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No. 41
In my 12 years in Australia this is our oddest season to date. A lot more rain than usual with much of the local bush green rather than brown and our nearest swamp full rather than a shrunk dry and cracked fire hazard.

Meanwhile Jenny and I have been away in the States - visiting California and Arizona where the weather has also been unusual. Northern California has had record rain and storms and our visit to the usually parched Sonoran Desert in Arizona was washed out most of the time. We even needed to buy umbrellas.

However, the weather didn't stop us meeting with and learning from some very generous snake avoidance experts that we travelled all that way to interview and observe. So we learnt heaps about keeping dogs safe from snakebite, met a few cool rattlesnakes, saw some massive cactuses, wild coyotes, elephant seals and more. Work and play in the USA.

Now I dream of the Galapagos Islands near Ecuador, giant tortoises and marine iguanas - maybe next year, if the rain gods permit.

Animal Ark visiting Viper Voidance / Jim Walkington, Senoran Desert, Arizona. Photo: Animal Ark
A recent study has estimated the amount of food that the worlds' spiders eat in a year, and it's a huge number.

All 45,000 species of spider are carnivores, eating insects, other invertebrates and small creatures like frogs, lizards and even birds.

Hopefully you will appreciate our 8 legged friends a bit more when see just how important they are in pest control.

The statistics were published in the journal The Science of Nature and shows that spiders using webs, traps, ambush and jumping skills to catch their prey are very hungry animals indeed.

They eat at least as much food in weight as the human population and possibly twice as much!

  • Spiders: 400-800m tonnes
  • Humans: 400m tonnes of meat and fish
  • Whales: 280-500m tonnes
  • Seabirds: 70m tonnes

1 tonne = 1000kg

Red-kneed tarantula (Brachypelma smithi). Photo: Animal Ark

Mouse spider (Missulena sp) Star Swamp, June 2015. Photo: Animal Ark

We have some more dates available for training this year, particularly in the southwest. See below for dates, our diary of events on the website or the snake avoidance page. Just call or email to book or for more information.

One of the things we learned overseas is that we can be quicker, indeed probably should be quicker in that the training is most effective in short bursts. Also to concentrate on snakes, not introducing any other things (lizards, turtles) to the avoidance training on any given day.

We can and do visit dog clubs and some private properties if we have 6 or more dogs likely to attend. Any time of year is a good time for Snake Avoidance Training.

Stella the Jack Russell and David Manning. Photo: Danella Beavis,
Camping in the Australian bush is, let's face it, mostly pretty safe and fun. Yes people may have concerns about crocodiles, snakes, and those worrying drop bears but in reality you can sleep in tent or swag under the stars without too much to be concerned about.

My visit to the States was fascinating in finding out about some of the hazards and potential risks of a visit to the great outdoors in the US. Teaching as I do wildlife awareness and fauna handling courses here in Australia it is interesting to see what's different overseas. And wow some things are very, very different.

Not that any of this should put you off a visit or a camping trip in the US but if you get to go please do read the signs and take heed of the warnings that are prominent at many National Parks we visited.

Bears: Yes the big hairy scary things. All, absolutely all food must be kept well away from campers and also not left inside tents or cars. Bears can and do rip open cars for scraps. I've seen the pictures at Yosemite –next to every campsite is a large solid strong food box within which you must place all foods and sweet smelling items and scented soaps etc.

Plague: A nasty disease causing bacterium (Yersinia pestis) living in the fleas carried by rodents in particular. The bacterium eventually kills both the flea and the hosts and the plague is spread to humans by the starving fleas looking for a meal on us.

Rabies: In California the primary carrier of rabies is the skunk.

Mountain Lions: Don't walk alone, don't let your kids stray too far in front of or behind you. They pick off the stragglers apparently.

Ticks: Carry and transmit Lyme disease, a bacterial infection named after Old Lyme in Connecticut from where the first US cases were reported. It is the same condition known in Europe for over 100 years. A similar condition with related bacteria is still under investigation in Australia. Ticks can certainly cause devastating infections here regardless of the name given the disease, with MMA Mammalian Meat Allergy one strange example, when months after the tick bite infection you become severely allergic to red meat – a burger or steak can kill!

American black bear. Photo: Traylor Waverley, US Fish and Wildlife Services - Commons Wikimedia

Bear damage to car. Photo: Matt Stensland, Steamboat Today

Cougar mountain lion walking in tall grass. Photo: Eric Kilby, Commons Wikimedia

Tick (Ixodes hexagonus). Photo: Andre Karwath aka Aka, Wikimedia Commons

Very rarely have authenticated cases of snakes eating humans come to light. Recently thanks largely to mobile phone cameras a case has been recorded. Only a few pythons are large enough to try and successfully eat a human; the Anaconda, African rock python, Burmese python, Scrub python (Australian) and the longest of them all is the Reticulated python. And it was a Reticulated python that managed to kill and consume a man.

Akbar the victim was from West Sulawesi an island east of Borneo in Indonesia. What stops snakes eating people more often? Well for one, humans are not normal prey and also we have wide shoulders making us difficult to swallow. But in this case the man concerned was quite small, that is by Aussie/western standards. He was out at peak snake hunting time and was obviously extremely unfortunate.

Death though would have been very quick as once a python gets a good hold the constriction rapidly causes multiple organ failure. In a similar case in Bali a man who tried to move a snake was killed by the same species – but in this case it was defending itself and made no attempt to eat the man involved.

Reticulated python head. Photo: TimVickers, Commons Wikimedia
How cool is this frog? The Polka-dot tree frog (Hypsiboas punctatus) is the world's first fluorescing frog, discovered only recently in Santa Fe, Argentina.

The Journal Nature the first to report the news, quotes co-author of the discovery Julian Faivovich saying he hopes "scientists will start carrying a UV flashlight to the field".

Fluorescence is the ability to absorb light at short wavelengths and re-emit it at longer wave lengths. The Polka-dot frog is the first and only amphibian known to fluoresce, a very rare phenomenon in land based creatures.

Incidentally we sell great UV torches in our shop for $30 + postage. Hop into our online shop

Fluorescing Polka-dot frog under normal light. Photo: Julian Faivovich and Carlos Taboada

Fluorescing Polka-dot frog under UV light. Photo: Julian Faivovich and Carlos Taboada

We start to get busy with school bookings now and after the Easter break. Find out more at our reptile school incursions page.

Wildlife Awareness Sessions (talks for grown ups) are also popular at many work sites around WA. Meet some friendly native creatures, see some deadly ones and dispel many myths about wildlife. See our wildlife awareness training page.

We can tailor sessions to your requirements, locality and budget. Find out more at our website, email us on or call for more information.

Kids holding blue tongue lizard. Photo: Animal Ark
Animal in Focus: Elephant Seal
Northern (Mirounga angostirostris)
Southern (Mirounga leonine)
I was lucky enough to see a colony of these massive creatures in Southern California at San Simeon Beach. These were the Northern Elephant Seal one of only 2 species, the other ‘our' local species being the Southern form. In 2014 huge crowds gathered at Sorrento Beach in Perth's northern suburbs to watch a lone juvenile male that came ashore and stayed a while.

The group we saw in California were a mixed bunch, hundreds of them, in groups, larger males surrounded by females and juveniles, lounging in the sand, occasionally flicking sand, belching, barking and farting (I think). A few dead ones apparently sometimes squashed by the larger males were also in the mix and there was, despite the breeze, a distinct smell. A rather raw spectacle – nature as it is in the wild, a bit raw and bloody, rarely fluffy and cute.

They are so named because the males have a large proboscis. The nose helps produce their loud roaring noises and also helps prevent loss of moisture during breathing which is especially important during the breeding season when they do not leave the beach and so must prevent dehydration. Elephant seals are bulky animals – southern species the larger. Some bulls (males) reach 6m in length and 4,000 kg, the cows (females) 3m and 900 kg. They spend 80% of time in the water and can hunt and dive to remarkable depths, 300 – 600m being common and of up to 2,388 m recorded by scientists. They favour skates, squid, fish, octopi, eels and small sharks for food. Up to 2 hours beneath the waves before returning to the surface to breathe.

Adults usually return to the same colony sites to breed annually. Larger Alpha males fight in order to establish a harem, potentially numbering several dozen females. In order to keep his harem and defend his territory he won't leave the beach or feed for several months – relying on his blubbers energy reserves. The pups are fed on a very rich milk. Elephant seal milk can be 50% milk fat – cow's milk is about 3.5%. Most of the year they live alone in the vast oceans. Despite their size they do have predators including orcas, leopard seals and great white sharks.

Life span: Northern species 9 years, they live along the west coast of the Americas; and the Southern species 22 years living around Antarctica – and occasionally popping into Sorrento.

Juvenile elephant seal - Sorrento Beach, Perth WA, February 2014. Photo: Animal Ark

Northern elephant seals, San Simeon, California. Photo: Animal Ark

Northern elephant seal. Photo: Fred Sorenson, US Fish Wildlife Services - Wikimedia Commons

Elephant seal fight. Photo: Candied Woman Ire Wikimedia Commons

Upcoming Courses and Events
Venomous Snake Handling Course
DPaW approved for Reptile Relocator's Regulation 17 Licence
Wednesday 3 May – Malaga, Perth
Friday 2 June – Malaga, Perth - FULL
Friday 7 July – Malaga, Perth
Friday 4 August – Malaga, Perth
Friday 1 September – Malaga, Perth

Fauna Handling Course
Thursday 4 May – Malaga, Perth
Thursday 6 July – Malaga, Perth
Thursday 31 August – Malaga, Perth

Snake Avoidance Training for Dogs
Friday 28 April – North Beach, Perth
Friday 26 May – North Beach, Perth
Friday 23 June – North Beach, Perth
Saturday 12 August – North Beach, Perth
Saturday 16 September – North Beach, Perth
Saturday 23 September – Bunbury
Sunday 24 September – Bunbury
Thursday 28 September – North Beach, Perth
Saturday 30 September – North Beach, Perth
Sunday 8 October – North Beach, Perth
Wednesday 18 October – North Beach, Perth
Saturday 21 October – Bunbury
Sunday 22 October – Bunbury
Tuesday 24 October – Margaret River
Wednesday 25, Thursday 26 October - Nannup
Saturday 28 October – Mount Barker / Albany

Public Events
Do come along and see us. Bring your family or friends as well.
The Animal Ark Roadshow will be attending the following events:

Saturday 22 April
Cockburn Cultural Fair
10am – 4pm
Harmony Oval, Atwell
Community event
Contact City of Cockburn for more information

Sunday 9 July
Native Animal Rescue Open Day
170 Camboon Road, Malaga
Community Event. Gold coin donation.

Sunday 16 July
West Australian Herpetological Society (WAHS)
Reptile Expo
Tom Wildling Pavilion, Claremont Showgrounds
10am – 5pm
See for more details and ticket prices.

Wednesday 13 September
Kulunga Katitjin Festival
Kings Park, Perth
9.30am – 2pm
Contact Kings Park for more information and for school bookings.

See our diary for more dates or contact us to book.

Call (08) 9243 3044, SMS 0466 688 188 or email David, Jenny or Ziggy at to book.

Courses held monthly and as required plus on-site and remote site training available.