reptiles had not been destroyed in the fire. This included the extremely hard-to-get Rough-scaled Pythons (Morelia carinata), from Western Australia, which then made a re-appearance at the rebuilt facility.
Once again the arson claims resurfaced, but Weigel again aggressively dismissed them saying that the Rough-scaled Pythons had been held at his private house on the night of the fire due to the need for greater 'security' for these snakes.
Noting that the snakes were being held at the ARP's rebuilt facility after the fire, the question then begged, what's changed in terms of security at the ARP to make Weigel want to move the snakes from his private residence to the park?
Or, if security at the ARP was so slack, why then was it OK to have several hundred other snakes held there?
Alternatively, if security for the Rough-scaled Pythons had been inadequate prior to the fire of 2000, why wasn't it fixed up then?
The problem in terms of Weigel has been his propensity to repeatedly knowingly make demonstrably false claims on internet lists and in e-mails meaning that any claims and explanations he makes must as a matter-of-course be treated with a healthy degree of skepticism.
MORE REOVIRUS WIPE-OUTS?
As part of a wide-ranging study into OPMV and similar viruses in Australia, I was able to ascertain that the reovirus, recently identified was not in most, if not all Australian collections prior to 2002. The basis of this finding is given elsewhere (see references below and a 20,000 word draft paper online at: http://www.smuggled.com/OPMV6.htm).
Noting that OPMV and reoviruses usually only targets certain kinds of snake and in the case of the reovirus, smaller ones at that, it's worth noting which species are known to die from it.
These include (so far), Death Adders (Acanthophis), Tiger Snakes (Notechis), Copperheads (Austrelaps) and Black (Pseudechis). Some of these are common to populated parts of Australia.
Reovirus particles may also be carried in water, wet objects and prey items and hence will probably spread rapidly if released into the wild Australian environment.
This reovirus may well be the Chytrid equivalent for native snakes and be another environmental disaster in the making.
Chytrid was a fungus, brought into Australia that has caused the wipe out and extinction of many species of frog. It was native to Africa.
There is a possibility that in the Australian wild, the reovirus may have some as yet unknown limiting factor that will prevent a mass wipe-out.
Let's hope so.
FURTHER READING (Also see sources cited therein)
Hoser, R. T. 1987. Cane Toad Threat to Australia's Wildlife. Herptile 12(3):86-87 (and published elsewhere, including Habitat (ACF) and Wildlife Australia (WPSOQ)).
Hoser, R. T. 1989. Australian Reptiles and Frogs. Pierson and Co., Sydney, NSW, Australia:238 pp.
Hoser, R. T. 1991. Endangered Animals of Australia. Pierson and Co., Sydney, NSW, Australia:240 pp.
Hoser, R. T. 1993. Smuggled-The Underground Trade in Australias Wildlife. Apollo Books, Moss Vale, NSW, Australia:149 pp.
Hoser, R. T. 1996. Smuggled-2:Wildlife Trafficking, Crime and Corruption in Australia. Kotabi Publishing, Doncaster, Victoria, Australia:280 pp.
Hoser, R. T. 1998a. Death Adders (Genus Acanthophis): An overview, including descriptions of Five new species and One subspecies. Monitor - Journal of the Victorian Herpetological Society 9 (2):20-41.
Hoser, R. T. 1998b. A new species of Elapid Snake from Queensland Australia. Monitor - Journal of the Victorian Herpetological Society 10(1):5-9, 31 (Reprinted in Litteratura Serpentium 20(3)2000).
Hoser, R. T. 2000a. A new species of snake (Serpentes:Elapidae) from Irian Jaya. Litteratura Serpentium 20(6):178-186.
Hoser, R. T. 2000b. A revision of the Australasian Pythons. Ophidia Review 1:7-27.
Hoser, R. T. 2001a. A current assessment of the status of the snakes of the genera Cannia and Pailsus, including descriptions of three new subspecies from the Northern Territory and Western Australia, Australia. Boydii - Journal of the Herpetological Society of Queensland Incorporated July:26-60.
Hoser, R. T. 2001b. Pailsus - a story of herpetology, science, politics, pseudoscience, more politics and scientific fraud. Crocodilian 2(10): 18-31.
Hoser, R. T. 2002. An overview of the Taipans, (Genus: Oxyuranus) (Serpentes: Elapidae) including the description of a new subspecies. 3(1):43-50.
Hoser, R. T. 2003 An epidemic of OPMV. Macarthur Herpetological Society Newsletter. July 2003. (About 5,000 words). Also see online at: http://www.smuggled.com/OPMV3F.htm