Corwin promotes conservation with pageant of 'amazing creatures'

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The 5-foot-long, 40-pound water monitor lizard had a hard road leading to its appearance before the crowd at the Hill's Opening Session July 31 during the AVMA Annual Convention in Atlanta.

The animal had been rescued from the streets of Trenton, N.J., during the winter some years ago, but not before the lizard had had its neck burned by its former owner.

Corwin and attendees hold a big snake
Television personality Jeff Corwin uses rescued amphibians and reptiles as teaching tools during his talk about wildlife preservation and responsible pet ownership.

Wildlife biologist and anthropologist Jeff Corwin displayed a menagerie of animals with similar backgrounds, including a 6-foot-long American alligator and a 100-pound alligator snapping turtle, to convey his messages of responsible pet ownership and wildlife habitat preservation during his presentation.

"As veterinarians, your primary interest is to secure the health and well-being of your patients and their keepers, but I'm sure many of you have encountered a client who says, 'We have a snake. It's too big, and we want to get rid of it,'" Corwin said.

Abandonment and improper husbandry are big problems in the United States, he said. Without homes for the affected creatures, the situation becomes even more unfortunate not only for the former pets but also for wildlife.

He gave the example of boa constrictors and other nonnative snakes found in the Florida Everglades that have been released by irresponsible owners.

"Hundreds of thousands of them are consuming native wildlife. The truth is, it is our responsibility as stewards of these animals, and it's not always a great idea to get your kid a snake," Corwin said.

After more than 10 years on television, Corwin has most recently been working as the science and environmental correspondent for NBC. He primarily has reported on the response to the environmental disaster arising from the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

For the past few months, Corwin has witnessed efforts to locate, rehabilitate, and release some of the more than 400 species that have been put in peril by the oil spill. The sea turtle population has been particularly devastated. Out of a total 10,000 specimens, about 500 adults have died since the oil spill began. But he said he's drawn hope from the first responders, many of whom are veterinarians.

"There's a veterinarian on the front lines to help animals in jeopardy. There's a veterinarian at the Tri-State Bird Rescue center there to treat it and hydrate it. There's a veterinarian at the end with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to liberate the animal into the wild," Corwin said.

Many of the affected wildlife remain in captivity, however, because they can't be released back into a toxic environment. And habitat, he said, is the big secret to saving any endangered species.

"If you maintain and protect wild places and keep them healthy and clean, then you'll have wildlife," Corwin said.

If anything can be learned from the oil spill, he said, it is that radical changes are necessary, and part of that transformation will be lessening the dependence on fossil fuels for energy.