Southern wildlife in jeopardy as giant tegu lizards invade Georgia and Florida

REIDSVILLE, Ga. — An invasive, giant, and dangerous lizard is creeping its way through southeast Georgia and beyond.

The Argentine black and white tegu lizards are originally from South America, and now they are wreaking havoc on wildlife throughout the South.

Daniel Sollengberge, senior wildlife biologist with the Georgia wildlife, said they never knew there was a population established in the wild until recently.

Tegu lizards are known to eat anything that they want, especially the eggs of other reptiles. 

Tegu lizards are known to eat anything that they want, especially the eggs of other reptiles.

“We presume that the animals started as the result of escaped or released pets in the area… there really common in the pet trade,” Sollengberger said.

After over a dozen sightings of the lizards in southeast Georgia, Tegus have become known as an invasive species particularly in Toombs and Tattnall counties.

Map showing the two southeastern counties that have been invaded by Tegu lizards. 

Map showing the two southeastern counties that have been invaded by Tegu lizards.

Georgia Southern professor, Dr. Lance Mcbrayer studies the evolution of lizards and leads the U.S Geological Survey team.

“Already in 2020 we’ve caught five animals at this site right here,” Mcbrayer said.

The lizards can grow up to four feet long. As the number of lizards in southeast Georgia continue to increase, the geological survey team is racing to put down traps.

The traps are placed about 100 meters apart and members of the Geological team check them daily.

One trap in southeast Georgia that is set up to capture Tegu lizards. 

One trap in southeast Georgia that is set up to capture Tegu lizards.

Daniel Haro is a part of the geological team and works in the field about three to four times a week. “In general, right now, we have 85 and we’re going to get to 90… so, this week I’m hoping to place five more,” Haro said.

According to Georgia wildlife, the lizards don’t attack people unless provoked. However, with their strong jaws and sharp teeth, they will eat anything they can put in their mouth, especially eggs.

Crews hold Tegu lizards that was captured years ago. 

Crews hold Tegu lizards that was captured years ago.

“Whereby they’re damaging our gopher tortoise populations or bobwhite quail populations or turkey populations…the animal walks around and it hunts up nests on the ground,” Mcbrayer said.

On top of that, tegu lizards can lay up to 40 eggs, and once they hatch, they will be around 6 to 10 inches long.  “That’s our real concern… that there could be a very rapid increase in the number of tegus in just a few years,” Mcbrayer said.

The crew in southeast Georgia has not caught a juvenile tegu yet but, “all the habitat and the size of the animals we’re catching suggest that they’re reproducing – so that’s a problem,” Mcbrayer said.

The U.S Geological survey team works to capture Tegu lizards in Reidsville, GA. 

The U.S Geological survey team works to capture Tegu lizards in Reidsville, GA.

Tegu lizards have established themselves as invasive species in Florida, too. “There’s at least three populations in Florida… the north side of the Everglades…one inland in St. Pete from Tampa … and now one in the Panhandle,” Mcbrayer said.

Map shows areas in Florida that have been impacted by Tegu lizards. 

Map shows areas in Florida that have been impacted by Tegu lizards.

The population of lizards in the South could spread rapidly because, unlike most lizards, Tegus move around.

“These animals can walk several miles in a day. They could walk 10 or 12vmiles just in a day or two,” Mcbrayer said.

As the population of lizards continues to grow, Mcbrayer says the lizards will spread if they aren’t stopped.

“These animals can be trapped or hunted humanely in safely,” Mcbrayer said. “We encourage anyone to do that to remove these animals from the wild.”

Turtle volunteers gather derelict crab traps

Coastal Wildlife Club volunteer Gene McCoy loads a derelict crab trap into the truck of his car. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission authorized the CWC to remove abandoned crab traps from Manasota Key during the sea turtle nesting season.

ENGLEWOOD — The Coastal Wildlife Club will assist the state with gathering derelict crab traps.

The Florida Fish and Game Conservation Commission has authorized CWC turtle patrol volunteers to gather and remove crab traps that wash up onto Manasota Key during the sea turtle nesting season, which started May 1 and extends to Oct. 31.

“Traps and lines may obstruct the progress of nesting turtles and even entangle them,” the CWC stated in a press release Monday. Anyone who discovers a derelict trap on Manasota Key is asked to email the CWC at info@coastalwildlifeclub.org.

Since April 30, the CWC recovered and removed three blue crab traps and seven stone crab traps, two in the Sarasota County portion of Manasota Key and eight on the Charlotte side of the barrier island.

Details of the derelict crab trap programs and clean-ups can be found online at myfwc.com.

The FWC estimates 800,000 blue crab traps are permitted annually. The state estimates 30% to 50% of blue crab traps are lost to their owners.

The traps are valuable to the commercial crabbers.

“We don’t want to lose traps,” said Kelly Beall who with her husband, Jimmy, own and operate Peace River Seafood restaurant, seafood and fresh vegetable market on Duncan Road in Punta Gorda. Jimmy also is a commercial crabber with hundreds of traps set in Charlotte Harbor and the Peace River.

Often, Beall suggested, boaters will run over a commercial trap’s lines, separating the traps from their buoys.

A decade ago, Charlotte County Sea Grant agent Capt. Betty Staugler assisted the state in drafting its volunteer derelict trap clean-up procedures. Like Beall, Staugler suggested traps are valuable to commercial crabbers, especially since they use steel rebar to weigh their traps down.

Generally, Staugler said, commercial crabbers have a “good handle” of where their traps are located since they check them regularly, several times a week, whereas recreational crabbers may only check their traps once a week, twice a week or even longer.

The state has a rotating, two-year regional schedule for 10-day crab trap closures throughout the state. During that time, the FWC requires all commercial and recreational traps to be removed from the water. Abandoned and derelict traps are then pulled out.

“Traps may remain in the water during a closed season for many reasons,” the FWC states on its website. “They can move during storms, making them difficult to locate; they may be snagged by passing vessels and dragged to another area; or they may be illegally abandoned by their owners.”

But as much as wanting to clear abandoned and derelict traps from waterways, the FWC protects crabbers and their traps and their livelihoods.

Unauthorized tampering with crab traps, their lines and buoys, or trap contents can result in a third-degree felony charge, fines up to $5,000 and a permanent revocation of fishing licenses.

Coyote rescued from water at PortMiami euthanized

PORTMIAMI, Fla. (WSVN) – A coyote that was pulled from the water at PortMiami will be euthanized.

The situation began just before 7 a.m. Tuesday when Miami-Dade Fire Rescue crews responded to the south side of the port, located at 1015 North America Way, to find the animal stuck between a dock wall and a large buoy.

7SkyForce HD flew over the scene where several crew members could be seen trying to make space between the buoy and the wall so the coyote could be released.

Shortly after, the animal could be seen swimming in the water as crew members worked to lasso it and get it on board the fire boat.

“We had a call for a dog in the water off the Port of Miami. When we arrived to the scene, we found that we could see from the sea wall that there was a four-legged animal down in the water, and he was resting on some type of a ledge,” said Javier Perez with Miami-Dade Fire Rescue. “The minute we all came to the edge, we startled him, and he started making his way along the sea wall, and he decided to jump in the water and go for a swim.”

The coyote appeared exhausted after swimming for at least 30 minutes.

“I think he’s resting, and he knows we’re not here to hurt him,” said Perez. “We’re here to help him.”

The coyote was brought on board and appeared to be OK as it sat restrained next to a firefighter.

“We didn’t want him to get into any harm, and we didn’t want any of the boat traffic to cause any harm for him,” said Perez.

Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission officials first said the animal would be taken to the Wildlife Rescue of Dade County in Homestead, but later said it will be humanely euthanized instead.

“The reason I was given was that coyotes are considered to be nuisance animals,” said Lloyd Brown of Wildlife Rescue of Miami-Dade County. “In my opinion, the coyotes are native wildlife.”

The director said he spent the morning making room and preparing for the arrival of a new patient.

“We were ready to vaccinate it against parvo, distemper and rabies,” said Brown.

When asked what he would do with the coyote if he had the authority to decide, Brown said, “We’d have the coyote on this table right here taking care of him right now. We’re set up ready to take an animal in. We would have loved to have the opportunity to try and save this guy and put it back in the wild.”

The FWC released an official statement mentioning that the coyote had been euthanized but offered no explanation of why the decision was made. When contacted prior to the release of their statement, they said the determination to euthanize the coyote was a “high level decision.”

Abortion, bear hunting, nude beaches on Florida’s legislative plate

Abortion, nude beaches, and bears are on Florida’s legislative schedule. Oh my.
Monday, February 3rd 2020, 9:14 AM EST
Image

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) – So far, zero bills have been sent to Gov. Ron DeSantis from the Florida Legislature.

However, one of the first bills expected to hit DeSantis’ desk is a measure that would require girls under the age of 18 to get a parent’s permission before having an abortion.

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The bill expands on a law that requires parents of minors to be contacted if their daughters get an abortion, but parents don’t have a say in the decision.

Rep. David Smith (R) wants to increase the fine for illegally killing bears or for being in the possession of or selling a dead bear.

A bill trying to put more restrictions on tobacco products is gaining popularity. The measure would raise the age to buy tobacco products from 18 to 21, require anyone under 30 to be carded before they can buy tobacco, and would only allow cigarette vending machines in places that restrict access to anyone under 21-years-old.

Lastly, a bill that would make nude beaches legal is being considered by the Senate.

All contents © copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

Tears for the Magnificent and Shrinking Everglades, a ‘River of Grass’

Nina Burleigh
For years, whenever I found myself in Miami with an afternoon to spare, I sneaked off west to where a road abruptly separates the urban grid from the Everglades. Depending on time, I drove as deep into the saw grass void as I could, parked, got out and gazed up at tropical clouds racing unimpeded by tree or building.

a person in a boat on a body of water: Kayaking at sunset in the Florida Bay, the Everglades National Park. Florida Bay has not recovered from a great sea grass die-off in 2015.© Erik Freeland for The New York Times Kayaking at sunset in the Florida Bay, the Everglades National Park. Florida Bay has not recovered from a great sea grass die-off in 2015.Then, usually, I burst into tears.

Sky and grass. Nothing else. It’s a bit embarrassing to admit that anything in Florida — with its postcard palms plastered against postcard sunsets, its coconut tanning oil and Lily Pulitzer pinks and greens, its schmaltz and buffoonery and hanging chads and “Florida Man,” with his love of Styrofoam, weapons and monster trucks — affects me this way. But it does.

“There are no other Everglades in the world. They are, they have always been, one of the unique regions of the earth; remote, never wholly known,” Marjory Stoneman Douglas wrote in her 1947 book, “The Everglades: River of Grass.” “The spears prick upward, tender green, glass green, bright green, darker green, to spread the blossoms and the fine seeds like brown lace,” she wrote. “The grass stays. The fresh river flows.”

Where it’s not diverted or blocked by human engineering, the water still trickles south at the rate of a quarter mile a day, as it has for millenniums. But it is profoundly imperiled by pollution, human schemes to drain and control it, animal and plant invasives and sea level rise. As salt water breaches the limestone bedrock around the Florida peninsula and enters the aquifer, this natural freshwater wonder is threatened like never before.

I’ve traveled far but never found a place where the Garden of Eden and the Fall of Man are so palpable in one place. I am not alone. I know by the way eyes fill with tears when people get to talking about the glades. The Everglades were designated a national park in 1947, the same year that its most ardent fan, the environmentalist Douglas, published her book.

a flock of birds flying in the sky: In the imperiled Everglades, cormorants nest for the evening in Ten Thousand Islands, a maze of mangrove and shallow salt water off the coast of Everglades City.© Erik Freeland for The New York Times In the imperiled Everglades, cormorants nest for the evening in Ten Thousand Islands, a maze of mangrove and shallow salt water off the coast of Everglades City.By then, dredging and pumping and draining of the sloughs — the technical term for the shallow, slow-moving water under the grasses — and species decimation was well underway.

If doubt remains that Eden and the Fall coexist here, consider that the name of the author who extolled the wonders of this paradise is affixed to a school — the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland — forever associated with the 2018 school massacre that left 17 people dead.

In a series of trips to South Florida in the last year, I explored the interior of the River of Grass, the only subtropical wilderness in North America, plunging into microclimates and diminishing habitats, traversing slices of the Everglades National Park and its adjacent neighbor, Big Cypress National Preserve, by car, kayak, foot and even looking down from a small plane. Yet after almost two weeks I still barely scratched around the edges of more than a million acres of wetlands with nearly 300 species of fish and about 360 bird species and more than 700 kinds of plants.

an animal swimming in the water: An American alligator on the shore of the Turner River in Big Cypress National Preserve. Alligators were nearly hunted to extinction in the 1960s but surged back after restrictions.© Erik Freeland for The New York Times An American alligator on the shore of the Turner River in Big Cypress National Preserve. Alligators were nearly hunted to extinction in the 1960s but surged back after restrictions.Over the last year, with different family members as companions, I made several visits deeper into the Everglades than I’d ever been. We took kayaks and a skiff out into a maze of mangrove and shallow salt water called the Ten Thousand Islands, on Florida’s southwest edge. sometimes pulling ourselves through dense mangrove tunnels with our hands. These islands are historical hide-outs for pirates, hermits and criminals. Pot-smuggling on local boats was so common here through the 1980s that locals nicknamed the illicit cargo “square grouper.” Today, sport fishermen ply the waters for boasting rights to the Grand Slam — hooking one each of a redfish, snook, tarpon, trout and spotted sea trout in a single day.

Before dawn we drove in darkness to the bird-festooned Marsh Trail in the Ten Thousand Islands National Wildlife Refuge. Mysterious ploppings, splashings, groanings and crashings emanated from waters shrouded by the dense stands of palm and mangrove, and blue herons and great white egrets soared and settled again in the pink tinted vapor rising around us with the sun.

We hiked thigh-deep in cafe latte-colored water, slogging to explore the mysteries of the cypress domes. During the dry season, from December through April (when most tourists visit the glades because it is virtually bug-free), these stands of swamp cypress rise, leafless and bone white above the grass, visible for miles. They look to be on high ground but signal areas of deep water formed by dips in the limestone bedrock.

a close up of a reptile: An American Crocodile basks in the sun at Flamingo, the southernmost point in the Everglades National Park.© Erik Freeland for The New York Times An American Crocodile basks in the sun at Flamingo, the southernmost point in the Everglades National Park.Getting into and out of these domes can be a nerve-pricking enterprise, not for the faint of heart. Of course we saw alligators. Lots of them. From afar and in the water, these dinosaur relics resemble half-submerged junked tires. At night, only their eyes glitter in the beam of a flashlight.

We got up close to them as they dozed dry and oblivious in the sun, alongside roads or paths. Even a large mama-gator surrounded by about a dozen babies, sprawled lazily by the cycling path at the National Park’s Shark Valley, as groups of tourists five feet away recorded the family on their iPhones.

I am here to attest that it is possible for a non-Floridian to get acclimated to alligators. The man to see for that is the Everglades guide Garl Harrold. Garl — as he prefers to be known — grew up in Michigan, went south several decades ago, doffed his shoes, walked into the swamp, and never looked back — or put his shoes back on for work. He picks up clients barefoot — in a 12-person Ford van in the parking lot of a fruit stand outside Homestead city limits.

He has silly nicknames for the monsters he claims lurk near his walks. “Sneaky, she’s around here somewhere.” “I saw Croc-zilla out here last week.” He is encyclopedic on the flora, pointing out plants like the lemon bacopa that the Calusa and Tequesta tribes used as mosquito repellent, and the saltwort, a pale green crunchy plant great as a snack or in a salad.

a man sitting on a bench next to a tree: Kirby Storter Roadside Park in Big Cypress National Preserve.© Erik Freeland for The New York Times Kirby Storter Roadside Park in Big Cypress National Preserve.The cypress domes are worth the challenge. One, visible as a hump of trees from the main park road, is so cinematic on the inside that it is named “The Movie Dome.” It is a set-designer’s idea of a storybook tropical paradise: sunlight shafting in, white branches festooned with proliferations of flowering epiphytes or air flowers, including rare orchids like the ghost orchid, plumed birds beating their wings so close you can feel the air move, all of it mirrored and doubled in crystal water around our knees.

a group of pink flowers on a tree: Roseate Spoonbills in Big Cypress National Preserve.© Erik Freeland for The New York Times Roseate Spoonbills in Big Cypress National Preserve.The experience can be transformative. Martha Calloway of San Antonio was touring the Everglades for a day while her husband fished in Key Largo. She said the slog was the high point of the day. “The dome felt otherworldly, calm and peaceful. The bromeliads in the trees and the variety of plant life was fascinating. I also thought about the animal life that we weren’t going to see because of the invasive species problem, and that humans are the worst invasive species of all. We have got to be more careful with the earth.” Her cousin Carrie LoBasso agreed: “When I told all my friends I slogged through a swamp, traveled with a python, and went hunting for ‘alligator eyes’ in the dark night, most of them called me crazy. But, I told them — and I really mean it — that experience will really stick with me.”

a close up of a bird: An anhinga, a water bird, on the Anhinga Trail in the scenic Royal Palm area of the Everglades National Park.© Erik Freeland for The New York Times An anhinga, a water bird, on the Anhinga Trail in the scenic Royal Palm area of the Everglades National Park.Two centuries ago, the great naturalist and explorer Alexander von Humboldt was the first to comprehend the interconnectedness of nature, and how human activity affected it. Humboldt never visited the Everglades, but it is surely one of the best places on earth to observe nature’s complex harmony up close.

Every few feet of elevation produces a discrete ecosystem with its own animals and plants that are not only adapted to but maintain the systems as well. It is the only place where both alligators and crocodiles coexist. The highest elevations in the Everglades are called pine rockland, and they are considered endangered habitat. Dry and high, prime real estate for mammals — of course man claimed it first. Most of the old pine woods are paved over with towns and apartment complexes and strip malls whose names — Pine Crest, Pine Heights, Pines — refer to what was there.

a group of clouds in the sky over a green field: Distant rain over the saw grass in the Everglades National Park.© Erik Freeland for The New York Times Distant rain over the saw grass in the Everglades National Park.Slightly lower are the hardwood hammocks, just a few feet elevation above the river of grass but still in it. Hammocks are visible for miles on the flat grasses.

The mysterious cypress domes also tower above the grass, but they thrive just a few feet closer to sea level, or even in holes in the limestone below sea level. Viewed from above, they are teardrop shaped, narrow at the top and bulging at the bottom, marking the shape of the water flowing in and around the holes.

The Everglades formed 5,000 years ago. It once covered most of the peninsula of Florida, from Lake Okeechobee (the 10th largest fresh water lake in the United States) down to Florida Bay and the Gulf of Mexico. Since 1845, when Florida became a state, man has been refashioning the glades, chiefly, to dry, build on, farm and make money off the land, some of the most fertile in the world. Two big sugar companies now control 500,000 acres; today, more than eight million people also depend upon the glades for their drinking water.

For 175 years, the drive to control the flow of water was planned, plotted and executed with devastating results for the native inhabitants — flora, fauna and human. Dredging, levee building, pumping water in and out, more than 2,100 miles of canals, 2,000 miles of levees and hundreds of floodgates, pump stations and other water-control structures, usually initiated with a blind zeal for progress and indifference to — or ignorance about — the fact that engineers were playing a game of Jenga on an interconnected fragile system.

All of New Jersey could have fit into the pre-drainage Everglades. But the ecosystem today is half the size it was before development. It is overrun by invasive plants and animals. As of 2015, in the Everglades, 60 plants were listed as endangered.

The state of mourning began at least as far back as the 1920s, when the botanist John Kunkel Small recorded his observations during an expedition, listing the Latin names of hundreds of plants and recording everywhere signs of their degradation and demise, from the “approaching extermination of native coral life” — which has come to pass around the Keys — to the ground itself “being drained and burned until it is unproductive.”

His panic is palpable in the exclamation points and capital letters he deployed in his report on the Lake Okeechobee area. “Here we were again very forcibly impressed with the terrible destruction which is returning Florida to its primitive geological condition, namely a barren desert. DRAINAGE and FIRE! The two processes are tending to eliminate all the native life from the state. … Thus the magnificent monument that took ages to construct has been wrecked within the fraction of a generation!”

What’s gone is gone, and what’s still there is threatened by invasives like the cattails and the ornamental plant Brazilian pepper that leapt from people’s manicured gardens and into the Everglades. The pepper is so endemic that the park service is mulching it and sequestering it in small mountains visible from above as bright green squares throughout the backcountry. Nonnative bamboo now chokes waterways and birding marshes throughout the park.

Along with the plants, the Burmese python is an unwelcome invader, probably introduced into the habitat first by pet owners when they got too big to keep in the condos. The snakes grow to tremendous length and weights — 15-foot 90 pounders have been found. They wiped out 99 percent of the marsh rabbit and the raccoons, decimated the otters and are now setting their sights on the birds. Researchers chip male pythons and track them to the nests of huge mother snakes, removing hundreds of eggs. In just two days, we saw two giants caught by the roadside in the area, and heard tell of a third. The state sponsors annual python-killing competitions. (The winner of the 2020 “Python Bowl” gets a truck.)

There are success stories. Alligators were nearly hunted to extinction in the 1960s but surged back after restrictions. So have the birds. The Victorian taste for big hats with plumage led to near extinction of the Everglades’ snowy egrets and other wading birds, with more than five million birds killed annually by 1900. Anti-plumage campaigns at the turn of the 20th century stopped that.

All over the Everglades, efforts to save something rare are underway. Panthers are collared and tracked near Big Cypress Preserve, but 21 were hit by cars last year, out of an estimated statewide population of only 150.

Sections of Tamiami Trail — the main east-west road connecting Miami and Naples — are being turned into bridges to allow water to flow back into the sloughs to the south, bringing back native vegetation for the first time in a century. At least one river, the Kissimee, straightened by the Army Corps of Engineers to benefit the northern farms, has been returned to its natural bed.

In 2000, the state and federal government agreed to a $4 billion Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan. Twenty years on, a few of the major infrastructure projects have been built, but most are still on the drawing board, awaiting money. In a promising development, Congress just authorized $200 million to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for Everglades restoration.

The Everglades Foundation is among many area nonprofits studying the effects of human activity on the fresh water flow, and advocating efforts to restore the ecosystem.

“We know what the consequences of inaction are, because we’ve already experienced it: polluted waterways, toxic algae, sea grass die-off, continued habitat loss, and even threats to imperiled species,” said Stephen Davis, a foundation scientist. “We simply cannot afford to wait any longer. Without Everglades restoration, Florida’s tourism-based economy is at risk.”

Paddling in Florida Bay one night at twilight, Garl trailed his hand in the warm salty water and pulled up some gray muck, let it drip back into the murk. “When I first came down, this water was clear, and I used to dip my hand in here and pull up a handful of sand and sea grass and find dozens of baby clams and tiny living shells,” he said. “It’s all gone. We’re in a dead zone now.” As he spoke, a full moon rose behind us and roseate spoonbills sailed in V-formation across pink cumulus clouds fading into periwinkle to the west.

I, as usual, choked back a sob.

Florida Bay has not recovered from a great sea grass die-off in 2015 because of unusual salinity caused by the man-made diversion of fresh water away from the bay. All Florida shores have also been plagued by a series of deadly red tides caused by fertilizer and other pollutants. Worse, as sea levels rise around Florida, increased salinity on the edges of the Everglades is killing the saw grass, setting off a cycle of damage to the sediment, allowing even more salty water farther inland.

Knowing all that, I wasn’t so bothered by the legendary Everglades mosquitoes that came out with the spectacular sunset (“You can set your watch to that,” locals say). As they pricked away at exposed skin and whined in my ears, I took it as proof that, for now anyway, the threatened glades biome lives on.

______

Nina Burleigh is a journalist and the author, most recently, of “Golden Handcuffs: The Secret History of Trump’s Women,” due out in paperback later this year.

Hunter bitten by alligator identified

A hunter was bit on the leg Saturday by a gator.
A hunter was bit on the leg Saturday by a gator.

An alligator bit a hunter in the leg on Saturday morning in the DuPuis Management Area in western Martin County.

On Sunday, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission officials identified the injured man as James Boyce, 46, of Palm Beach Gardens.

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Christine Christofek Weiss, the spokeswoman for the Martin County Sheriff’s Office, told the South Florida Sun Sentinel that the call for help in the swampy area, about 11 miles north of Pahokee, came 11 a.m. and it was a “pretty substantial bite.”

She said the alligator might have been as big as 10 feet long, according to witnesses.

The Palm Beach Post reported the hunter was taken to St. Mary’s Medical Center in West Palm Beach after another man in a swamp buggy was able to pull the victim to safety and call for help on a cellphone. But it took authorities a while to find the men in the wilderness area, which stretches 21,875 acres — about 34 square miles — in northwestern Palm Beach and southwestern Martin counties.

A LifeStar helicopter then flew the victim to St. Mary’s, authorities said.

Florida authorities bust trafficking ring smuggling thousands of native turtles

By Alaa Elassar, CNN

Updated 4:30 PM ET, Sat October 19, 2019

Thousands of wild turtles were being captured and sold illegally in Florida.

(CNN)Two men have been charged for poaching thousands of Florida turtles and
selling them illegally, according to the
<https://myfwc.com/news/all-news/turtle-traffic/> Florida Fish and Wildlife
Conservation Commission.

The “charges represent the state’s largest seizure of turtles in recent
history,” the FWC said in a statement on Friday.

More than 4,000 turtles comprising a range of native species were illegally
captured and sold over six months, the commission said. The turtles were
worth $200,000 on the black market.

“The illegal trade of turtles is having a global impact on many turtle
species and our ecosystems,” said Eric Sutton, the FWC’s executive director.

Two suspects have been charged for smuggling thousands of turtles and
selling them illegally.

After receiving a tip in February 2018, the FWC launched an undercover
investigation where they discovered a ring of traffickers who were selling
wild turtles to reptile dealers and distributors.

The suspects had taken so many turtles from targeted habitats that
populations were depleted, the commission said.

“Wild turtle populations cannot sustain the level of harvest that took place
here,” said Brooke Talley, the FWC’s reptile and amphibian conservation
coordinator. “This will likely have consequences for the entire ecosystem
and is a detriment for our citizens and future generations.”

Investigators served a search warrant on August 12, during which they found
hundreds of turtles and the skull and shell of a Kemp’s Ridley sea turtle,
the <https://conserveturtles.org/information-sea-turtles-species-world/>
most endangered species of sea turtles.

The skull and shell of a Kemp’s Ridley sea turtle, the most endangered
species of sea turtles, was found in possession of the suspects.

The suspects sold the turtles for cash and marijuana products, the
commission said. Both suspects face a variety of poaching-related charges.

While the turtles were sold in Florida, they were sold to buyers who shipped
them overseas, specifically in Asia where they were bought as pets.
Depending upon the species, the commission said the poached turtles sold
wholesale for up to $300 each and retailed for as much as $10,000 each in
Asia.

“Over 600 turtles were returned to the wild, two dozen were quarantined and
released at a later date, and a handful were retained by a captive wildlife
licensee since they were not native to the area,” the commission said.

“We commend our law enforcement’s work to address the crisis of illegal
wildlife trafficking,” said Sutton.

CNN’s Melissa Alonso contributed to this report.

The shelter refused to euthanize her dog. What she did next was ‘despicable,’ cops say

 
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Duration 2:07
Florida woman caught on video putting dog in truck of car

A Florida woman was arrested after a passerby caught her on video putting her dog into the trunk of a car and driving away. The woman had attempted to get the dog euthanized at a local shelter but was turned away. 

Sarah Ann Perry no longer wanted to keep her dog. So on Wednesday, the Cocoa, Florida, woman brought him to her local shelter.

Things went downhill from there.

According to the Brevard County Sheriff’s Office, after the folks at the facility said they were full, she asked to have the mixed breed pet named Neptune, euthanized. The shelter told her they did not euthanize animals and turned her away.

“She became extremely angry,” said Brevard County Sheriff Wayne Ivey on the agency’s Facebook page.

Ivey then shows video, shot by a concerned citizen in the shelter’s parking lot, of what Perry did next: She jerks Neptune’s leash and shoves him into the trunk of her car.

Investigators soon tracked down Perry at her home, and took her into custody for the “despicable way she treated this poor helpless pet,” the sheriff said. The charge: animal cruelty, a felony.

As for Neptune, the dog was examined and found to be in very poor health and extremely malnourished.

According to a police report, his ribs, lumbar, vertebrae, pelvic bones and other bones were “visible from a distance.”

Neptune is being cared for at the Brevard County animal care center. Perry was released after posting $2,000 bond.

Florida panthers suffering from mysterious disorder affecting their ability to walk, officials say

An inexplicable crippling disorder appears to be affecting some Florida panthers, puzzling wildlife officials who are working to determine what is ailing the endangered animals.

The Florida Wildlife and Conservation Commission (FWC) this week announced some of the state’s big cats — namely kittens —  have “exhibited some degree of walking abnormally or difficulty coordinating their back legs.”

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So far, FWC officials said they have confirmed neurological damage in one panther and one bobcat, but noted at least eight other panthers and one adult bobcat are also “displaying varying degrees of this condition.”

Trail footage from three counties — Collier, Lee, and Sarasota — shows some cats exhibiting the disorder. In one clip, a kitten loses its balance; its hind legs seem to simply give out. It manages to get up, albeit slowly, before trotting off after its mother.

Officials said the disorder, as of now, seems to be limited to those counties.

While officials have ruled out a number of diseases and possible causes, an exact cause for the cats’ “abnormal gait” has not yet been discovered, Michelle Kerr, a spokeswoman for the state agency, told Fox News.

That said, there are suspicions, which include “a variety of toxins and infectious disease,” she said.

“One of these potential causes is bromethalin, a rat pesticide, commonly used in the United States to control rats,” Kerr added, noting the FWC “does not currently have information on any poisoning efforts.”

Florida panthers, the state’s official animal, are a subspecies of pumas, which once had the “largest range of any land mammal in the Americas,” the wildlife agency says. The Florida panther is the only puma subspecies that exists east of the Mississippi River.

There are just 120 to 230 adult Florida panthers — one of the two wild cats found, the other being the bobcat  — in the state, according to the FWC, which makes the condition currently affecting some of the cats more of a concern.

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Conservation efforts beginning in the 1970s and 1980s helped save the cats from extinction. At that time, there were an estimated 20 to 30 panthers in the state, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service says.

Today, Florida panthers are primarily threatened by habitat loss and cars and highways, among other challenges, according to officials.

After a human shooting, Florida tempers its advice on hunting invasive iguanas

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission (FWC) wishes to inform state residents that they can kill green iguanas, which are not a native species, but they can’t go around shooting the creatures willy-nilly.

In a statement on July 25, the organization clarified confusion about its earlier guidance on hunting the invasive species, stating, “Unfortunately, the message has been conveyed that we are asking the public to just go out there and shoot them up. This is not what we are about; this is not the ‘wild west.’”

In early July, media reports noted that the FWC had declared “open season” on green iguanas. Some people interpreted the guidance as clearance to kill the creatures by any means necessary, although the agency’s website specifically states that they must be hunted humanely and are, like all nonnative, invasive species, protected by state anti-cruelty laws.

Now that a human has been shot in one resident’s quest to get rid of iguanas, the FWC is being more explicit, however. “If you are not capable of safely removing iguanas from your property, please seek assistance from professionals who do this for a living,” said FWC commissioner Rodney Barreto in the most recent statement.

On July 5, an iguana hunter armed with a pellet gun accidentally shot a swimming pool maintenance worker in a residential neighborhood of Boca Raton. E-Lyn Bryan heard a shout and saw blood squirting from a wound sustained by her “pool guy.” She told NBC 6 in south Florida, “We have iguanas everywhere. If neighbors are gonna be like the Wild West and shoot at everything, someone’s gonna get killed.” Bryan said her neighbors were “horrified” by the incident, which drew police and paramedics. “You need to protect your children. The kids fish back here all the time,” she warned.

While the latest FWC statement doesn’t specifically refer to the Boca Raton shooting, it is notable that it used the same “wild west” formulation as Bryan employed with the local press. The accident may not be the only reason for the agency’s course correction, however.

In a blog post on July 10, the Humane Society of the United States accused the agency of failing to provide sufficient guidance on what precisely “humane killing” entails. It predicted that the state’s efforts to curb the invasive species’ population growth would lead to the deaths of native iguanas as well. “Last year we reported that the commission had hired contractors from the University of Florida to trap and kill iguanas either with bolt guns or by smashing their heads against hard objects. Conscripting Florida residents to kill the animals amplifies that archaic approach and reinforces a troubling message—that animals seen as ‘pests’ or as a nuisance should be summarily killed,” the humane society wrote.

Green iguana populations are problematic because they “can cause considerable damage to infrastructure, including seawalls and sidewalks,” according to the FWC. The agency is now urging local homeowners to contact professionals who specialize in getting rid of the creatures rather than acting independently.

The company Iguana Busters, for example, which offers commercial and residential services in South Florida and the Florida Keys, promises that it “incorporates safe and humane techniques while removing the iguanas.” But its website offers no details on these methods.