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Reefmonkey

Exotic pets, immigrant culture, and invasive species

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http://usnews.nbcnews.com/_news/2013/05/07/18107999-deadly-giant-snail-found-in-houston?lite

The Briar Forest neighborhood, where this giant African meningitis carrying snail was found? A mile south of my house. There is a bayou between us, and that gives me some comfort for now, but not a lot.

Houston has a large Southeast Asian population, and I hate to sound like I am propagating stereotypes here, but Vietnamese immigrants in Houston are well known for starting four businesses here - drycleaners, nail salons, pet shops, and Pho shops (Vietnamese food restaurants).

The Vietnamese-owned pet shops are renowned for carrying really exotic fish, amphibian, reptile, and invertebrate species you don't find in your average Petsmart or Petco. When I hear this story about giant African Land Snails, and I hear that some people keep them for pets, I start to wonder where this snail infestation originated from.

Thinking about this infestation reminded me of an experience I had last week. I eat at pho restaurants about 2-3 times a month. My usual is a vermicelli bowl with barbecued pork (at least I hope it really is pork) and little fried eggrolls in it. Last week I was there perusing the menu, contemplating trying something new for a change, when I came across an item that said it contained water spinach. That prodded my memory about an article I read last year about cambodian immigrants illegally raising this agressive invasive plant species in the Houston area for the Southeast Asian population's culinary use.

http://www.houstonpress.com/2012-09-06/news/cambodian-water-spinich-ong-choy/

I get that moving to a new country, you might be homesick, especially for the foods of your native land. But I have a serious problem with immigrants coming here, smuggling in illegal organisms, growing them, and allowing them to escape into the wild. I am getting tired of always having to respect non-American cultures, I think it's time to start expecting non-Americans, especially the ones who come here to live, to start respecting our culture, and to not f'up our ecosystem any more than it already is.

I am very sensitive to the danger of invasive exotics. It is one reason I am very careful with the plants I use in my yard, and have been increasingly been replacing plants with Texas natives. It is also why my backyard pond does not have goldfish, koi, or any storebought fish in it. I go out and net native fish like mosquitofish, sailfin mollies, dollar sunfish, and golden topminnows, responsibly and in accordance with state laws. But when I go out collecting, you would be amazed by the exotic fish I catch in Houston waters - tilapia, South African plecostomus catfish, Jack Dempsey cichlids, goldfish, asiatic carp, for example. Fish farms, private pet owners, grocery stores (live tilapia is commonly sold in Asian grocery stores here in Houston) and pet stores all irresponsibly dump their unwanted stock into local creeks and bayous. It's a mess. I don't know what the answer is, but it needs to start with more visible PSAs on the dangers of exotics, and I think special emphasis needs to be placed on education and  enforcement in the South East Asian immigrant community.

Now if you will excuse me, I have to go teach my 6 year old daughter, in whom I have carefully cultivated a love of nature and not to be afraid of bugs, not to pick up snails.

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I am quite sure the apology is coming shortly, probably after dad and daughter get back from playing with the Rosy Wolf and Channel Apple snails.

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While reading this rant against the Vietnamese for ruining our land, I just kept thinking about Agent Orange.

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Alright, I am man enough to admit I was hasty in posting about the snails, false alarm, and I am glad it is. But the water spinach issue, still a problem, as are several recently introduced exotics, and it is not just Vietnamese immigrants who are doing it, and they aren't just doing it out of ignorance. I am sure many of you have heard about the snakehead fish problem? In 2011 Yong Hao Wu imported 350 of these live fish through New York, trying to pass them off through customs as another, non-prohibited species. These fish are highly valued in Asian cuisine. that was the first time Yong was caught, and he admitted to having previously imported six other shipments. As an environmental scientist, I have been involved in invasive eradication from the very basic level, of coming home with red eyes and a blackened face from prescribed burns, or all cut up from digging and slashing, to taking part in state-level workgroups, and I have seen the trends in sources of new invasives in this state. Talking about Asian Orange, something people my parents' age did at the orders of people my grandparents' age a decade before I was born - because that happened, we can't talk about, let alone try to do something about something that is happening here and now? How asinine. Calling it an "anti-Vietnamese rant" is just the same walking-on-eggshells PC mindset, refusal to admit there are cultural differences and some of those cultural differences might be causing problems, is what prevents progress in in fields from criminal justice to education. We can't solve a problem like invasives if we don't understand it, and we can't understand it if we refuse to even talk about the fact that a growing subset of the problem is the black market economies that serve the culinary needs of immigrant communities.

Edited by Reefmonkey

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