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Alligators all around



Published: Thu, August 8, 2002 @ 12:00 a.m.



Angling in Pennsylvania's Beaver River is supposed to yield conventional American fish, but lately, more exotic wildlife have been getting hooked in Beaver County. The South American pacus, vegetarian cousins of piranha, that were landed last summer were bad enough, but the snagging of a 3-foot American alligator takes the cake -- or probably anything else it wants to take, too. And unlike the urban legend of baby alligators being flushed down New York toilets to grow full-size in the city's sewers, Tim Rodriguez's prime catch is headed to the Pittsburgh Zoo. Even a relatively small alligator can do great damage to a child or pet. People must realize that exotic animals belong in their own native habitats -- not in the inappropriate environment of a family pet.

When animals -- or for that matter, plants -- are moved from their native habitat to an alien setting two outcomes are likely. If the new setting is hostile -- the climate is too hot or too cold, too dry or too wet, a preferred food is unavailable or captivity causes a failure to thrive -- the animal dies or the plant fails to establish itself.

But on the other hand, many animals and plants do even better in a new environment where natural predators are absent and/or native species are no match for outsiders' appetites.

Rampant rabbits

Australia became over-run with imported rabbits because there were no foxes to keep them in check. The kudzu vine, planted in the South to stabilize soil and for animal forage, has virtually crowded out hundreds of thousands of acres of natural vegetation.

Invader mussels, first carried on the bottoms of boats that traveled from Europe to the Great Lakes, are thought to have considerable responsibility for the pollution of Lake Erie.

And most recently Maryland authorities are having to poison a small lake that has become over-run by rapidly breeding snakefish, which can survive out of water, move from place to place on land and are voracious consumers of local fish. Just one pair was imported from China, and the result has been ecological mayhem.

Alligators and crocodiles may look cute on expensive shirts and in children's books. But such reptiles belong neither in an Austintown home or a Pennsylvania river.




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