Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Sneaky Pete presents: I Spy

How better to judge your competition than to see first hand what they do. Don't tell anyone, but the boss sent me on a mission - pretend to be a tourist for a day and go on the competition's tour to see how they compare. My character was a wildlife biologist from Vermont who teaches kids about the natural history of New England. My back story? I've been in town for a week and a half and want to know more about the Everglades. I also mentioned my friend Susan just had a baby (Brooke) last week, just to add a flourish to my charade. I think that just came off sounding weird. She really did have a baby. I should call her. But I digress.

The trip started at 8 am with a 9:30 am bathroom and breakfast stop at McDonald's. I wasn't loving it. We finally made it into the Everglades at 10 am and started with a walk in the famous Fakahatchee Strand Preserve State Park, just like my company's tour. It's a 1.5 mile walk into the cypress swamp on a boardwalk that leads out to a "gator hole" where a mama gator was protecting her 15-20 young. Apparently Hurricane Wilma blew all of the mosquitoes away 2 years ago, but a recent hatch of Lubber Grasshoppers dotted the ground with hundreds of these little guys. The guide said they are an invasive, exotic species - but they're native!
Eastern Lubber Grasshopper (Romalea guttata)

This one reared up in a defensive posture to look more menacing. It's smaller than the size of a dime. I wasn't fooled. Once they molt and turn to adults, they have a much different paint scheme.

In the afternoon we took an airboat ride in Everglades City, the tiny port on the western edge of the glades. This airboat is more of a thrill ride, whizzing through the mangroves at 35 mph. It's a lot of fun, but you don't see as much of the wildlife. Well maybe except for this guy who gets fed by the guides. (Which is illegal) Tell me he's not cute?

Raccoon (Procyon lotor)

To complete the ruse, I posed with the alligator. I don't think I ever slipped up and didn't tell a lie until the end when I was asked when I was going home (tomorrow I said - when in fact i went directly home). I think my pasty white alligator-belly tan helped my disguise.
In the end, our trip has two boat rides, our airboat ride is better, lunch comes with the tour and our guides are the best! We see way more wildlife too! Who wants a tour with Everglades Day Safari?


  1. Thought I was watching Tom Cruise with Mission Impossible. How do you spell covert?

  2. Mr. Racoon is super cute, but the airboat damage to the mangrove roots is not. Good job on the spying - did you feel like a man of danger?

    Keep up the entertainment - I look forward to your installations and photos (you can't have too many photos!).

  3. ...hilarious and educational...good work

  4. Hi! Super Fabulous stories so far. I'm thoroughly enjoying it while I eat my breakfast. Finally found the pricing on the website. Damned if it wasn't right there on the first page. So, for $135 per adult, other than paying the staff and taking care of the boats, I'd love to hear what your particular company does to save the everglades. Especially since it was pointed out about the mangrove roots.
    p.s. did you report the illegal feeding of the racoon?

  5. Saving the Everglades

    The mission of my organization - loosely - is to provide an entertaining and educational eco-tour. As much as I would like to outright "save the Everglades", that is not the direct purpose of what we do. But having said that, as an eco-tour, it is imperative that our operation promotes "responsible travel to natural areas that conserves the environment and improves the well-being of local people", and in doing so, we in effect, help save the Everglades. The Everglades Day Safari does not feed wildlife. We do not bring visitors to places where they do so, nor do we go to places where airboats operate on the sawgrass (a sedge that is very susceptible to damage from airboats – more on that soon).

    During the 9 hour tour, we discuss:
    • the human history of the area dating from the time of the Caloosa to the Seminole Indians, Mikasukee Indians, European and Hispanic settlers.
    • The natural history of the 11,000 year old ecosystem
    • The human efforts to drain the Everglades
    • The current efforts to restore (what is essentially half) of the original Everglades a more natural state.

    The trip is also an adventure. The airboat ride we do take is fun and filled with an abundance of alligators and birds. The airboat ride in Everglades City (among many airboat rides there) passes through the 3rd largest mangrove forest in the world. The trails they use are preferable to the trails they previously ran on the sawgrass. Does it have a negative impact on the mangroves? It does not kill them, but some of the Periwinkles (snails), Ghost Crabs and other estuary dwellers may be affected by wave action. They can still be found in and around those areas.

    Only one operator is still permitted to run on sawgrass on their property. Cut and paste this link


    to see a satellite view of where they go. Zoom in and you can see an actual airboat! Most of the brown is sawgrass, the green is mangrove.

    I did not report illegal feedings. I can only assume, because the animals came to the boat, that they had been fed. So you see my dilemma. The big issue to me is not what is happening in the Everglades but everywhere else around them. 6 million people live in south Florida (and I am one of them!). 5 million may have been sustainable. 12 million are expected to be here in 2030. When that happens, so much fresh water will be drained from the Everglades aquifers that no amount of restoration will lead to success for this ecosystem. More on that soon as well. I hope that answers the questions! Thanks anonymous!

  6. Also forgot - 10% of our profits go to Marjory Stoneman Douglas' organization - Friends of the Everglades. (http://www.everglades.org/)


    She passed away in 1998 - but her efforts have gone a long way towards protecting the Everglades.

  7. HI Jungle Petie--Just wanted to say that I think you are doing an awesome job! Site is humorous and intelligent. Keep up the great work. Enjoy life in the "slow lane". We miss you!