Some Like It Hot: Venomous Reptiles in Florida

Florida's FWC to update Venomous Reptile regulations

Florida’s FWC to update Venomous Reptile regulations

Venomous Reptiles and Rule Change
The State of Florida has a long and storied history with captive venomous reptiles going back almost a century with famed herpetologists Ross Allen and Bill Haast. But in the wake of two high profile venomous snake escapes, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) has come under increased political pressure to tighten up venomous reptile regulations in the name of “public safety.” A new proposed rule is in the works, and there will likely be significant changes in regulation for zoos, venom labs and private keepers alike. FWC is currently accepting input from stakeholders through an online survey at www.surveymonkey.com/r/VR-Rule. Deadline for the surveys is July 27, 2016. There is also an opportunity to make public comment directly to FWC.

VRTAG
FWC has created a venomous reptiles working group known as the Venomous Reptiles Technical Assistance Group (VRTAG) to solicit stake holder input as a part of the process of formulating a draft proposed rule. FWC has a history of using TAG groups when seeking subject matter expertise on a given issue. I was selected as a resource to the VRTAG by FWC to represent clients in the zoo sector on behalf of Vitello Consulting. VRTAG meetings were held in early June and again in early July. Although the working group meetings were well run and allowed for an open exchange of ideas, there were clear lines of disagreement between FWC staff and the majority of VRTAG members.

The biggest point of contention between VRTAG members and FWC staff centered on a proposed three tier system of classification for venomous reptiles, with Tier I reptiles being unavailable for possession by private keepers that don’t meet the definition of “commercial” — such as dealers, zoos or venom labs. There could also be an increase in documented hours and/or educational requirements for venomous reptile license applications. Focus would be on incrementally moving up the tier system over time like building blocks — i.e., with Tier III being a prerequisite for Tier II, and Tier II a prerequisite for Tier I. Additionally, a proposed rule would likely require secondary containment for all three tiers, with tertiary “lockout doors,” specially constructed “out buildings,” and “pit tag” identification for Tier I reptiles.

Public Comment
Aside from the online survey that is being conducted by FWC, it is imperative that anyone who has an interest in venomous reptiles in Florida to make a substantive public comment. This is not just an up or down vote. If you want your public comment to carry weight, you must submit “substantive” public comment. That is a comment that specifically addresses concerns about the current draft of the proposed rule, or suggests alternatives to provisions of the draft. Being generally for or against the draft rule will not carry much weight.

Make Public Comment to FWC regarding Venomous Reptiles and the VRTAG!

Please make public comments here:  MyFWC.com/wildlifehabitats/captive-wildlife/recommendations/

Below are all of the current documents forming the basis for a draft proposed rule. Provisions of the draft rule will likely change at least somewhat. I should have an updated draft sometime in September. I will post an update as soon as possible.


Andrew Wyatt is a government affairs and policy consultant that works exclusively in the wildlife sector.

WyattP1“Venomous Reptiles and other wildlife issues are highly charged and contentious. I specialize in working with clients to employ campaign style tactics to change hearts and minds on vital wildlife issues. Please follow The Last Word on Wildlife for insight and analysis particular to the 21st century wildlife sector. If you would like to discuss the potential advantages of running a targeted issue campaign, and/or a comprehensive government affairs strategy, please call or email me.” ~ Andrew Wyatt


© Andrew Wyatt and The Last Word on Wildlife, 2016. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Andrew Wyatt and The Last Word on Wildlife with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Burmese Python: Dragon of the Everglades

burmese-pythons-everglades-invasive-species_31112

South Florida Burmese Python

The 2016 Python Challenge™ is moving at a record pace in south Florida. Sponsored by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC), the controversial python hunt, ostensibly to remove invasive snakes from the Everglades, produced a disappointing tally of only 68 snakes after 30 days of hunting in 2013. With cooler temperatures in south Florida, 100 pythons have already been taken in 2016. Hunters have capitalized on greater snake visibility as pythons bask openly in the sun to retain warmth. But is the hunt, slated to finish on Valentines Day, really for conservation or just a publicity stunt?

Raising the specter of giant pythons in the Everglades has become a media pastime in Florida. Clearly the appetite for this farfetched story is not easily sated. Lauded as some kind of invasive dragon devouring endangered wildlife and family pets alike, the Burmese python has become the stuff of folklore and myth: a modern day Jaws. A myth promulgated by environmental groups, invasion biologists and the press. Pythons being slain by champions eager to battle dark denizens for the ecological life of the Everglades has become a symbolic narrative that politicians have adopted and regurgitated for their own political purposes.

There is no denying that there are tens of thousands of Burmese pythons in the Everglades, but that’s far fewer than the 100’s of thousands touted by the likes of U.S. Senator Bill Nelson or Dan Ashe of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. While pythons are certainly eating rabbits, rats, feral cats and an occasional small gator, what many people don’t realize, is that pythons don’t eat every day like a warm blooded predator. They may only eat a handful of times per year; hardly the “resource hogs” depicted by some biologists.

“Cold temperatures killed thousands of pythons in the Winter of 2009-2010. Numbers appear to be rebounding, but pythons are not being found as readily as they were. The population peaked in Summer of 2009 with highs estimated to be 30,000- 40,000 pythons.” — Shawn Heflick, Biologist and star of NatGeo WILD’s: The Python Hunters

Another part and parcel of the myth is the notion that pythons have no natural predators in the glades. Nothing to temper an unabated population growth, a notion that is patently false. Any biologist worth his salt can tell you, there are dozens of potential predators for pythons in south Florida. Baby pythons are extremely vulnerable to hawks and eagles, wading birds, predatory fish, raccoons, feral hogs, feral cats, not to mention the apex predator of the Everglades, the American alligator, which preys even on adult pythons.

The exaggeration of every detail surrounding the presence of pythons in the glades further clouds the facts. For a variety of reasons the press and the pundits seem invested in demonizing the python. The press loves the idea of a giant snake in the glades “eating everything in its path.” Clearly the public has a morbid fascination with snakes that kindles a primal fear. Environmentalists and agency personnel see opportunity to increase funding for invasive, and or endangered species research not stimulated by less sensational problems. Ambitious biologists seem to bank on decades of pythons study and research in their future. Politicians vilify the snake as a threat that can only be overcome with the appropriation of billions in Everglades restoration dollars. It is a rich issue with a handout for nearly everyone.

“… many are content to chase the ‘Burmese Dragon’ around south Florida like Don Quixote chasing windmills.” — Andrew Wyatt

But the reality is this: Burmese pythons are a relatively low rung on the ladder of serious problems facing the Everglades. They have become a red herring, a distraction, and a scapegoat from more fundamental problems that are either too contentious or too difficult to deal with. Instead of addressing issues surrounding big sugar, pollution, water flow or other more pervasive invasive species threats, many are content to chase the ‘Burmese Dragon’ around south Florida like Don Quixote chasing windmills.

Hunting invasive pythons, although not without merit, is not being pursued in earnest. The National Park Service (NPS) will not allow pythons to be hunted at the epicenter of the population in the Everglades National Park (ENP). Ironically, the NPS appears to be protecting those pythons in order to preserve a study group for ongoing research. For the hunts to be effective, they should be conducted in the ENP in an open and ongoing basis. For now, hunts are restricted to state lands around the periphery of the park, and are limited to 30 days every few years.

Screen Shot 2016-01-25 at 12.36.08 PM

Vendors selling snakeskin wallets and belts at the 2016 Python Challenge™

The actual 2016 Python Challenge™ takes on an air more commensurate with a rattlesnake round-up or a reality TV show, than an environmental clean-up. It attracts colorful characters from all over the country to ‘hunt’ the dreaded pythons. Vendors have booths and sell t-shirts, snakeskin wallets and belt buckles. There’s funnel cake and BBQ. FWC is omni-present “educating” the public about the dangers of large pythons, how to identify them, wrangle them, and how to report them. But one has to wonder if the purpose is conservation or carnival.

While some concerns regarding invasive pythons are legitimate, the dramatic characterization placing pythons at the center of all of the Everglades ecological troubles is way overblown. Efforts to reduce the population via the Python Challenge are ineffective and disingenuous. Python population will never be significantly reduced unless the hunt is conducted at the epicenter of the invasion in the heart of the ENP. Allowing an open season within the park is the only way to actually reduce numbers through hunting. This ‘Dragon’ hunt  can hardly be seen as anything but a side show, while the decline of the Everglades goes on with or without the Burmese python circus.


Andrew Wyatt is a government affairs and policy consultant working exclusively in the wildlife sector. He formerly served as the CEO of the United States Association of Reptile Keepers (USARK) where he twice testified before congress as an expert on python issues. Andrew has been interviewed on National Public Radio, by Bloomberg and by The New York Times.

From rhinos to rosewood – illegal trade is on the up

From elephants and ivory to rhino horn and rosewood, it is clear that Thailand, not the USA, is a major epicenter of illegal trade. Characterizing the USA as central to these issues is a self serving ploy by NGO’s invested in using high profile emotionally charged rhetoric as a fundraising platform at home. Clearly the USA has little to do with the poaching of rhinos and elephants– and the trade in new ivory and rhino horn.” ~Andrew Wyatt

Project: African Rhino

RCS37 Siam rosewood tree ordained by Buddhist monk, with forest Thai armed guard protecting a precious Siam rosewood

For around two and a half years now, we’ve tried to keep a focus on what’s happening with the poaching of African rhinos via this awareness raising campaign.

As a result we’ve become fairly well versed in the wide-ranging and complex issues of the international wildlife trade – the third largest illegal business in the world after drugs and arms.

What we hadn’t completely got our heads round before was just how widespread and far-ranging the problem was. That it it’s not just iconic, headline-grabbing species like rhinos and elephants that are at risk of being poached to extinction.

RCS91 Khao Yai national park Khao Yai National Park, Thailand

Last month we found ourselves in Thailand’s beautiful Dong Phoyayen-Khao Yai eastern forest complex visiting Thap Lan, Pang Sida and Kao Yai national parks. We were on assignment for leading French nature and photography magazine Terre Sauvage supported…

View original post 713 more words

The Wrong Way to Protect Elephants

Reblogged from The New York Times.

Making legal trade illegal and turning good citizens into criminals will make it easier for FWS to make cases against Americans here at home, but it fails to address the hard work of catching poachers and real criminals that are determined to kill every living elephant. ~Andrew Wyatt

The New York Times | The Opinion Pages |OP-ED CONTRIBUTORS
By GODFREY HARRIS and DANIEL STILESMARCH | 26, 2014

27harris-master495THE year was 1862. Abraham Lincoln was in the White House. “Taps” was first sounded as a lights-out bugle call. And Steinway & Sons was building its first upright pianos in New York.

The space-saving design would help change the cultural face of America. After the Civil War, many middle-class families installed them in their parlors. The ability to play the piano was thought to be nearly as important to the marriage potential of single ladies as their skill in cooking and sewing, signaling a young woman’s gentility and culture.

The keys on those pianos were all fashioned from the ivory of African elephants. And that is why one of these uprights, the oldest one known to survive, in fact, is stuck in Japan.

The director of the United States Fish and Wildlife Service recently issued an order prohibiting the commercial importation of all African elephant ivory into the United States. (Commercial imports had been allowed in some instances, including for certain antiques.)

The Obama administration is also planning to implement additional rules that will prohibit, with narrow exceptions, both the export of African elephant ivory and its unfettered trade within the United States.

The Fish and Wildlife Service has said that these new rules will help stop the slaughter of elephants. But we believe that unless demand for ivory in Asia is reduced — through aggressive education programs there, tougher enforcement against the illegal ivory trade and the creation of a legal raw ivory market — these new American regulations will merely cause the price to balloon and the black market to flourish, pushing up the profit potential of continued poaching.

In short, these new rules proposed by the Fish and Wildlife Service may well end up doing more harm than good to the African elephant.

Read more at The New York Times...

 

THE FLAWED ASSUMPTIONS BEHIND ELEPHANT ECOTOURISM

Reblogged from Conservation Magazine.

According to a NEW study, an over-increase in elephant density does not equate to increased eco-tourism, and could actually lead to a decrease in biodiversity. ~Andrew Wyatt

Image © Alexandra Lande | Shutterstock

Image © Alexandra Lande | Shutterstock

March 20, 2014 | Conservation This Week

If you have more elephants, they will come. That’s been the philosophy behind attracting tourists to wildlife reserves in South Africa. But this assumption is flawed, according to a new study in Ecological Applications. Increasing elephant density doesn’t translate to more ecotourism, and doing so could end up hurting the biodiversity that these parks are meant to protect.

Reserve managers depend on tourists for much-needed revenue. To keep visitors happy, managers often bring in more impressive animals such as elephants. But these charismatic creatures can damage ecosystems. For example, large numbers of elephants can knock down trees and reduce the number of plant species, which in turn can lower the diversity of animals.

The researchers studied five private reserves and an ecotourism operator in South Africa, where visitors can go on guided tours to spot animals. For each site, the team members found out how frequently tourists saw elephants in 2010. They also analyzed data on elephant populations and tourism in Addo Elephant National Park, South Africa from 1954 to 2011.

Read more at Conservation Magazine…

ICCF Commends $23.7M Initiative to Combat Poaching & Conflict in Africa

ICCF Commends The Howard G. Buffett Foundation, Nature Conservation Trust and SANParks for Announcing R255 million (USD $23.7 million) Initiative to Combat Poaching & Conflict in AfricaBlack_Rhino_on_Ngorongoro_Crater

March 18, 2014

The Howard G. Buffett Foundation, Nature Conservation Trust and
SANParks Announce Historic R255 Million Commitment to Combat Poaching, Conflict in Africa

Three-year effort will intensify protection of Kruger National Park’s rhino population, and identify successful strategies to address poaching which finances conflict in Africa

JOHANNESBURG, SOUTH AFRICA – The Howard G. Buffett Foundation (HGBF), a private foundation in the United States; the Nature Conservation Trust (NCT), a South African public benefit organization (PBO); and South African National Parks (SANParks) today announced an historic RAND 255 million (USD $23.7 million), three-year initiative to combat rhino poaching in Kruger National Park and test anti-poaching tactics that can be applied in other regions of Africa, where poaching can be a source of funding for armed groups. The announcement was made at the Rosebank office of Standard Bank, which also announced its own support for the initiative by providing favorable banking fees and interest on the funds which they will hold.

The effort in Kruger will create an Intensive Protection Zone (IPZ) using sophisticated detection and tracking equipment and infrastructure on the ground and in the air; elite canine units and highly-trained ranger teams; and improved intelligence gathering and observation and surveillance systems. Kruger is currently home to over 40% of the world’s remaining 22,000 rhinos, the largest single population of rhinos in the world. Since January 2010, 1,383 rhinos have been poached from Kruger National Park, part of a larger assault that resulted in 2,368 rhinos poached in South Africa over the past few years. In some areas of Africa, entire populations of rhino have been eliminated.

Kruger’s poaching problem is fueled mainly by illicit criminal networks in Mozambique, South Africa, and East Asia, but evidence suggests that armed groups elsewhere in Africa derive significant funding from poaching activities. Kruger’s IPZ will also serve as a testing ground to inform targeted efforts to combat poaching in these other African regions.

“SANParks, thanks to the leadership of David Mabunda, and Kruger National Park, under the direction of General Johan Jooste, provide a unique opportunity to test new technology and new ideas within the best operating national parks system on the continent,” said NCT Chairman and HGBF CEO Howard G. Buffett. “This effort joins our foundation’s historic support for conservation with our current focus on conflict mitigation in Africa, particularly in the Great Lakes region.”

“The scale, complexity, and strategic value of this initiative is truly unprecedented for SANParks, and we believe will be transformative in our ongoing efforts to address poaching and the decimation of the rhino population in Kruger National Park,” said SANParks CEO David Mabunda. “More importantly, the lessons we hope to learn and share across SANParks and the continent will, we believe, develop new and more effective ways to combat illicit wildlife trade, particularly where it is financing armed groups.”

The Leadership for Conservation in Africa (LCA), led by its South African-based CEO Chris Marais, will provide advisory and advocacy support for the collaboration.

NCT and HGBF have a long history of support for conservation in Africa. NCT, with 100% of its funding provided by HGBF, created the Jubatus Cheetah Reserve in 2001 and the Ukulima Research Farm in 2007, both located in Limpopo Province, South Africa. Through its direct investments and support for NCT, HGBF has, prior to this announcement, committed over RAND 485 million (USD $45 million) in South Africa for a range of conservation and agriculture development activities including strengthening environmental governance; carnivore research in the Shashe/Limpopo Trans-Frontier Conservation region; preservation of natural resources; cheetah research and regional planning for cheetah conservation; development of agricultural strategies and production of improved seed for smallholder farmers. HGBF has committed an additional RAND 1.9 billion (USD $175 million) in support of its Africa Great Lakes Peace Initiative, which also includes funding for anti-poaching efforts designed to interrupt the capital flow to armed groups.

The Howard G. Buffett Foundation works to improve the quality of life for the world’s most impoverished and marginalized populations. It focuses on three core areas: food security, water security, and conflict mitigation. Based in Decatur, Illinois, the Foundation is led by CEO Howard G. Buffett. Mr. Buffett has been a permanent resident of South Africa since 2007. To learn more about the Foundation visitwww.thehowardgbuffettfoundation.org.

The Nature Conservation Trust was established in 2000 by the Howard G. Buffett Foundation as a non-profit organization and later was converted to a public benefit organization. The Trust has two primary charitable purposes: to conserve nature, restore degraded land, and to help ensure the long term survival of cheetahs and other carnivores in situ; and to support research and improved practices in agriculture for smallholder farmers to reduce food insecurity on the African continent.

South African National Parks manages a system of parks which represents the indigenous fauna, flora, landscapes and associated cultural heritage of the country. The national parks are: Groenkloof, Kruger, Table Mountain, Marakele, Golden Gate, Camdeboo, Mountain Zebra, Addo Elephant, Garden Route National Park (Tsitsikamma, Knysna, & Wilderness), Bontebok, Agulhas, West Coast, Karoo, Namaqua, |Ai-|Ais/Richtersveld, Augrabies, Kgalagadi, Mapungubwe, Tankwa Karoo and Mokala. To learn more visit www.sanparks.org.

Read the Press Release

Find out more about the International Conservation Caucus Foundation.

Endangered Species Act lost sight of its mission

Reblogged from Desert News.

“A NEW report from the Endangered Species Act Congressional Working Group has characterized the Endangered Species Act recovery rate as ‘unacceptable.’ The ESA should be a dynamic tool of conservation, not a tool to advance the policies of special interests that FWS is beholden to.” ~Andrew Wyatt

Deseret News editorial
Published: Friday, March 7 2014 12:00 a.m. MST

A male greater sage grouse struts at a lek near Henefer, Sunday, April 16, 2006. Christopher Watkins, Deseret News archives

Summary

A report from the Endangered Species Act Congressional Working Group found the ESA has produced an “unacceptable” recovery rate of 2 percent, and less than 5 percent of the species on the list are actually improving. That’s just not good

When Congress passed the Endangered Species Act, it did so with the intent of preserving animal populations that were facing the possibility of extinction. That’s a noble goal, but the reality of its implementation has been very different from its intent.

A recently released report from the Endangered Species Act Congressional Working Group, which evaluated the effects of the ESA and recommended improvements to the 40-year-old law, found that the ESA has produced an “unacceptable” recovery rate of only 2 percent, and that less than 5 percent of the species still on the list are actually improving. That’s just not good enough.

Read more at Desert News…