Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Bite Me - Muérdeme

An alligator bit off the hand of a man fishing in Lake Trafford on Thursday. This is the lake I take people to for an airboat ride on our tour. Lake Trafford has an estimated 3000 adult alligators. It is the highest concentration of alligators per acre in the world.

Read the news article and watch the video (which is hilarious for the reporting alone).

Currently due to the drought, the lake is 7 feet below normal. That's bad and that means the alligators are packed in like sardines. It also means that people can't fish from the pier. Their worms would just hit mud when they cast out. Instead some of the locals have turned to cast netting which involves walking out into the lake (full of alligators) and casting their net in the hopes of catching fish.

(photo not mine)

When Luis Hernandez did this on Thursday, he reached down to pull in his net and an alligator bit his hand. Not off initially, but the bones were crushed and the hand was dangling by a tendon. That too is not good. My first reaction was "what an idiot". We see these guys wading into the lake every day while we show people hundreds of alligators. They have been warned by law enforcement and wildlife officers. But since they are supposedly catching exotic Tilapia and not native fish, they are not breaking any laws by wading into the lake (full of alligators). I say this without exaggeration. The lake is normally 1600 acres when full. It's 1000 acres or less now and we see hundreds of alligators every day.

Normally the fishermen wade out with helpers. One to watch for alligators and the others to haul in their catch. It's still dangerous but the fish are free and Tilapia costs $4.99 lb at the local Winn Dixie. I don't know this man. I don't know his situation. I don't know how desperate his situation is. For all I know this is the only way he can put food on the table. Is he an idiot? No. Is he taking a risk? Absolutely.
His hand will not be reattached.

Another sad result of this dangerous behavior is that an alligator ended up getting culled. Fish and Wildlife reported catching the 6 foot gator after an hour of looking. This is preposterous. To find the alligator in that lake (which is full of alligators) is like finding 2 snowflakes that look like alligators. It's that ridiculous. So instead, to quell panic and fear of a man eating alligator they no doubt killed the first alligator they could find.

So I feel bad for Luis Hernandez who may or may not have had to wade into a lake (full of alligators) to feed himself. I'm sure he didn't want to lose his hand but he might as well have had a sign on that said "Bite Me" (Muérdeme en Español)

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Alligator in the Bathtub

It's that time of the year when alligators end up in swimming pools, backyard ponds and in my case - the bathtub. May is breeding season so the boys are looking for the girls, the girls are looking for the boys and the juveys are out looking for their own territory.

They cross roads, get into gated communities and end up on the 11 o'clock news where unsuspecting new residents freak out. 10 foot lizards in our backyards! How uncivilized. Welcome to the swamp.

But this adorable little 1 1/2 year old was part of my weekend presentation. I had to take my work home with me for a few days and that meant taking care of Cobb/Mean Joe Green/Austen (everyone has a name for him). He's not a pet, but he gets a name anyway to differentiate him from his larger brothers/sisters that are the same age but sizably larger thanks to a little thing called dominance.

Just before heading to the presentation he pooped in his aquarium and I needed to rinse him off. I'm sure a few parents understand the situation?

He's now living the life in a new aquarium far from his siblings where he gets all the crickets and minnows he ever dreamed of.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Jungle Pete and the Library of Gold?

Thousands of years ago, members of an extraterrestrial civilization descended upon the Amazonian rain forest where they hid vast treasures of gold within the Tayos Caves of Ecuador. They extended passageways in the underground labyrinth and sculpted a golden library in the darkness beneath the rainforest floor and then disappeared back into the cosmos.

The book Gold of the Gods by Erich von Daniken (1973) popularized this myth based on the accounts of Juan Moricz who claimed to have visited the cave and witnessed these exotic antiquities himself. The book and its assertions inspired the 1976 expedition of 100+ individuals including cavers, zoologists, biologists and archaeologists. Organized by Scottish explorer Stanley Hall, the Tayos Cave expedition was accompanied by astronaut Neil Armstrong as well.

Last November I wrote of my own expedition along the Ecuador/Peruvian border to a Tayos Cave led by a local Shuar guide, Ambale. Our trek was arduous - requiring an hour ride by boat up the turbulent rain swollen Rio Nangaritza to a Shuar village where we met our guide. He led us through the rainforest for three steaming hours to the cave, reminding us along the way of the vestigial mines strewn along the border from the 1995 Peru/Ecuador War.

Apparently there are several such caves, all occupied by Oilbirds and well protected by the Shuar people. Alex Chionetti, a scholar of lost civilizations, was polite enough to point this out.

While the 1976 expedition turned up no gold or metallic libraries, the caves still stir interest and hope that the legends may some day be proven fact. Alex knows this first hand and has journeyed to the cave twice to uncover its secrets.

The Argentinian-born adventurer/independent filmmaker has been dubbed a "real life Indiana Jones" by the Spielberg/Lucas publicists for his exploits including one harrowing escape in March of 2007 when Chionetti's expedition was forced to run for miles through the jungle, leaving behind cameras, equipment and clothing as they fled from the Shuar who pursued with poisoned arrows. The Shuar (formerly known as the head-hunting Jivaros) who number only in the hundreds in this region, took exception to a non-aboriginal guide leading outsiders into their territory. The Tayos Cave along the Rio Coangos is is their "cathedral" where their God resides. It is the Mecca of the Shuar and they defend it ferociously, Chionetti says.

The main entrance is an 85 meter descent into the ground and extensive mapping already covers a 5 square km area. Chionetti says coastal tribes (related to the Valdivia culture) may have migrated to these caves in the past millennia based on ceramics, bones and spondylus shells specific to Pacific Ocean tribes that were found in the caves.

He's currently wrapping up a documentary on his experiences with Tayos and even plans to return to the cave in the near future. I would venture to guess with a new guide, the Shuar word for "my apologies" and maybe Jungle Pete?

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Operation Angry Badger

My little sister flew into town on Friday for a weekend visit before venturing over to Miami for work. Her to-do list among other things included petting an alligator, visiting the old homestead in Venice and riding on the front of an airboat and screaming "I'm King of the World". She's not normal.

My wish list was to keep from offending anyone and avoiding another "go kart" incident like the one back in '98. Ma-Le and I called this Operation Angry Badger.

It seemed the best way to accomplish our task was to get her in a boat and paddle her out into Estero Bay. What could go wrong?Our destination was Mound Key, the largest Calusa Indian shell mound in the world and the highest point in Lee County. (our paddle trail highlighted in orange)To get there the three of us would paddle with the tide, the presumed 3 miles out into the bay, cross the bay and arrive at the island which is 40 feet above sea level at its highest point and covered with tropical hardwoods like Mahogany and Gumbo Limbo. It's a beautiful site. Crossing the bay proved tougher than I imagined as the wind was driving into our faces and the tide had turned around. With only one mile to go, we pushed on toward the island. The island is guarded by a ferocious Jack Russell Terrier with an orange vest.
The island is now a State Park and no artifact collecting is allowed. There is a loop trail that brings you up and over several massive shell mounds and around the island which is ringed with mangroves. It was hot and the badger was not well hydrated. The first mosquito bite could have been a hive of angry bees by the way she reacted to it. From the peak you can look out over Estero Bay and the Gulf of Mexico and see a multitude of high rises. The Calusa built the first!Apparently the ghosts of the Calusa are not fans of technology and my phone and Mandy's decided to turn off on their own. They were charged. They had been getting reception. They just stopped working! The Badger was getting ferocious as she combated the heat, bugs and lack of phone reception so we had to abandon the island before we had a chance to explore the whole thing. We couldn't risk a full blown tantrum.

When we returned we told the rangers that we had made it out to Mound Key. They were impressed. It turns out it was 10 miles round trip and few people are dumb enough to attempt this. It was entirely worth it to stand on the ground the Calusa once occupied. For several thousand years they lived along the gulf coast from Tampa to Everglades City and nowhere is their presence more apparent than here on the ceremonial center of their kingdom on Mound Key.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Red on Yellow - Kill a Fellow

I transport snakes across the Everglades from time to time. Yesterday I drove my first venomous snake across.

They're display animals that I shuttle from Fort Lauderdale to Fort Myers including an Everglades Rat Snake, several Green Tree Snakes and a Florida Kingsnake among other reptiles. Yesterday the boss called and said there was a Coral Snake he needed me to transport and I would have to arrange to pick it up.

So I called Tom Crutchfield - one of the leading reptile experts in the U.S. and asked what I would have to do to get the venomous snake from coast to coast.

"You'll have to be very careful" he explained. "They're pushers and the like to push their way out of the bags". Incredulous, I told him that I would be picking up the snake around 5 PM but was not leaving the Miami area until 8 PM. So he impressed upon me that I would have to take great care. I wouldn't want a deadly Coral Snake loose in the cab of my truck as I drove across the Everglades at night.

After I hung up my mind started to race. I don't want to sound like a coward although I am and I don't want to tell them I can't do this, but I've had a Black Rat Snake escape and slither across my dashboard as I drove through the mountains of Vermont. I can imagine the red, yellow and black stripes reflected in my windshield now. Not good.

Maybe it's a Scarlet Kingsnake? - a non-venomous snake that mimics the Coral Snake in appearance, (providing a defense for itself). Maybe they're playing me? After 20 minutes the boss calls back and says there's nothing to fear. The snake will be well contained and they were just giving me a hard time.

I picked up the snake - well-contained in a plastic cookie tub, taped shut with packing tape and carefully tucked into a cloth bag which was then zip tied.

My sister Mandy was in town for a few days and was cool enough to let me drive her around Miami with a venomous snake in a bag at her feet.

Apparently, Coral Snakes are not aggressive and rarely bite. I didn't tempt it. They are also escape artists and the extra precautions were in fact necessary. Thank You. Ultimately the venom is the snakes tool for capturing prey but even the largest of coral snakes have small mouthes and recurved teeth, making it difficult to bite a human. They have to gnaw. But it could happen and antivenin for such bites is becoming harder to come by.

So if you come across one, don't kill it. Give it space and remember.

Red on Yellow Kill a Fellow
Red on Black ok for Jack

Either way I don't want to be bitten.

Sunday, May 4, 2008

Write Your Own Title

I'm tired and lazy and I need help with a title and or caption for this photo.