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ignorance and law


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Posted by fredhammes on February 24, 2003 at 14:36:24:

DEUCES AND ONE-EYED JACKS ARE WILD - THE STORY OF JOHN HAGA
By Norman Frank, D.V.M.
e-mail: nfrank@postoffice.ptd.net
I'm not much of a poker player, but I can figure that when someone announces his straight-flush beats my straight-flush, there's probably a few too many wild cards in the deck.

Such was the case back in the late 1960's and early 1970's when thousands of hatchling red-earred turtles were being sold in pet shops. Most came from "turtle farms" in the Gulf States, and John Haga was a primary producer. I became aware of the "situation" in 1970 while working as a public health veterinarian on an unrelated problem in the Florida Everglades. Several clusters of salmonellosis in young Miami children were traced to Haga's turtles, and I was called in as a consultant. John Haga responded by promising a strain of salmonella-free animals to remedy "the situation." The problem was that the turtles weren't sick --- merely carriers of the organism; and each batch he sent to our lab revealed contamination. Meanwhile, human outbreaks continued.

In 1970 we drew up the first legislative restrictions on the sale of captive-bred reptiles in the U.S. The document, which recommended a ban on the sale of baby turtles, was presented to the Dade County Supervisors during their 1970-71 session.

Frankly, I've never been comfortable with my role in that episode--too many wild cards! 1)Only young children were getting sick; 2) turtles kept outdoors were not implicated; 3) children in families with herpetology-oriented backgrounds were not sick; and 4) adult turtles did not cause illness. But, as public health representatives our obligation was to prevent exposure of the population to disease and there was absolutely no doubt that the "food poisoning" could be traced to the baby turtles. The statistical facts were on our side --- our straight flush beat Haga's and the law went into effect.

John Haga died of a heart attack New Year's day, 1974, at the age of 50. Hindsight reveals we all might have done better had we eliminated some of the wild cards and played "straight" poker. We should have dealt with the implausibility of eliminating Salmonella from turtles and addressed the main issue: just because the turtles were small, and inexpensive, didn't mean they were suitable pets for unsupervised two or three year old children. Parents should have been educated to realize that turtles must be kept clean, and rules of good hygiene adhered to. Some children, left on their own, drank the turtle water and put the animals into their mouths. It's no wonder they got sick.

Education, not legislation, continues to be a problem with the keeping of herptiles. It's up to us, the enthusiasts, to play it "straight." The responsibility of educating the public rests squarely on our shoulders.

Copyright 1990 by Reptile and Amphibian Magazine and used here with permission of the copyright owner. In the interests of educating reptile enthusiasts and herpetologists of their responsbilities in this situation, reproduction for free distribution is hereby allowed and encouraged.




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