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    Every Creeping Thing: True Tales of Faintly Repulsive Wildlife: “Conniff is a splendid writer–fresh, clear, uncondescending, and with never a false step; one can’t resist quoting him.” (NY Times Book Review)

    The Species Seekers:  Heroes, Fools, and the Mad Pursuit of Life on Earth by Richard Conniff is “a swashbuckling romp” that “brilliantly evokes that just-before Darwin era” (BBC Focus) and “an enduring story bursting at the seams with intriguing, fantastical and disturbing anecdotes” (New Scientist). “This beautifully written book has the verve of an adventure story” (Wall St. Journal)

    Swimming with Piranhas at Feeding Time by Richard Conniff  is “Hilariously informative…This book will remind you why you always wanted to be a naturalist.” (Outside magazine) “Field naturalist Conniff’s animal adventures … are so amusing and full color that they burst right off the page …  a quick and intensely pleasurable read.” (Seed magazine) “Conniff’s poetic accounts of giraffes drifting past like sail boats, and his feeble attempts to educate Vervet monkeys on the wonders of tissue paper will leave your heart and sides aching.  An excellent read.” (BBC Focus magazine)

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Posts Tagged ‘rattlesnakes’

Texas Shows It’s Too Scared to Stop Folks from Gassing Wildlife

Posted by Richard Conniff on October 28, 2016

Texas rattlers have good reason to be defensive  (Photo: Matt Meadows/Getty Images)

Texas rattlers have good reason to be defensive (Photo: Matt Meadows/Getty Images)

by Richard Conniff/Takepart

Roughly 125 years ago, Theodore Roosevelt together with a few other pioneering thinkers introduced the idea of “fair chase” in this country. In essence, it holds that if you are going to hunt and kill animals, you should do it ethically, in a way that doesn’t dishonor the hunter, the hunted, or the environment. No canned hunts, no jacklighting, no hunting of animals that are helplessly incapacitated, no commercial slaughter of species like bison and passenger pigeons for the meat market. It was the beginning of the American conservation movement.

That piece of history came to mind as I was reading the latest news out of Texas.

Early this week, the Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission walked away from a proposal to ban the practice of catching rattlesnakes by spraying gasoline fumes into their dens. Collectors grab the dazed snakes as they bolt from their homes to escape the toxic fumes. You might not imagine such a practice would even exist in the 21st century, much less be a subject of heated debate. But in the small town of Sweetwater, Texas, a rattlesnake festival is the major fund-raiser for the local chapter of the Jaycees, a nationwide nonprofit ostensibly “focused on sustainable impact locally and globally.” At this year’s festival, the Jaycees bought more than 25,000 snakes caught by gassing and proceeded to chop off their heads as a form of public entertainment.

The Texas Parks and Wildlife commissioners, who describe themselves on their website as “honorable” men and women, Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in Conservation and Extinction, Environmental Issues | Tagged: , , , | 15 Comments »

Texas Gasses Its Rattlesnakes This Weekend–Maybe for the Last Time

Posted by Richard Conniff on March 6, 2014

(Photo: Greg Ward/Getty Images)

(Photo: Greg Ward/Getty Images)

My latest column for Takepart, the website of the movie company Participant Media:

Members of the Texas State Parks and Wildlife Commission had a rare opportunity in January to commit an act of political courage. If they’d done it, hundreds of native Texans—and the creatures living around them—might have been spared a needlessly horrifying death this week.

A vote originally scheduled for the commission’s January meeting would have ended the practice of spraying gas fumes into cracks and crevices in the ground to drive rattlesnakes out of their dens. The groggy victims get tossed into bags and delivered to a rattlesnake roundup in Sweetwater, a town of 10,600 about three hours west of Fort Worth, which has made itself notorious with this practice. Because of the non-vote, the roundup will take place this Saturday and Sunday as usual.

The practice of gassing snakes, once common, is now regarded as barbaric even by the state’s other rattlesnake roundups. More than 9,000 people supported the proposed ban during the state’s yearlong round of research and public hearings. Apart from the question of cruelty, the argument against the practice is straightforward: Gasoline sprayed into the porous karst, or limestone, inevitably gets into groundwater, and that’s bad news, as the Houston Press reported, “for anyone or anything—especially out in West Texas—who, you know, likes to drink water.”

Gassing also threatens other karst wildlife. Studies have found “dramatic and obvious” effects, from “short-term impairment to death” in snakes, lizards, toads, and other vertebrates living in and around rattlesnake denning sites. The gassing also kills many karst invertebrates listed as endangered or threatened by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, among them the Comal Springs riffle beetle, the Bone Cave harvestman, and the Government Canyon Bat Cave spider.

In the face of overwhelming support from around the state, the Parks and Wildlife Commission decided to delay the vote. “I view it as total cowardice,” one local conservationist remarked. The commissioners, who are unsalaried and serve at the pleasure of the governor, delayed the vote, the conservationist theorized, because “no one will do anything if it is going to upset anyone, anywhere,” or at least not anywhere in Texas.

The commissioners may have wanted to avoid controversy ahead of this week’s state legislative primaries. They may particularly have wanted to avoid raising a sensitive issue for Rep. Susan King, R-Abilene, who represents Sweetwater. King was the only person allowed to make a statement at the meeting at which the commission had been scheduled to vote on the gassing ban, and she delivered a rambling, disjointed, Sarah Palin–esque argument for doing nothing.

Among other things, King recalled her horror Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in Environmental Issues | Tagged: , , | 5 Comments »

Texans Say Gassing Rattlesnakes Not Really Fun For Entire Family

Posted by Richard Conniff on January 21, 2014

(Photo: Paul Sutherland/Getty Images)

(Photo: Paul Sutherland/Getty Images)

UPDATE:  The Parks and Wildlife Commission last night pulled the gassing issue off the agenda for tomorrow’s meeting. No reason given.  The commission expects to hear the issue at its next meeting on March 27, a few weeks AFTER the Sweetwater Roundup.  Meanwhile, keep your comments coming (see below).

My latest, for Takepart:

Here’s an entertaining outdoorsy idea for springtime in Texas: Fill a garden sprayer with gasoline, and go around spraying the fumes into the cracks, crevices, sinkholes, and caves where rattlesnakes make their dens. Do it early in March, when the snakes are just drowsily waking up from their winter hibernation and too helpless to defend themselves.

Then as the snakes escape to the surface to flee the noxious fumes, pick them up, toss them in a sack, and bring them to the “world’s largest rattlesnake roundup,” held on March 8 and 9 in Sweetwater, Texas.  It’s billed by the Sweetwater Jaycees as “fun for the entire family” and a major fund-raising event for local civic groups.

If, on the other hand, gassing semiconscious rattlers sounds like a barbaric vestige from our own cave-dwelling days, you may want to drop in on the Jan. 23 meeting of the State Parks and Wildlife Department in Austin. Commissioners are likely to Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in Environmental Issues | Tagged: , , , | 9 Comments »