Sunday, December 7, 2014

Tracking Rattlesnakes: Predator/Prey Relationships & Conservation Issues

The Lehigh Gap Nature Center Speakers Bureau proudly presents Tracking Rattlesnakes: Predator/Prey Relationships & Conservation Issues.   According to the LGNC description:
Photo courtesy of The Morning Call
Howard Reinert, Ph.D., Professor of Biology at The College of New Jersey. Reinert and his advisor at Lehigh University, Dr. David Cundall, developed innovative tracking techniques to allow ecological studies of timber rattlers. These techniques are now used in tracking many species of snakes around the world.

You can follow the Lehigh Gap Nature Center on Facebook and visit their fine website where you will find so many options for return visits.

Today's presentation is Timber Rattlesnake Research: What's the BUZZ? Some background: Howard is a local person (Reading) who very early developed a knack for seeing things in the field. Learning quantitative statistics, Howard applied some of these techniques to habitat observations and tracking rattlesnakes and copperheads. He developed snake ecology by implanting transmitters in the species so they could be found at will. In the introduction to Howard and his presentation, Dr. Cundell said that no one alive knows more about rattlesnakes than Howard, whose goal is to preserve the ecology and habitats of the species to insure their longevity. Before beginning, Howard noted that he could speak indefinitely on the topic, so he intends to keep an eye to the clock.

Timber rattlesnakes appear predominantly in western PA in the mountainous regions. Some snakes are totally black but range to pale yellow to anywhere in between in variation. Local populations and how they evolve to their conditions determine the color. Sometimes very large snakes, about 72" but the largest in PA was seen by Howard at 54". Residing largely along the PA Appalachian Trail, timber rattlesnakes in PA are not an endangered species as they are in surrounding states. In PA, however, we maintain healthy populations as part of our native fauna.

How do you catch such a unique rattlesnake? Carefully. Their eyes are interesting as they bulge out. By the age of 4, Howard was a catcher of things along a creek, overturn rocks, and notice nature, with much credit going to his mother for inspiring him. By 7, Howard was catching his first snakes and this set him on the path to being a naturalist. In the early 1970s, people began putting transmitters in snakes so you could recapture them in their habitats and learn a lot, but only for a while because they "pass" the transmitters over time. And the whip antennas, while giving a greater range, still were not good internal tracking devices.

In his MS program at Lehigh University, Howard learned how a transmitter could be surgically implanted with whip antennas. Howard cites his LU professor Dr. Cundall for developing the idea. The benefit: an extended range for tracking snakes and learning from them. So what has he learned? Do timber rattlesnakes compete for resources with copperheads? Decades of sight observations suggested that these snakes populate the same habitat. Both pit vipers, copperheads and rattlesnakes would seem ideal competitors. After the study, Howard learned that rattlesnakes like wooded areas as habitats over rocky land masses, which were the copperhead's habitat.

Timber rattlesnakes really want to be in wooded mountainous areas whereas copperheads need open habitats for basking, incubating young inside, and skin shedding. Rattlesnakes eat in wooded areas and are impossible to find. You can hear it, but even within inches a rattlesnake will not move, rattle. They would just let you walk past them, that is until telemetry. In layman's language, a rattlesnake is an ideal predator and loves to catch prey while seemingly sleeping. They catch their prey by sensing heat--infrared rays from an animal--and the little animal is caught because snakes are great waiters. A snake can detect a small animal with its tongue better than a scent dog with his nose. Rattlesnakes select their logs and achieve success by waiting...

Is the forest tranquil? Not at all. Human interference--man and machines--do they have an impact on rattlesnakes?  Is logging harmful to rattlesnakes? Howard and colleagues set up a worse-case scenario and attempted to track and determine impact of high density rattlesnake populations by following 800 timber rattlesnakes. They tracked in 2003-2004 populations in tranquility. In 2005 they tracked and observed interactions between loggers and rattlesnakes to determine the logging response. In 2006, the after-logging impact was studied.

306 rattlesnakes were radiotracked with over 4000 field observations of rattlesnake behavior, the largest study of its kind of timber rattlesnakes. Mortality? From logging was amazingly low. Only 5% as compared to the normal 10% natural mortality. The good news: logging has relatively no impact on timber rattlesnake populations. Movement was not impacted either during logging. Snakes moved around but returned to original mating spots and do so for life. Often they travel 2 miles but the timber rattlesnake can travel over a mile a day during the breeding season.

Whether trucks, skidders, chain saws, loggers, nothing changed the patterns of life for timber rattlesnakes because it is THEIR home and they remain and return to it. No negative impact. And that's really good news for our understanding of the how man and snake can interact in the wild. Howard expected that the snakes would become frightened, leave. But they did not move. They held their ground. The snakes remained undisturbed by logging episodes, whatever they were.

In essence, the snake's response as a population: do what you want; it's my home and I'm not leaving. They did not vacate their habitat during logging, even during breeding and gestation cycles. Good news: timber rattlesnakes can tolerate disturbances, density increases and decreases, new foraging sites, new basking sites, different species composition and still ride out the changes, whatever they may be. So the bottom line is: rattlesnakes can adapt and survive, thrive, and rebound despite man's interference because they--the snakes--are an adaptable species.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

LAMAS on Parade: A Composite

Decided to aggregate the photography of Bob Wolfe and Chip Wood. The result is a slightly longer but delightful Animoto video. Enjoy!

If you are interested in joining GALA, click here.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

What Do You Do With A Llama?

Since people know I own llamas, I am often asked what I do with them. Bob Wolfe, PLAAs Webmaster, answers that question. Enjoy the video.

Remembering LAMAS ON PARADE: GALA Conference 2013

To say that the 2013 conference was wonderful is serious understatement. It was truly fantastic. Unfortunately, I could not attend the conference since I was recently released from UPENN after a successful stem cell transplant. And yes, I made it, an official cancer survivor.

Because I could not attend, Bob Wolfe graciously sent me photos, then Chip Wood sent photos, and finally Bev Vienckowski sent Bob Wolfe's photos with captions that appeared in our November Lama Letter newsletter edited by Bev. I hope you enjoy these videos.

This video showcases photographs taken by Bob Wolfe. He is a consummate photographer as his carefully edited images are a delight to view.

This second video houses images taken by Chip Wood. They heavily feature Teri Conroy and her llama Tank. Teri was the chairperson of the Fiber Room and organized a fabulous experience for those who attended. Finally, and perhaps a favorite reprises some of Bob Wolfe's photographs captioned by Bev Vienckowski for the November issue of The Lama Letter edited by Bev. Featured are the PLAA members who attended the conference. You might enjoy perusing PLAA's website.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

LAMAS ON PARADE: Making Hoists & Carts for Physical Therapy on Animals with Neurological Disease

GALA (Llamas & Alpacas) has a long and robust history and presence on Facebook, but did you know our latest GALA venture is a Facebook group dedicated to the 26th Annual GALA Conference: LAMAS ON PARADE. We have already advertised our Big Four Speakers, so today we would like to highlight our first announced workshop: Making Hoists & Carts for Physical Therapy on Animals with Neurological Disease. This workshop will be presented by Steven Weingold, Denise Richards, and Lisa Hoffmaster. We know you will want to join us for this exciting conference and will definitely want to attend this very special workshop.

The conference dates are November 7-10, 2013 and the conference is being held at The Century House in Latham (Albany area), NY. To make reservations:
Call The Century House directly: 518-785-0931.
Let the agent know you're part of GALA or the Llama/Alpaca Conference.
The special GALA Rate is just $99.99 per night plus tax.
The rate includes a Breakfast Buffet.
And...includes free WiFi.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Bev Vienckowski & The International Year of the Working Llama

Bev Vienckowski is one busy lady. She is the editor of PLAA (Pennsylvania Llama and Alpaca Association) newsletter, The Lama Letter, a graphic artist with her own business, and a lover and promoter of llamas. Bev hikes with her working llamas trained as pack animals, and she is an eco-conscious person. Combining all her talents with her social networking skills, she had this wonderful idea for a fundraiser. See if you agree. From Bev:

I had an idea for a donation to a local Jersey Shore fund-raiser which would be a little unexpected and different. I created a gift basket for the silent auction at a Barnegat Bay Charities fund raiser event on June 23rd. An ”Eclectic Eco-Agri-Tourism Day In New Egypt, NJ.
For my part I donated a two-hour llama hike for four, a pair of socks from the Pacific NW Llama Co-op, a small bag of “Magical Llama Beans” garden soil amendment, a dozen fresh eggs and a little book about the history of our town. Carol Reigh of Buck Hollow Llamas graciously donated a Llama Scramble Squares Puzzle. Two local businesses generously donated gift certificates to round out the day trip and the gift basket: a wine tasting for four at the beautiful Laurita Winery and a delicious pie from Emerys Berry Patch organic blueberry farm. Both places are less than 2 miles from our farm. Well, the idea turned out to be a huge success. At the bell two couples were in a good natured “bidding war” for my basket. The event organizer asked if I would consider doing my llama hike Eco-Tour twice if the bidders would both make contributions to the charity. They agreed, and we raised $250 each for a total of $500! I look forward to the visits ahead and introducing some adventurous new friends to my world with llamas.

I think you will agree this is one wonderful gift basket and we applaud Bev's creativity and generosity in creating such an interesting gift basket.

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Saturday, March 24, 2012

Southeast Llama Rescue: A Second Chance

Chris Stull, SELR
Formed in September, 2001, SELR was an informal NC group of people who wanted to rescue animals in need and educate people with llamas. Part animal control and public service with "a bunch of volunteers," they applied for non-profit status and became a BOD organization with 27 state-adoption coordinators. From FL to MA, west to Ohio, Indiana, and Michigan as most active states, SELR is a well-orchestrated group. Because the group grew so large so quickly, the group branched into SELR and SWLR. Since their inception, they have taken in 854 animal as of today's date, not including the Montana rescue (Camelid Coalition). Chris Stull is PLAA's Keynote Speaker and we are very pleased to have her with us today.

39 animals currently available for adoption on SELR website
Regular maintenance is not reimbursed to volunteers, but non-routine maintenance for animals is covered. SELR is an educational organization that seeks to help people learn about their animals, especially if they are the smaller farm without access to benefits of organizational membership. SELR does not wish to compete with breeders but rather help in a complementary way animals who have been abandoned but deserve a second chance. Potential adopters are screened to be certain people have the necessary housing/fencing for the animal they are rescuing. Llamas and alpacas are delivered to the adopters' door, and the new owners and taught the basics of camelid care.

Outreach is a large part of SELR; llamas are shown in parades, taken to hospitals, and put in public places at events to encourage adoption. Their motto is helping animals. This year, 224 animals came into SELR. Of those 224, 173 were adopted. SELR has permanent fosters too; 22 to be exact because of unusual medical needs or age. The need for animal control officers is rising, and SELR is called more frequently to testify, a sad trend. More recently, animals die because rescue intervention did not happen soon enough, not a fault of rescue but rather of the owners. Most llamas die of starvation because of owner neglect. The ravages of starvation take its toll, from fat to muscle to organ damage. Horrible conditions even with feeding simply causes some rescued llamas to die. You never know the damage done to the rescued animal.

A wonderful website, worth visiting again and again!!
Happy stories happen. A young llama caught in a barbed-wire fence, not noticed nor attended to, had her leg grow around the wire, but happily, surgery removed the wire without damaging the leg bone. SELR has no presence in NJ: there are llamas there but it's a dead zone without coordinators or rescuers. When asked how SELR is funded, the answer was two-fold: donations (often generous) plus the rescue fee.

Life changes. As it does, llamas are impacted. But Chris noted that we are not seeing behaviorally-challenged animals coming into rescue, and that is a benefit. Working for her PowerPoint, Chris retold the tale of the Montana Rescue, noting that SELR cannot take full credit for the rescue; they were just helpers. Animeals, a cat rescue, began the rescue. PLAA was blessed with SELR's story, told by Chris Stull, of their incredible rescue work.

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