Friday, January 31, 2014

On Lizards and Toads

Every January we’re inundated by top 10 lists, score cards, and annual reports reflecting on the past year. Here is one little invasive species story that didn’t make the news and won’t appear on anyone’s top 10 list for 2013.  I want to tell it to you before I forget because it illustrates the importance of communication, interagency cooperation, and digital photography -- all increasingly important in our world and in the fight against invasive species.
It all started with a phone call to the invasive species hotline (1-866-INVADER). Employees at a Beaverton distribution center had opened a shipping container full of ground-up tennis shoes from Indonesia. Don’t ask me why we’re importing shredded sneakers from the other side of the world, but we are. 
 Inside were live lizards. Not just one, but several and they were ready to get out. Thankfully the employees were aware that live critters from overseas can be problems, so they called the hotline and asked, “What should we do?”  My first thought was, "Who's in charge of that? US Fish & Wildlife, ODF&W, Customs and Border Protection?”
I was having flashbacks from five years when a toad hopped out of a shipping container carrying granite from China. One agency after another said, "not our problem," and the container languished on the dock for weeks until it was finally fumigated. The cost to the importer and agencies:  many hundreds of dollars, countless headaches, and more gray hair for all involved.
So instead of passing the buck, I asked if they could photograph the lizards and send pictures. They had a cell phone camera and did just that. I forwarded the photos to taxonomists here at ODA, to wildlife biologists at Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, and to the US Dept. of Agriculture. One of those people consulted with the US Fish and Wildlife Service. Within hours the lizards were identified and the appropriate regulations reviewed. Thankfully they turned out to be a common species of gecko that is sold legally in the pet trade. A USFWS employee even offered to catch them and find them good homes. The cost to the importer and agencies: a few hours of staff time and some chuckles.

The lesson? Next time you’re confronted with a head-scratcher of an invasive species problem, think of the lizards that lived and not the toad that croaked! Take a picture, get on the phone, and let people know what you've found.
-- Dan Hilburn 

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