Re: NANFA-- Columbia trip gear (hellbenders plus!)

Steffen Hellner (
Sun, 11 Jan 2004 20:21:06 +0100


> My involvement in this discussion might be confused with other input. I am
> not specifically arguing on a species by species or locale by locale basis.
> I agree that well thought research and attempts to breed by private
> individuals is a noble activity. The Nature Conservancy's Scale of
> Conservatism and Heritage Ratings are a conservative estimate of population
> dynamics... Really they form my opinions about take for private use more so
> than official state listing (wether science or the public as a whole will
> benefit from my activity or not) as they more accurately reflect the
> status than what a DNR can offer in assessment (due to the opinions of the
> State Legislatures). They are a good measure for the ethical private
> individual to judge which species they add into their attache of species
> they've worked with.
I have no doubt your argumentation is well reflected so is that of the
Nature Conservancy. The problem I see in general and in particular with the
hellbender is that many information is "only" local or regional and does not
reflect to the overall situation. But the reasons for decline are obvious:
industry esp. coalmining. Plus habitat destruction by automobilists,
canoing, fishermen (their killing of hellbenders is in no way "accidental"
to me though they pretend this). Private collecting is not a primary reason
but is always taken into respect on a putative basis. Again, there is NO
MARKET AT ALL for this species as it is not for the asian relatives. To me
it does only make sense to restrict private collecting if the primary
reasons are eliminated. And again this is illusionary as it would cut off
from industry (capital) and "freedom" of many people. So it is much easier
to take a margin group to show something is being done. It4s the same
everywhere. Even more, it is absolutely important to see if and how
hellbender (and many other species) can be propagated in captivity to
replace the declines or losses of populations quickly. If only 5 pairs of
hellbender would breed every year there could be some 500 to 1.000
youngsters be released to appropriate biotopes. And more, it could be
understood where the limiting parameters for them are. Today they are seen
as a highly sensitive species in regard of water quality/turbidity. But
where is the limit they can take. In nature they are either present or gone.
In captivity single specimen can be observed constantly in respect of their
behaviour and reaction to different conditions.

> As ignorant as I am about herpetology, I can still make comparisons between
> populations that I do work with (fish and plants) that are analogous in the
> Heritage Rating system. If hellbenders, for example, are an S5 in
> then by all means, take a conservative amount of specimens from those
> populations and Godspeed, crack their captive breeding. Hopefully in your
> prior research you can find as a resource, someone who is an expert on the
> matter and can point you to the best populations to make your take. Being
> that this is an extremely large amphibian, which these days is two strikes
> against the sustainability of the species, I do think it warrants a special
> effort to be considered in the research prior to take for the ethical
> hobbyist. That is the only "species by species" comment I'll make.
This is my intention. And I agree to your statement on its perspective
caused by its largeness. More, it is "ugly" and therefore has no lobby
within the "highly emotional animal (pet) movement". Fat ladies with fat
dogs in costumes don4t like ugly amphibiens. They like pandas and parrots.

> What I've been more interested to address in this thread, is my lack of
> fondness for Mr. Moore's blanket [it's okay until otherwise proven], [junk
> science], and [the locals kill them, so I doubt private herpers will do any
> harm] slippery slope he continues to promote. I wasn't impressed when I
> first read it in AC, I wasn't fond of the counter-response to Dr. Helfman's
> warning, and then the sudden urgency without recognition of the causality
> concerning the welaka issue was nothing short of irritating.
As far as I understood the argumentation of Mr. Moore I do not follow him
consequently, either. Mo(o)re differentiation is needed. But sometimes
things have to be expressed more dramatically than they are to keep things
in flow. On one side, science says "private collecting can be a threat" and
give more room for this than for the threat by industry (including
leisure-time-industry). On the other hand hobbyists like Mr. Moore take just
an opposite position. The compromise would be in the middle. Would be. But
would it be appropriate? We actually have a similar case of conflict and
argumentation in Germany: an autobahn construction is stopped because of a
nearby population of bluebrest larks. A big success for the naturalists. But
thousands of people now have to take an enormous traffic jam every day for
at least one more year. Only because a bridge "could" affect the lovely
This merely to point out how the process of building and finding a common
sense for the problem is being lead. And I fear that this will go on and on
for every species/biotope until one is so critically endangered that
everybody can say "yes, THIS species NOW must be protected". For e.g. the
welaka, the hellbenders, some pygmy sunfishes, and probably the Cardinal
Shiners, I see a striking similarity in what is taken in mind and action.
For Germany, it is the same for fire salamanders. They are not
"extraordinarily" endangered and therefore not "strictly protected" meaning
they and their biotopes are not taken under the European Habitat Act. Great!
Wait until it4s so much declined and then rise the status to show "we do
care for this poor endangered species". Hard for me to imagine a behavior
less intelligent. It4s simply fishing for compliments and votes in disguise
of environmental conservancy. Remarkably enough a majority of scientists
show the same behaviour. Well, the will be more assets for works on
endangered species than for trying to avoid it coming to that.

No, I am not negative, but very sceptical towards human society and its
thinking in general. Maybe I4ve read too much from Nietzsche, Kant, and
Schopenhauer and should read more like "Harry Potter" or "The Wizzard of Oz"
to believe in miracles and magic.

BTW I just received a very friendly email from the Georgia DNR in which the
responsible officer infromed me that he would not agree to my apply for
collecting hellbenders as there has been so much taking by "scientific
permits" without obvious results that they have come to this rather
conservative sight upon it. Bingo. I cannot blame this officer for that as
it contains reflection and experience obviously. On the other hand he gave
me information on a cross-institutional (private, zoos, aquariums,
departments) meeting of hellbender enthusiasts who want to work on captive
breeding, environment and everything else related to its preservation. Will
contact this group to see how I can participate from over the ditch. So I
feel happy that something is going on.

What about NANFA to raise groups for e.g. the welaka, and hubbsi, the
Elassomas, the Cardinal Shiners or madtoms or whatever. Or did I miss
something and these do exist for other species already?

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