Now that the winter season is drawing to a close, the time is approaching for all of us who are seasonal staff to be traveling on. For that reason our lead ranger had a gathering of all of us at her home in Miami. All of the staff were there except for two local volunteers who come in one day each month.
As you can see, one of the notable things about working here is that I am the resident male! Actually, one of the two missing local volunteers is also male, but most days I was the only one for interpretation staff. All of our Law Enforcment rangers here are also male so most days there were two of us around. Shown in the picture from left to right, Wendy Coulter- book store, Emma Johnson- seasonal ranger, Maria Thompson- lead ranger, Chris Leefer- seasonal ranger, Claudia Castilo- ranger, Kirk&Pam- volunteer rangers, Laurie Humphrey- ranger, and Connie Moore- local volunteer. Taking the picture was Dann Moore, duty husband to keep me company in the room full of ladies!
There is a question that often comes up about what happens to pets, that people release into the wild. Here in south Florida there is a major problem that has been created by this kind of irresponsible action. While snakes are not the only pets that cause such a problem, it is the biggest one here in the Everglades. What typically happens is that some foolish citizen buys this cute, 18" long Burmese Python in the local pet store, thinking it will be lots of fun. But a python, like any other pet, grows and if kept healthy it grows very quickly. The catch comes when the snake becomes so long that it requires more space than you have and it eats right through your budget! So what to do? I know! Why not let it go free out in the Everglades?
Everglades National Park now has a reproducing population of Burmese Pythons in the park which is a major problem. These snakes can grow to exceed 20 feet in length and to weigh more than 300 pounds. They are dangerous and they have nearly made some mamals, such as the marsh rabbit extinct. This particular one was removed from the area where we work, back in December. It was just over 10 feet long and weighed nearly 200 pounds. The location was about 100 yards from the visitor center and next to the nature trail that is used daily.
No pet should ever be released into the wild, or dumpped in the country either.
I have hesitated to post anything about this for some time because I was not quite sure just how to deal with it, but I think that the time has come. At least we seem to finally have received some good news.
Back in January, Pam was leaving the visitor center and rushed to prevent some visitors approaching an alligator too closely and in doing so she twisted her ankle and fell. A few days later, when it was not getting better she visited a doctor, using "Workman's Comp" since it was an on the job injury. The doctor at the emergency center (actually a PA) put her on crutches for a time, then after two follow-up visits she was released for limited walking on it. But after only a few days the ankle became worse so it was back to the doctor. His response was to say that she must see a specialist and to do that with government paying for it, she had to get a particular form for them. She was referred to an orthopedic surgeon, but the time passed and we had to delay that visit, because the NPS did not have the proper paper work done to get her in. This continued for a total of four weeks, with the person who had to do the work to get it, Veronica Mullins, never taking our calls, never returning calls and generally avoiding us. After threatening to leave at the end of the week, our supervising ranger finally went around this human roadblock and got some help at the regional office. Of course it then took several weeks to get an appointment to see the doctor she was referred to! So at long last, on March 23, Pam actually got to see the doctor that she had been referred to, back on Jan. 28! Your government employees may actually do some work, eventually, or some of them do.
The good new is that Pam's injury is a reinjury of a very old break that was never treated and that she probably will not need surgery and that the doctor she saw is very cooperative and should she need further care after two weeks has passed, he will transfer her care to a doctor in Texas! We were scheduled to leave this week, but will delay for the two weeks to follow-up with this doctor. And the boot? Pam is now off of crutches but in an immobilization boot that does allow her to do limited walking, and it does not hurt like it had with the previous brace, even when she was on crutches.
So you see, there are times that getting "the boot" is a good thing!
On Monday we visited a new (to us) state park here in Florida. We traveled to Key Largo and spent the day at John Pennekamp State Park. The land portion of this park is fairly small, but there is a very large area of water and coral reef that are a part of it, and the edge of it joins with Biscayne National Park. The main feature of this park is diving or snorkling in the clear waters, or taking a glass bottom boat or a scuba tour of the reef. We chose to take the glass bottom boat tour. It was a 2 1/2 hour trip and although the water was a bit rough, it was still a very enjoyable day. One thing that we did learn was that this is one of the things which are best in the summer months and we snowbirds get a good show, but not the very best as is the case with most wildlife here.
The boat was about 40 feet in lenght, a pontoon design with two viewing bays, set between the center and edge pontoons. The colors were not as bright as we expected, but it was fun and very interesting . The cost was $24 each and we thought it well worth the cost and the time.
This has been a wonderful year for the birds of the Everglades. There seem to be new babies everywhere, especially the birds!
Aren't new babies facinating? And they grow up so quickly, especially when they happen to be birds....
This is one of those things which are not easily reported, but which probably should be since it does indicate the kind of thing which a volunteer sometimes must deal with. On Sunday, March 15, Pam & I took the park van and traveled out on to the tour road about four miles from the visitor center in order to set up a spotting scope for visitors to observe a new nest of baby great blue herons and for us to each do on site interpretation for the bicycling and hiking visitors to Shark Valley. The nest is a special site found by one of the other rangers because these are not birds that are often seen with chicks. The area is also particularly good for interpretation because it has a large pool with several alligators with families and as such it also attracts a wide range of birds.
We had been on site for just over an hour when a bicyclist arrived out of breath to, report a serious accident just to our north. Pam stayed where she was to keep the program operating while I first radioed in a report requesting medical assistance, then took the van to the scene. It was the worst accident that I have ever had to deal with, including many years of volunteer work in different capacities. The woman had crashed, wearing no helmet and had a major head injury with sever bleeding and semi consciousness. Fortunately for me, there had been a doctor riding with his family near enough to have seen the accident and to have been first to the woman's aid, as this was far beyond my capabilities. I did take action to get additional assistance in addition to the park personnel and then dealt with the crowd control and communication for the arriving ranger. The first park paramedic was on site in about 10 minutes and the rescue squad only minutes behind. Within no more than 20 minutes from my arrival there was also air-rescue on the ground, thanks to a visitor having called 911 by cell phone before I got to the scene. Things went as smoothly as possible, considering the situation. After the victim was air lifted it fell to me to transport the husband and their bikes back to his auto for him to go to the hospital where the lady was taken.
Sadly, in late afternoon we were informed by the Miami-Dade rescue crew that the victim died at the hospital. Not all duties are happy ones. I did learn one thing from this. The victim was not wearing a helmet and would have probably only suffered scrapes and bruses had she been wearing one. In the future I will wear my bike helmet, even though I really do not like them much.
Today we were given a tour into the back country of the park by one of the law enforcement rangers, by air-boat. They regularly patrol some parts of the park by air boat as there are areas that still allow some traffic by the public. There is a very large area that was added to the park in the early 90's by then president Bush, which was being used by private tours and a club and they are, with restrictions, still allowed to do so. At this time there is consideration being given to opening some sections to use by visitors via an air-boat as well. In addition, with the park being more than 1.5 million acres, there has to be some use of these boats to prevent improper use or incursion. We were given a chance to see that part of the park, with a ranger as guide.
It was really a great experience and we saw some really interesting back country. You really need to get out into the back country to fully understand the meaning of Everglades (river of grass). We spent several hours out exploring the area and while we had previously seen most of the wildlife that is out there, it is somehow more special to watch the animals when far from any contact with humans. I don't know quite how to express the feeling, but it is amazing!
Nothing like a morning stroll to get your day started right!
From time to time, even an alligator desides that it might be a good time to take a little walk. Most of the time they just use the culvert pipes that pass under the walkway when they wish to move from one side of the road to the other. But there are days when walking is preferred. I suppose that everyone has those times when it just seems to be better to walk! It does seem to get people's attention though.