Monthly Archives: October 2012

Pets gone wild in Florida, where reptiles relocate

chameleon from Oman

A veiled chameleon from Oman, now breeding in Florida.

A surfer-looking dude who wrassles gators for a living (and on TV) gave an awesome show-n-tell tonight in my FIU graduate seminar on current environmental topics, complete with two chameleons he had caught this week. Christopher Gillette caught these Old World, non-native reptiles  near Everglades National Park, where they are clearly breeding, so you can bypass the pet store and catch one yourself (if you can ever find these masters of camouflage). Actually, if you find such an exotic creature, dial 888-IVE-GOT1.

While visually appealing, these critters do not belong here, and they hunt the native birds, lizards, and other fauna who deserve a fair chance to survive. Such exotic pets all too frequently invade into Florida’s moderate climate and put other species on the path to extinction. Invasive species are considered the second major threat to land-based extinction, after deforestation. 

Of the 138 established exotic reptiles and amphibians in South Florida documented by Gillette and a team of researchers, 123 trace directly to the pet trade. About one-third are lizards, like the Cuban brown anole that is out-competing the native green anole. In addition to lazy pet owners who willfully dump their overgrown or unwanted pets, mass importers of reptiles often dump unwanted specimens, and Gillette has documented this process at Broward’s Strictly Reptiles. Gillette says he has been threatened and even shot at during his excursions to collect specimens and evidence of wrong-doing. For the full, sordid story, check out the book The Lizard King (yeah, there’s a drug connection).

“These people don’t like what we’re doing,” he says about the pet trade. When referring to the bullet holes in his car, he notes that “biology is fun.”

The two main problems with these often beautiful and fascinating creatures is that they spread diseases and they can be poisonous. The well-established cane toads of Florida have killed many a curious dog.

With the pet trade as the clear culprit of most infestations, solutions must target them and their customers. Some cities offer “amnesty days” to owners who no longer want their exotic pets. Pet stores should do the same and teach customers how to prevent escapes.

Some pet suppliers are known to release breeding populations into the wild, so that they can later collect the young and sell them, thereby avoiding the cost of importation. Once they are caught, they should never be allowed to import anything again. These are crimes against nature.

Making politicians confront reality, climate change

The good news about bad news is that people are standing up and calling our leaders into account. Locally I saw this happening twice in one day: at a rally about climate change, and at a town hall meeting to combat corruption in my hometown’s city hall.

John Van Leer,

John Van Leer, standing in a salt water puddle in South Beach, calls for political action to halt the effects of climate change.

Activists stood in a salt water puddle on a sunny day in South Beach and demanded that the candidates address climate change in the final presidential debate on Tuesday, being held in Boca Raton. The salt water comes at high tides and floods busy Alton Road, especially next to the Whole Foods market, which has gleaming solar panels on its roof. Check out the video from the Miami Herald, Call for Action on Sea Level Rise, to hear the activists in their own words.

Fast forward to later that evening, when Scott Gavin stood among a crowd at Alaska Coffee of more than 50 residents of the City of North Miami, where Galvin is a long-time councilman and a “pesky” voice against a list of corruption that is expanding like rabbits. (For example, his video this month about a shady sidewalk cleaning deal helped to shut it down. For now.). The good news, he said, is that the city is among the most solvent in Florida due to an infusion of $17.5 million in cash due to the Biscayne Landing development, and on Tuesday night the City Council will be voting on how to spend (or preferably save, according to Galvin and the majority of town hall meeting attendees) that money.

All of this political action has me wondering: is there an election going on? Oh yes, there is, and here in Miami we have the longest ballot EVER (let me guesstimate the 10 pages at about 13,000 words). No wonder people are taking to the streets: the official means of voicing concerns (voting) is too confusing and too slow; meanwhile, the fastest means of disseminating information widely (local mass media) is crumbling due to the Internet/market pressures, and the national news has become a joke (spawning The Daily Show, etc.).

The good news is that you can do something about your frustration. You can step outside of your comfort zone, join together with other disgruntled people, and let the world have it.

Fishing Pole Dancing: When Things Simply Don’t Mix

This is why the Internet was invented, Mr. Gore. Because I have read a lot of press releases in my day, but I have never read one with this collection of words:

“A woman who was removed by helicopter after falling on her chin while pole dancing.”

This comes direct from your National Park Service. Wait a minute. Did you just read what I read? How often do you see, in the same sentence, “removed by helicopter” and “pole dancing?”

Of course, this is Florida, and more specifically Miami-Dade County, so it makes complete sense.

This sentence was good, but it got even better on Biscayne National Park’s Facebook page, where they really put a “Face” on it:

“One woman was evacuated by helicopter with a broken chin after face-planting on a boat deck while pole dancing.”

I wish I could make this up. Did the Facebook video actually show it? I didn’t dare to look. It’s probably out there somewhere on YouTube.

I can’t take it anymore. I’m just going to continue reading the press release until the end, where it says: “Did You Know? Manatees are aquatic relatives of elephants. They have thick gray skin, coarse hairs, big toenails on their flippers, and lips that can rip and tear plants.”

And they never, never mix business with pole dancing.