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Date of Issue: November 02, 2006

Sandscript

Weird animal tales coming in left and right these days

Between skunk ape sightings, stingray attacks and drowned swamps, it's apparent that Mother Nature is in a frisky mood of late. Here are some of the tales.

 

Skunk ape in Naples?

Florida's own version of Bigfoot, or the Tibetan Yeti, have again surfaced, this time from the Big Cypress National Preserve.

A Massachusetts woman said she saw the big ape-like creature five years ago and snapped a blurry picture of it. (Ever noticed that all the pictures ever taken of the critters are blurry?) She held off promoting it until now, she said, because she "didn't want people to think I was crazy," she told the Naples Daily News. The picture is part of a set of shots she's got for sale now, though, at a museum in Everglades City.

Swamp apes have been reported in Florida for about 60 years. There were a flurry of sightings in the mid-1970s of what was described as a 7-foot-tall ape-like creature, covered in light brown hair. It moved upright like a human and had a really, really bad smell, hence the name.

In the late 1990s, the stinky creature was spotted again near Ochopee. This time, the tiny city's fire chief got a pretty good picture of the beast before it scuttled back into the brush.

As they say, believe it or don't.

 

Stingrays attack - again

OK, so it wasn't really an attack, but a Lighthouse Point man was stung in the heart by a 3-foot-long stingray last week.

The big ray apparently jumped from the water - as they're known to do - but flew into the boat and stung the 81-year-old. Friends kept him from pulling the barb out, probably saving his life, and rushed him to the hospital, where surgeons operated and removed the barb as if it were a fish hook - they poked it through his heart, then stitched up the holes.

"Crocodile Hunter" Steve Irvin was struck in the chest last month and died from his wound. Doctors believe he exacerbated the "sting" by pulling the barb from his chest.

Stingrays have a barb at the base of their tales. When they're stepped on by bathers, or otherwise molested, they can whip the barb into their attacker. The barb has a nasty toxin that can cause excruciating pain. Best treatment is very, very hot water, which tends to break the toxin down.

Of course, it's hard to soak your chest in very, very hot water, but it does work for a sting on your foot.

Stingrays are about the most benign creatures in the sea and in no way are they aggressive. They do jump out of the water, though, and apparently the Lighthouse Point guy just happened to get his boat in the way of the ray's flight path.

There was a time when I was out in my boat with friends years ago and had a ray smack me in the chest while we were skimming at some speed over the seagrass beds near Key Royale. I thought is was somebody's hat for a second, until I realized I was pretty wet and saw the little ray flapping around the deck of the boat.

Upon closer look, we found that somebody had apparently caught the ray and cut off its barb - bad for the ray, but good news for me.

 

How long does it take to do the right thing?

After years of research and debate, a Sarasota nature preserve has finally said "Enough!" and filed suit against the water management district for drowning trees near the Myakka River.

According to my buddy Bob Ardren, writing in the Pelican Press newspaper, the Crowley Museum & Nature Center has sued the Southwest Florida Water Management District for pouring millions of gallons of water into the river for upstream irrigation of tomato fields.

Swiftmud became aware of the damage to downstream forests about 10 years ago. Trees killed were tupelo, oak, popash and red maple, all trees that like to live in swamps and don't mind having their roots wet.

However, with upwards of 12 million gallons of water a day flowing through their swamps, the trees didn't get a chance to dry out during the usually less-wet winter months. They basically drowned. By the acre.

Swiftmud officials promised to slow the flow and alter the water patterns in 2001. Nothing happened, prompting the lawsuit by the nature center.

"They promised change and instead, things have gotten worse," attorney Monica Reimer of the non-profit law firm Earthjustice said last week.

"We're just trying to get Swiftmud to do its job," Crowley Executive Director Bill Cowdright said."We're trying to get them to change their water practices from flood-type to drip-type systems. We were so hopeful that the water management district was going to stop our trees from being killed. But it is getting worse and we have huge oak trees lying dead on the ground."

Swiftmud spokesman Michael Molligan defended his agency, saying"We're aware of the flood issues and have been working several years to correct them."

But too little, too late, it would appear, at least on the surface of the lawsuit.

 

Run over a manatee? No problem!

In a somewhat unusual approach to wildlife management, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service are offering a "bye" to boaters who strike manatees as long as they are complying with manatee speed-zone rules.

No citation. No problem.

"Officials said cooler weather will cause manatees to begin their annual migration from open water to warm-water springs and power plant discharges, leaving the slow-moving sea cows vulnerable to speeding and even slow-moving vessels," according to the FWC.

"Law-abiding boaters who strike a manatee or observe a manatee hit by another vessel can call the FWC's Wildlife Alert Hotline at 1-888-404-3922 without fear of a citation. Boaters should be prepared to provide the incident location, weather conditions, boat specifications and other relevant information."

FWC officials will attempt to recover and rehabilitate the manatee.

"We want to assure boaters who operate vessels lawfully and responsibly they should not feel reluctant to report accidental collisions with manatees," FWC executive director Ken Haddad said."The information we gather from reported accidents can help guide manatee conservation efforts in the future."

Then there's this:

"People who disregard the law must be held accountable, but we understand that people operating their boats responsibly and legally may accidentally hit manatees," FWS regional director Sam Hamilton said. "We will treat accidents as what they are - accidents. We hope boaters will report them to us so we have a chance to rescue the animal and a chance to learn more about how to protect the species."

I believe I will withhold comment on any of the above and let you draw your own conclusions.

 

Sandscript factoid

Coyote populations are flourishing in Florida and, although we haven't had any reports on Anna Maria Island of the critters - yet - it's not out of the realm of possibility in the future.

The relatively small dog-like critters are thick in the Panhandle and are moving through Pinellas and Pasco counties. Wildlife experts say there are no reports of attacks on humans, and that large dogs are 20 times more likely to harm house pets than coyotes, who are generally shy, retiring creatures.

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