Monday, November 28, 2016

In Arizona, reptile poaching made easy

by Tim Vanderpool

...Western twin-spotteds are hardly the biggest rattlers, barely two feet long and thin as a thumb. But they’re pretty, with parallel, rust-colored dots trailing down their backs, and sleek, almond-shaped heads, and that makes them highly prized among collectors. As does the fact that taking them is prohibited by Arizona law. On popular internet reptile-trading sites such as, a prime twin-spot can easily fetch $1,500. The twin-spot’s range is limited to a few high mountains in southern Arizona and northern Mexico, and climate change has already taken a toll. Less rain means fewer spiny lizards to eat, while rising temperatures force the snakes to move higher up. Now that they’ve reached top elevations, there’s nowhere else for them to go. Prival’s research population probably took another hit from the enormous Horseshoe Fire in 2011. He estimates that perhaps 70 twin-spotteds still dwell on this slope, down from an estimated 86 in 2009. Poaching is only making it worse. “If just seven of those snakes are taken by poachers,” he says, “that’s 10 percent of the population right there.” Although collecting twin-spotted rattlesnakes is illegal in Arizona — and a federal law called the Lacey Act prohibits buying and selling protected wildlife — there’s little chance that thieves will be caught. Even if they are, they likely won’t pay more than a few hundred dollars in fines. For commercial dealers, who can earn thousands from a single animal, that’s simply part of business overhead. Meanwhile, the difficult task of proving that a snake was poached falls upon the authorities. Nor are twin-spotted rattlesnakes the only targets...more

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