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16 August 2001
Invasive mutant killer seaweed alert
Fisheries Ministry staff and biosecurity officials have mounted a biosecurity alert over an invasive cloned killer seaweed which is spreading rapidly in Australia and much of the northern hemisphere.
Biosecurity Minister Marian Hobbs said yesterday that fisheries staff were setting up a scientific surveillance regime to detect any arrival of caulerpa taxifolia in New Zealand waters.
It has also been banned from the nation's aquariums, and added to species in the Plant Pest Accord for which regional council biosecurity staff will check pet shops and other aquarium suppliers.
The Fisheries Ministry was also developing an "incursion response plan" for use if the seaweed arrived in the country, she told MP Eric Roy in written answers to questions lodged earlier in the month.
The beautiful, feather-shaped bright green seaweed grows naturally in tropical waters, but about 17 years ago was cloned at the Stuttgart Aquarium in Germany, and this cloned form was then shared with aquariums in France and Monaco.
Scientists have speculated that somewhere along the way it genetically mutated, perhaps because of exposure to the ultraviolet light used in aquariums, and had evolved tolerance to cold water.
The first few taxifolia plants slipped into the sea during routine tank-cleaning at the Monaco aquarium in 1985. Since then, the lush seaweed has spread out across thousands of hectares along the coasts of France, Italy, Croatia and parts of Spain.
According to the Fisheries Ministry's action plan, in many overseas sites, the seaweed has formed dense carpets, out-competing native seaweeds and seagrasses and displacing shellfish and crustaceans.
In affected parts of the Mediterranean, fish densities had dropped and fishing declined, with damage also done to tourism and pleasure boating, recreational diving, and commercial fisheries.
The ministry's chief technical officer for marine biosecurity, Chris O'Brien, said taxifolia was highly invasive and could cause major ecological and economic damage if it reached New Zealand waters.
"It's a pretty aggressive plant," he told NZPA.
There was a high risk of caulerpa establishing in New Zealand, due to its use as an aquarium species, history of invasion, and tolerance to a wide range of environmental conditions.
It had recently become a serious problem in New South Wales, to the extent that the Australian authorities were banning nets and boats in some infested parts of the coast to try to slow its spread.
Nets and boat motors break up the weed and tiny parts of the weed caught on nets and anchors or other fishing equipment regrow and spread the infestation.
The New South Wales Government has announced fines for the sale and possession of the weed of up to $A11,000 ($NZ13,500) for corporations and $A5000 for individuals.
A maximum fine of $A110,000 for corporations and $A22,000 or six months imprisonment for individuals who breach the restrictions on nets and boats in infested areas has also been put in place.
Mr O'Brien said his ministry had alerted the aquarium industry in New Zealand to the danger, and targeted it in a national surveillance programme.
It was also talking to border biosecurity staff about checks on people bringing used fishing and watersports equipment back from New South Wales, as well as regional council staff who carried out biosecurity checks. In damp conditions, pieces of the weed could survive out of water for several days.
Diving clubs had also been alerted to watch for the weed so that efforts could be made to kill any infestation without spreading it.
Many methods for eradicating taxifolia had been tested, although few had proven successful.
An international database on shark attacks is at
1 June 2012 Last updated at 09:07 GMT
Hundreds of sheep 'rain' on Melbourne motorists
Falling sheep hit vehicles in the Australian city of Melbourne after a lorry carrying livestock overturned on a flyover.
As the truck carrying 400 sheep hung precariously, its cargo plunged on to the road below.
Several cars were smashed as they were hit by the falling animals or swerved to avoid them.
Many sheep were killed or injured, but Melbourne police said there were no human casualties.
Police say that the lorry was travelling to the town of Geelong when the accident occurred on the flyover above the Princess Freeway.
The cause of the incident is still being determined.
"This is quite an unusual event," Allan Eade, a paramedic, told the Associated Press news agency.
"First of all we looked up and we could see the truck flip on its side and the next minute we were underneath and well, yeah, it rained sheep," passenger Christey Davis also told AP.
Currie, B.J. 2004. “Snakebite in tropical Australia: a prospective study in the “Top End” of the Northern Territory”. Medical Journal of Australia, vol. 181, no. 11/12, pp. 693-697.
Kasturiratne, A., A.R. Wickremasinghe, N. de Silva, N.K. Gunawardena, A. Pathmeswaran, R. Premaratna, L. Savioli, D.G. Lalloo, and H.J. de Silva. 2008. “Estimating the global burden of snakebite: A literature analysis and modelling based on regional estimates of envenoming and deaths”. PLoS Med, vol. 5, no. 11, e218, http://medicine.plosjournals.org/perlserv/?request=get-document&doi=10.1371%2Fjournal.pmed.0050218&ct=1
Scotland on Sunday
Sun 23 May 2004
Snake bite victim bought fatal reptiles
YAKUB QURESHI AND SARAH ROBERTSON
A SCOTTISH businessman found dead in the United States is thought to have been bitten to death by snakes he bought during the trip, investigators revealed last night.
The body of computer programmer and father-of-three Garrick Wales, 48, from the Renfrewshire village of Kilmacolm, was discovered in his rented car by Arkansas police nearly two weeks ago.
Little Rock Police Department confirmed that four deadly snakes, found close to the scene, had been purchased by Wales over the internet from a "reptile dealership" in Florida.
The car, with Wales’ body inside, was found on open ground near Little Rock National Airport by a member of the public on May 13.
Investigators said Wales’ body was surrounded by vomit. The results of toxicity tests conducted during a post-mortem examination have not yet been confirmed, but police said they had little doubt he had died from snake bites.
The snakes, which were in bags inside a box, were found the following day near a motorway half a mile away. The 14in twig snake, 6ft green mamba, 4ft black mamba and 5ft forest cobra are all deadly, and have been taken to a local zoo for safekeeping. The box was said to be marked with warnings of its poisonous contents.
Wales was employed as a networking consultant for other companies, and had been in the US for several weeks on business before his death.
Detective Eric Knowles, from Little Rock Police Department, told Scotland on Sunday there was no doubt that the snakes had belonged to the programmer. He said: "These snakes are not indigenous to anywhere in the US. They are all south and east African snakes. We don’t even stock the anti-venom for them anywhere in Arkansas.
"These particular snakes came from a dealer in Florida that Mr Wales had been dealing with. We are therefore sure that they had been in his custody.
"No foul play whatsoever was involved but there are still inquiries we need to make.
"All other possibilities remain open to us."
He said he understood that Wales had ordered other snakes on previous trips to the United States. The snakes were transported from Florida to Little Rock National Airport at Wales’s request.
He refused to comment on whether Wales, who was booked into a local hotel in the state capital, had been trying to release the snakes or was selling them on to another person.
Reptile experts said any one of the four snakes could have killed Wales. The black mamba is considered the most deadly snake in the world as well as one of the fastest. It can grow to up to 14ft and can travel at up to 12mph.
The bite and venom of a green mamba can kill in less than 30 minutes. It grows to around 5ft and lives in trees across Africa, feeding on birds and lizards and is often difficult to see in green foliage.
The forest cobra is a large, thick-bodied, black snake from the tropical and subtropical rain forests of Africa. It is seen as the least dangerous of the notorious cobra family but its bite can still cause rapid death without quick intervention.
The twig snake comes from the family of rear-fanged snakes which have enlarged rear teeth with a groove to allow venom to flow down while swallowing their prey.
The body of the father-of-three was flown back to Scotland on Thursday after it had been examined.
In Scotland, friends of the computer programmer paid tribute to the "friendly family man".
Neighbour Ewan Marshall, 21, said he was "saddened" by the death and was surprised that Wales had been in possession of the snakes. "It is sad because he has left three young kids and my thoughts are with his family right now," he said.
"I would say hello to him most days and he was a really friendly guy.
"I would call him a real family man. The link to snakes is the biggest mystery. I have no idea if Mr Wales had pet snakes or an interest in them, but I find it very unlikely."
Another neighbour, who did not wish to be named, said: "Mr Wales did not have any hobbies involving snakes. He has never kept them or been interested in them as far as I am aware."
Yesterday his wife Pamela, an English teacher at St Columba’s in Kilmacolm, said she was "too distressed" to speak.
Speaking from the family home, she said: "We are terribly distressed and I cannot make any comment at the moment."
Although venomous snakes can sometimes deliver a "dry" bite without releasing their poison, all bites require immediate hospital treatment.
Even with a sample of the venom it can be difficult to create the right anti-venom to treat the poison. Some venoms have more than 130 chemical components, which all of which have different physiological effects, and can mean that no two samples drawn from a snake will have the same effects.
In the past decade an average of five people a year have died annually from snakebites in the United States.
Snake bite deaths spike during South Asia's monsoon
The Associated Press
Published: August 10, 2007
NEW DELHI: South Asia's annual monsoon often seems like a calamity of Old Testament proportions — people are drowned in raging flood waters, crushed by collapsing buildings, wasted by plagues and struck down by snakes.
The monsoon rains that flood wide stretches of the subcontinent each year force creatures large and small, harmless and deadly, onto whatever dry land can be found, and the result is scores, if not hundreds, of fatal snake bites, say officials and experts.
"Everything, everyone, is restricted to tiny, tiny islands with very little space," said Romulus Whitaker, a snake expert. "Everyone is crammed in together and the chances of running into snakes, stepping on them, grabbing them and sleeping on them is much, much more."
So tight is the association of snakes with the annual rains — which are needed to water farms that provide a livelihood for two-thirds of India's 1.1 billion people — that the serpents have for millennia been revered as well as feared across much of the subcontinent.
With this year's monsoon particularly calamitous — at least 2,090 people have been killed across South Asia and 19 million forced from their homes — tales of snake bites abound, from the farming villages along the banks of Ganges River to the valleys of India's remote northeast.
"These serpents even climb up the trees. They are as nervous and scared as human beings and they bite only if they are disturbed," said Vinod Chaudhry, a government wildlife expert.
That's how Paltu Ram, a farmer in his 20s, died.
Stranded with a few hundred villagers on a sliver of land encircled by flood waters in the Bara Banki district of northern India, about 600 kilometers (370 miles) east of New Delhi, he decided to climb a tree to see if he could spot a rescue boat.
On his way up, he reached for what looked like a brown rope. It wasn't — and when he grabbed it, the snake recoiled and then struck, sinking its fangs into his arm.
"Paltu jumped into water saying he was bitten by snake. Before he could be taken to a doctor he died," said his father, Rameshwar, who couldn't say what kind of snake got his son.
Officials in India don't keep exact figures for the number of snake bites during the monsoon, and experts say even annual totals are considered unreliable.
But in one indication of how many monsoon deaths are caused by snakes, Bangladesh's government said Thursday at least 35 of the 226 people killed in this year's monsoon died from being bitten by the creatures, the second-highest cause of death after drowning.
There are hundreds of different snakes on the subcontinent, many of which are venomous. But only four are responsible for the vast majority of deaths — kraits, russell's vipers, saw-scaled vipers and cobras.
All are extremely dangerous — and all are venerated.
The appearance of those snakes, especially cobras, has long been viewed as a harbinger of coming floods and the renewed fertility that follows. Their disappearance as an omen of a coming drought.
In some parts of India, it is also believed snakes can cause plagues by blowing their breath across the land, and malaria is known as snake-wind disease.
Hindu gods are often depicted with cobras: Shiva is seen wearing a girdle of serpents and cobras for earrings; Vishnu is pictured resting on the coils of a multi-headed cobra.
In India and Nepal, where authorities say a handful of the 92 people killed by this year's monsoon died from snake bites, there is even a special holiday to worship the serpents.
Some Buddhist legends have also incorporated snakes, such as the tale of the giant cobra that used its hood to shield Buddha from the sun as he mediated in the desert.
There are no hard figures for the exact density of snakes on the subcontinent, but anecdotal evidence suggest it's high. Whitaker said the tribal hunters he works with can pull two or three cobras from a 5-acre rice paddy in a day. "That's a lot of snakes from a small patch."
The reason there are so many is the small farms that still cover much of rural India provide the perfect habitat for snakes' prey, such as rats or frogs.
"Plenty of water in irrigated rice fields; there are places in the country where rats are worshipped so they don't kill them."
The good news is that it usually takes hours or sometimes days for a snake bite to kill, and that only 10-20 percent of such attacks are fatal, depending on who you ask.
Of course, that's little comfort to the many people who have to walk for days to get to hospitals — or those who decide to go to a traditional healer before getting the anti-venom.
Rahmat Mia, 45, a farmer, in northern Bangladesh was bitten a few nights ago while returning from a market.
His family first took him to a healer, and stayed for hours trying out various herbal remedies.
By the time Babul Hossain, the local doctor, convinced them to go to the hospital, it was too late — Mia died on the way.
Associated Press reporters Biswajeet Banerjee in Lucknow, India, and Julhas Alam in Dhaka, Bangladesh, contributed to this story.
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