In parts of the world, the illegal pet trade and medicine trades are huge and can have widespread effects. For example, in places like Maryland, you don't see a lot of box turtles anymore. Many have been captured to be sold as illegal pets or used in Asian medicine. Lots of the North American turtles are being captured and sent to Asia for medicinal purposes. The Asian trade in reptiles is a big problem. All across Asia I see people collecting reptiles for food and medicine.
Also, of course, increasing human populations and habitat loss are affecting all animals. Sea turtles can't find nesting beaches anymore because they all have condos on them. Snakes need a lot of land, and they don't have it. There are many problems that reptiles face. They are hit from all directions. And their plight is compounded because they tend to grow and reproduce slowly.
How important are reptiles to the Earth's ecosystems? What we can learn from them?
Lots of reptiles, like crocodiles, are what we call "keystone species." That's analogous to a keystone in a buildingremove it and the building collapses. If you remove these species, the ecosystem collapses. Crocs are just that important. Lots of snakes are the same way. They regulate the populations of other animals and also provide an important food source. Crocs regulate the populations of just about anything that walks, swims, or flies. But as babies, they are just the size of a candy bar and everything eats thembirds, fish, and other animals. Also, crocodiles actually modify their environment. Everglades crocs, while nesting, create land for other animals to live on. In the dry season they dig "gator holes" which are just about the only aquatic habitat left during the dry season. That habitat is crucial for lots of animals. There are lot of reptiles that are keystone species.
One of your goals is to become the first person to capture and study all 23 crocodilian species on Earth. With the help of your fellow scientists, you're getting close. Why this quest?
For the past year it's really been my focus. Nobody has ever captured all 23 crocodilian species in the wild. I need seven more, and over the course of the next season I should get all seven. I refuse to capture an animal for television. There has to be a scientific reason for such an undertaking. We always work with local scientists on research. Some of these crocs are critically endangeredlike the Chinese alligator. Maybe only 100 individuals remain. It's so rare that we wanted to get a DNA sample to be sure that it's not lost forever. Several species are also so rare that almost nothing is known about them. So any data you can gather is vital. With other species, we might document research that people have already donebut I'm not just out there trying to capture for the sake of capture.
How did you become interested in Reptiles?
Well, I was a little kid who was into dinosaurs and all kinds of reptileslike a lot of kids. I grew up in Indiana where there weren't many reptiles. But what we had was a really good children's zoo in Indianapolis. I'm really a product of America's zoos and museums. I followed my passion and brought home lizards, snakes, turtleswhatever I could catch. I [eventually] became a biology teacher. But then went back for a masters and Ph.D. at the University of Miami where I started looking at the diet of gators in the Everglades. After working with gators, I became obsessed with learning as much as I could about them. The more I found out, the more I realized how little the scientific community knows about crocodilian speciesand they are some of the largest carnivores on the planet.
What kind of reptile adventures will people see Sunday nights on Reptile Wild?
We travel to encounter lots of interesting reptiles and learn about the scientists who are studying them. Some pretty incredible things happened as well. In a span of 10 days I was bitten in the face by a snake, our plane crashed in the middle of the Brazilian wetlands, and I was pulled overboard by a crocodile. They captured it all on filmyou get to see me get injured a lot this season.
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