L.A. Unleashed

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Category: Reptiles & Amphibians

Hanoi's famous Hoan Kiem turtle is captured to receive veterinary care

Vietnam's famous Hoan Kiem turtle is captured for treatment

HANOI, Vietnam — Veterinarians examined a rare giant turtle considered sacred by many Vietnamese at a makeshift hospital in Hanoi on Monday to check mysterious lesions afflicting one of the last four known members of its species.

The giant soft-shell turtle, which has a shell the size of a desk and is estimated to weigh about 440 pounds, was pulled from a lake in the heart of the capital Sunday.

Tests were being run to try to pinpoint what is ailing the creature, said Tim McCormack, program coordinator of the Asian Turtle Program. He said photos taken of it in a holding tank showed injuries on its legs and elsewhere, but it was not yet clear how serious they are.

The animal is believed to be about 80 to 100 years old, though many Vietnamese believe it is the same mythical creature said to have helped King Le Loi fend off the Chinese nearly six centuries ago.

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Bronx Zoo shuts its Reptile House to search for missing Egyptian cobra

NEW YORK — A poisonous cobra has vanished from an enclosure outside public view at the Bronx Zoo, and its Reptile House remained closed Sunday as a precaution while zoo workers searched for the reptile.

Though the roughly 20-inch-long Egyptian cobra -- a highly venomous species of snake -- has been unaccounted for since Friday afternoon, zoo officials say they're confident it hasn't gone far and isn't in a public area. Its enclosure was in an isolation area not open to visitors.

"To understand the situation, you have to understand snakes," zoo Director Jim Breheny said in an email Sunday.

The animals seek out confined spaces, so this one has doubtless hidden in a place it feels safe, he said.

Once the snake gets hungry or thirsty enough to leave its hiding place, workers will have their best opportunity to recover it, Breheny said.

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Conservationists work to save Hanoi's famous Hoan Kiem turtle

Hoan Kiem turtle

HANOI, Vietnam — Hundreds of people are working around the clock to clean up a lake in the heart of Vietnam's capital in hopes of saving a rare, ailing giant turtle that is considered a sacred symbol of Hanoi.

Some experts fear pollution at Hoan Kiem Lake is killing the giant freshwater turtle, which has a soft shell and is the size of a desk. It is one of the world's most-endangered species, with only four known to be alive worldwide.

Teams of people are cleaning debris, pumping fresh water into the lake and using sandbags to expand a tiny island to serve as a "turtle hospital." The rescuers may even try to net the animal for the first time as part of the effort.

The Hoan Kiem turtle is rooted in Vietnamese folklore, and some even believe the animal that lives in the lake today is the same mythical creature that helped a Vietnamese king fend off Chinese invaders nearly six centuries ago.

It swims alone in the lake and in the past has been glimpsed only rarely sticking its wrinkled neck out of the water. But it has recently surfaced much more frequently, alarming the public with visible raw open sores on its head, legs and shell.

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Three-year-old boy found petting five-foot-long alligator behind couch


Firefighters say they have removed a 5-foot-long alligator who was hiding behind a couch after floodwaters washed it into a home in northern Brazil.

Capt. Luiz Claudio Farias of the Parauapebas city fire department says that when the floodwaters receded on Tuesday, a woman saw her 3-year-old son petting something behind the couch. It was an alligator.

He says "she snatched the boy away and called" firefighters.

Farias said Wednesday the alligator was apparently well fed. "If he was hungry he could have seriously hurt or even killed the boy."

The alligator was taken to an environmentally protected area near the city and released into a river.

Soft-shell turtles found far from home on New Jersey roadside
Crocodile at Ukraine aquarium swallows cellphone

-- Associated Press

Photo: A Jacare alligator looks over the scenery as it floats in the fragile ecosystem of Brazil's Pantanal.  Credit: Dario Lopez-Mills / Associated Press

Soft-shell turtles found far from home on New Jersey roadside

Softshell Turtle

LACEY TOWNSHIP, N.J. — Animal welfare authorities are offering a $1,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the person responsible for dumping a group of soft-shell turtles by the roadside in northern New Jersey.

The animals, which are from the south and cannot survive in the northeast climate, were spotted by a motorist along the Passaic River in West New York on Thursday. A woman stopped her car when she saw a flock of seagulls attacking them, shooed them away, and called for help.

Four of the 10 turtles had frozen to death; the remaining six were taken to an animal shelter and are recovering from wounds they suffered in the bird attack.

John Bergmann, general manager of Popcorn Park Zoo in Lacey Township, said the animals are native to Florida, Georgia and Alabama.

"They definitely would not survive in our climate," he said. "That is why we believe all 10 turtles were dumped here."

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Crocodile at Ukraine aquarium swallows cellphone

KIEV, Ukraine — Workers at a Ukrainian aquarium didn't believe it when a visitor said a crocodile swallowed her phone. Then the reptile started ringing.

The accident in the eastern city of Dnipropetrovsk sounds a bit like "Peter Pan," in which a crocodile happily went "tick-tock" after gulping down an alarm clock.

But Gena, the 14-year-old croc who swallowed the phone, has hardly been living a fairy tale: He hasn't eaten or had a bowel movement in four weeks and appears depressed and in pain.

Gena noshed on the Nokia phone after Rimma Golovko dropped it in the water. She had stretched out her arm, trying to snap a photo of Gena opening his mouth, when the phone slipped.

"This should have been a very dramatic shot, but things didn't work out," she said.

Employees were skeptical when Golovko told them what happened. "But then the phone started ringing and the sound was coming from inside our Gena's stomach and we understood she wasn't lying," said Alexandra, an employee who declined to give her last name as she wasn't authorized to speak publicly.

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Scientists hold out hope that Galapagos tortoise Lonesome George will reproduce

Lonesome George the Galapagos tortoise

Will Lonesome George ever become a dad?

Scientists are still hoping to mate the near century-old giant tortoise from the Galapagos -- even though efforts over the last two decades have failed.

The Galapagos National Park said in a statement Thursday that they are providing two new female partners for George, who is believed to be the last living member of the Geochelone abigdoni species.

George is estimated to be between 90 and 100 years old -- and could have at least 50 more years ahead of him. For the last 20 years, he has lived with two previous female partners, of the similar but different Geochelone becki species. The females laid eggs in 2008, 2009 and last year, but none resulted in viable offspring.

Scientists believe George may have a better chance of reproducing with his two new partners, of the Geochelone hoodensis species.

The two potential mates arrived on Santa Cruz island, where George lives, on Thursday from the archipelago's Spanish Island.

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Authorities find exotic turtles and tortoises packed in snack boxes in accused smugglers' luggage at LAX


We can think of a lot of things to do with empty cookie and cracker boxes. Like recycling them, for instance. Or possibly using them in some sort of craft project.

But federal authorities arrested two men from Osaka, Japan, on Friday for doing something quite different with empty boxes. The men are accused of hiding 55 live turtles and tortoises, each from a rare species, in the boxes and attempting to smuggle them into the U.S. The men were apprehended Friday at Los Angeles International Airport. Los Angeles Times reporter Andrew Blankstein reported Tuesday:

On Monday, Atsushi Yamagami, 39, and Norihide Ushirozako, 49, were charged in a two-count criminal complaint alleging that they illegally imported wildlife into the United States, a smuggling offense that carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in federal prison, and one count of violating the Endangered Species Act, a misdemeanor that carries a maximum penalty of one year in prison.

Authorities said the arrests of Yamagami and Ushirozako, as well as that of one of their associates at Honolulu International Airport last summer, is the result of a yearlong investigation that involved the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's Homeland Security Investigations, and U.S. Customs and Border Protection.

"Individuals who engage in the smuggling of protected species are unscrupulous law violators who are motivated solely by profit and status, and clearly have no respect for our ecosystem," Erin L. Dean, resident agent in charge of the Fish and Wildlife Service's Office of Law Enforcement, told MyFoxLA.


-- Lindsay Barnett

Photo: Turtles and tortoises hidden in cracker and cookie boxes were seized at LAX. Credit: U.S. attorney's office 

Florida wildlife experts say mysterious orange alligator must be dyed

Orange Gator

VENICE, Fla. — An orange alligator photographed in South Florida is raising questions about its bizarre pigment.

Sylvia Mythen snapped the photo of the gator sunning beside a neighborhood canal in Venice.

The picture ran on TV after she shot it Wednesday and caused a buzz.

Experts with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission have scrutinized the photo and say the color is not genetic. They believe the gator was somehow covered in paint or an orange substance.


-- Associated Press

Photo: Sylvia Mythen / Associated Press

I take you, python, to be my lawfully wedded python: Snake wedding ceremony draws a crowd in Cambodia

Python Wedding

SVAY ROLUM, Cambodia — Hundreds of villagers flocked to a wedding ceremony Monday between a 16-foot, 200-pound female python and her slightly smaller mate -- both believed to be magic snakes that bring prosperity and peace.

The two-hour ceremony in Svay Rolum village, 12 miles south of the capital Phnom Penh, ended with two Buddhist monks blessing the pair and villagers showering them with flowers as wedding music played.

Most Cambodians, almost all Buddhists, also subscribe to animism -- a belief that spirits can inhabit all sorts of living and inanimate objects. Whenever an odd animal makes an appearance, it is cause for the superstitious to celebrate.

"We married these pythons to ask for health and prosperity in our village," said 41-year-old Neth Vy, owner of the female python named Chamrouen.

"We were told [by fortunetellers] that the two pythons are husband and wife and they need to live together, and if we don't marry them we will meet bad luck," said Neth Vy, who found the then-tiny python while fishing 16 years ago.

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