LB - Home Furnishings Direct 0519

Home | Classifieds | Place Ad | Public Notices | Galleries | Kudos | Obits | Real Estate | Subscriber Services | Villager | Health Directory | Contact Us
The Verde Independent | Cottonwood, Arizona

home : latest news : state May 26, 2016

11/29/2013 12:39:00 PM
Gila monsters, rare rattlers make Arizona 'Shangri-La' for poachers
Nate Deason, venomous serpent curator at the Phoenix Herpetological Society, holds a Gila monster. The creatures, protected in Arizona, can fetch up to $1,500 apiece on the black market, experts say. (Cronkite News Service Photo by Peter Haden)
Nate Deason, venomous serpent curator at the Phoenix Herpetological Society, holds a Gila monster. The creatures, protected in Arizona, can fetch up to $1,500 apiece on the black market, experts say. (Cronkite News Service Photo by Peter Haden)
The ridge-nosed rattlesnakes are among the reptiles that make Arizona a draw for reptile poachers.
The ridge-nosed rattlesnakes are among the reptiles that make Arizona a draw for reptile poachers.
Poaching targets
• Gila monster

• Twin-spotted rattlesnake

• Massasauga rattlesnake

• Banded rock rattlesnake

• Ridge-nosed rattlesnake

Cronkite News Service

MESA - After monsoon rain, poachers are known to prowl desert roads looking for Gila monsters warming themselves on the asphalt. That's where Ranger comes in.

State law enforcement officers release Ranger, a Gila monster fitted with an identifying microchip, and keep watch nearby.

"If someone pulls over and picks it up and takes it, that's reasonable suspicion to make a stop and issue a citation," said Tyler VanVleet, law enforcement coordinator for the Arizona Game and Fish Department's regional office in Mesa.

A Gila monster, one of only two venomous lizards in the world, can fetch up to $1,500 on the black market, according to experts.

Along with four other venomous reptile species protected in Arizona - the twin-spotted, massasauga, banded rock and ridge-nosed rattlesnakes - Gila monsters make Arizona a draw for reptile poachers.

"They've come from Australia, Germany, other European countries, and from all over the U.S. to collect animals that can only be found in Arizona," VanVleet said.

He said poachers often time their trips with monsoon season.

"All of that water hitting the ground gets the animals moving," VanVleet said. "People will come to Arizona and start driving the roads at night, spotting reptiles with their headlights or flashlights."

They come to Arizona because of the diversity of reptiles indigenous to the state, including 13 different species of rattlesnake, according to Nate Deason, venomous serpent curator at the Phoenix Herpetological Society.

"For reptile lovers, it's Shangri-La," he said.

Experts know there is quite a bit of illegal collection going on, but assessing the magnitude and damage to species is tricky, according to Dave Prival, co-founder of Southwestern Ecological Research Co. in Tucson. He has been monitoring a population of twin-spotted rattlesnakes in southern Arizona for more than 15 years.

"It's difficult assess the impact of reptile poaching on a statewide level because there is very little monitoring," he said.

Prival said his long-term monitoring of snakes in the Chiricahua Mountains has provided some clues, however.

"The site is well-known for poaching," he said. "What I have found is that snakes there are smaller than at other sites. That's one of the outcomes of poaching: Fewer animals survive long enough to get big. And that impacts reproductive success."

Prival said periods of stepped-up law enforcement in that area have had a measurable effect.

"When we see a year when there is increased law enforcement at the site, the following year we have more snakes and larger snakes," he said.

The Web has made it easier for sellers to find buyers for protected species, but it also makes it easier for Game and Fish to find poachers, according to VanVleet. That's how the agency discovered an out-of-state collector whose case is pending.

"He was listing protected animals as 'Arizona species' and putting them up for sale all over the world," he said. "We watched him and waited for him to come to the state, and we caught him in the act."

It's not only people from beyond Arizona attempting to profit off the state's reptiles. Over the past three years around eight Gila monsters have been sold in Tucson - either to reptile stores or on Craigslist, according to Gabriel Paz, law enforcement coordinator for Game and Fish's regional office there.

"We bought several of them ourselves, and cited the individuals," he said.

VanVleet said policing across state lines complicates nabbing poachers.

"You've got 50 states, and you're going to have 50 different rules pertaining to reptiles," he said. "Some states are very restrictive, and some states are wide open. It's hard for us as an agency to prosecute someone in a state 2,000 miles away on the other side of the country."

Prival said that combined with the effects of wildfires and climate change, poaching can wipe out a small population of snakes in an area.

"The old-timers always say that there used to be a lot more snakes than there are now," he said. "When they go to some areas, they say, 'I used to find snakes all over the place, and now I can't find any.'"

VanVleet said Game and Fish is determined to keep reptile populations healthy and has officers on the lookout for telltale signs of poaching, including the tools poachers use.

"Someone wandering around with a snake hook or a pair of snake tongs, pillow cases, buckets in vehicles - that would send up a red flag for an officer," he said.

Taylor Waste

    Most Viewed     Recently Commented
•   Police soon will have one more reason to pull you over (4750 views)

•   What's hot in Verde Valley job market? (2956 views)

•   Cornville man charged with child molestation seeks plea (2875 views)

•   Marana man suffers skull injury, brain bleed following ATV crash (2737 views)

•   Motorcycle rider suffers head injuries in crash (2195 views)

Article Comment Submission Form
Comments are not posted immediately. Submissions must adhere to our Use of Service Terms of Use agreement. Rambling or nonsensical comments may not be posted. Comments are limited to Facebook character limits. In order for us to reasonably manage this feature we may limit excessive comment entries.
Submit an Article Comment
First Name:
Last Name:
Anti-SPAM Passcode Click here to see a new mix of characters.
This is an anti-SPAM device. It is not case sensitive.

Advanced Search

HSE - We want to hear from you
HSE - Father Son Look a Like Contest
HSE - Readers Choice 300x100
Find more about Weather in Cottonwood, AZ
Click for weather forecast

Submission Links
 •  Submit your feedback about our site

Find It Features Blogs Celebrate Submit Extras Other Publications Local Listings
Classifieds | Place Ad | Galleries | Kudos | Real Estate | Subscriber Services | e-News | RSS | Site Map | Find Verde Jobs | Contact Us
LB - Coldwell Banker 1019

© Copyright 2016 Western News&Info, Inc.® The Verde Independent is the information source for Cottonwood and Verde Valley area communities in Northern Arizona. Original content may not be reprinted or distributed without the written permission of Western News&Info, Inc.® Verde News Online is a service of WNI. By using the Site, ®, you agree to abide and be bound by the Site's terms of use and Privacy Policy, which prohibit commercial use of any information on the Site. Click here to submit your questions, comments or suggestions. Verde News Online is a proud publication of Western News&Info Inc.® All Rights Reserved.

Software © 1998-2016 1up! Software, All Rights Reserved