Subscribe to our free daily newsletters
. Earth Science News .

Subscribe to our free daily newsletters

Florida Indian tribe's last alligator wrestler bows out
Miami (AFP) Jan 6, 2016

Australian giant monitor lizards trained to avoid eating toxic toads
Sydney (AFP) Jan 6, 2016 - Australian scientists Wednesday said they had devised an "innovative method of conservation" through feeding giant monitor lizards small cane toads so they won't be killed by larger-sized amphibians.

Cane toads, an invasive species from Central and South America that were introduced to Australia in 1935, are so toxic they can kill predators that try to eat them and are continuing to spread across northern Australia at an estimated 40-60 kilometres (25-37 miles) a year.

Scientists have said the spread of the cane toads -- which an Australian university study found numbered about 200 million on the island continent -- was causing catastrophic population declines in predators.

But researchers from the University of Sydney said they were able to teach free-ranging goannas in the Kimberley wilderness in northwestern Australia to avoid eating the toxic toads about to invade the remote floodplain.

The scientists offered small, non-lethal cane toads to the wild yellow-spotted monitors -- which have experienced a 90 percent plunge in population following toad invasions -- with further trials confirming "just one or two toad meals were enough to convince a goanna not to eat another toad".

The goannas quickly learnt to avoid the adult cane toads in the wild after being exposed to the younger, smaller toads.

"After training, giant monitor lizards, known as goannas, survived when the toads arrived, whereas untrained lizards were immediately killed," lead researcher Georgia Ward-Fear said of the study, which was published Wednesday in the Biology Letters journal.

"Our study provides the proof of principle required to set the framework for an innovative method of conservation," the researchers added in their paper.

"Releasing small toads, then, can offer a simple landscape-scale method to conserve wildlife populations, by giving native predators an opportunity to learn rather than die.

"Our study provides the first real evidence that this strategy is realistic."

On billboards across the Florida Everglades, a burly Native American man pries open an alligator's mouth, pressing his face dangerously close to the reptile's 80 glinting teeth. "Adventures Await," the ads promise, as motorists whiz by.

The man's name is Rocky Jim, Jr., a 44-year-old Miccosukee Indian who has been wrestling alligators for 31 years, entertaining countless tourists from a sand pit and pond beneath a chickee hut along the Tamiami Trail, a two-lane road linking Miami to the port city of Tampa.

But on the final Sunday of 2015, the last remaining Miccosukee Indian in the century-old tradition of wrestling alligators decided it was time to step down, leaving no successors in sight among the tribe of around 600 people.

The end came just minutes into the 1 o'clock show, when Jim coaxed the alligator's mouth open by gently tapping its snout, then placed his hand inside.

The move is perilous only if something touches the alligator's palate -- a drop of sweat, a grain of sand -- causing the jaw to reflexively snap shut.

While pulling out his hand, he rotated it slightly and accidentally grazed a tooth.

The feeling was like "a door slamming on your hand. With sharp teeth," Jim said in an interview later.

But in the moment, as he looked down at his palm and forearm encased in the alligator's jaw, he had only one thought: "Don't shake."

"If it shakes, my hand is going to go with it," he told AFP, describing the thrashing motion alligators use to slice up fresh meat, much the same way as sharks.

"Its natural instinct is to do that," said Jim, who had been bitten several times before.

- Native tradition -

Alligator wrestling is considered a Native American tradition, first popularized in the early 1900s by a white man, Henry Coppinger, Jr, the US-born son of Irish immigrants, according to historian Patsy West.

Coppinger himself wrestled alligators, and recruited natives -- who lived alongside the reptiles and hunted them -- to perform, too.

Paying crowds flocked to see men climb on alligators' backs, open their jaws and flip them over -- with the effect of making them go limp for a few minutes.

But today, the tradition is waning.

Animal rights group have criticized the shows, casino revenue rather than alligator tourism often provides cash flow for native tribes, and Indian youths are increasingly turning to careers in modern society.

"The skills are not as common as they once were," said author and anthropologist Brent Weisman.

Some native alligator wrestlers still remain among the larger Seminole tribe of some 2,000 people, which shares a historical connection to the Miccosukees.

Those that remain "have decided to do it very deliberately, not for a tourist attraction as it once was, but as a way of keeping traditional Seminole culture alive," Weisman said.

- 'Read their body language' -

Jim was 13 when he learned to handle alligators from his father, Rocky Jim, Sr. They would go out in the canals of the Everglades in search of turtles, and the elder would demonstrate how to move the creatures away without hurting them, or getting hurt.

"Just see how they are moving and how they are going to react," Jim recalled his father saying. "Just read their body language."

Jim was in his 30s when the tribe asked him to perform at the Indian Village, a tourist stop that sells crafts, offers airboat rides and hearty foods like pumpkin fry bread and catfish. He agreed.

Far from a punch-out, smack-down event as the name "alligator wrestling" might imply, Jim became famous for pulling wild, hissing alligators heavier than his own 278-pound (125-kilogram) frame out of the water by their tails, then tip-toeing around them, stroking them, tapping them, even getting close enough to touch his nose to the snouts of the most aggressive among them.

His secret?

"We just respect them," he said.

When he first saw Jim perform, Pharaoh Gayles, a 25-year-old wrestler of Puerto Rican, African-American and Seminole descent, "thought he was a little bit crazy."

But he watched, and learned.

"He just really knows what he is doing and he has an understanding of the animal."

- An owl and a shadow -

Recently, arthritis in his knee began to slow Jim down, and he cut back to part time.

But this winter, an annual festival beckoned. He performed five shows on the first day, as Gayles knelt in the pit with him and narrated for the audiences.

Driving home that evening to his home in a Miami suburb, Jim saw a shadow of a man by the side of the road. A couple of yards later, an owl flew in front of him.

"For us, an owl means somebody will pass, and a shadow is the same thing, so when they are together it is a bad thing," Jim said.

The next day, the alligator bit him.

Fortunately, the animal did not thrash. Gayles helped open its jaws, which left Jim with seven puncture wounds, and his mind made up to retire.

"I was just really waiting for the right time. I guess this was the right time," he said.

For Gus Batista, who wrestles alligators on a Seminole reservation, Jim "has been a big partaker in this beautiful art" and "has earned the right to bow out honorably."

And while Jim's absence leaves a void, he has already begun teaching his 13-year-old son to catch baby alligators -- not necessarily to make it his trade, but to keep a tribal tradition alive.

Thanks for being here;
We need your help. The SpaceDaily news network continues to grow but revenues have never been harder to maintain.

With the rise of Ad Blockers, and Facebook - our traditional revenue sources via quality network advertising continues to decline. And unlike so many other news sites, we don't have a paywall - with those annoying usernames and passwords.

Our news coverage takes time and effort to publish 365 days a year.

If you find our news sites informative and useful then please consider becoming a regular supporter or for now make a one off contribution.

SpaceDaily Contributor
$5 Billed Once

credit card or paypal
SpaceDaily Monthly Supporter
$5 Billed Monthly

paypal only


Related Links
Darwin Today At

Comment on this article via your Facebook, Yahoo, AOL, Hotmail login.

Share this article via these popular social media networks DiggDigg RedditReddit GoogleGoogle

Previous Report
The origins of abiotic species
Groningen, Netherlands (SPX) Jan 06, 2016
How can life originate from a lifeless chemical soup? This question has puzzled scientists since Darwin's 'Origin of species'. University of Groningen chemistry professor Sijbren Otto studies 'chemical evolution' to see if self-organization and autocatalysis will provide the answer. His research group previously developed self-replicating molecules - molecules that can make copies of themselves ... read more

Natural catastrophe losses total $90 bn in 2015: Munich Re

Obama set to hold town hall meeting on gun control

Bus passengers airlifted as Scotland bears floods brunt

Britain's floods: causes, costs and consequences

Chameleons deliver powerful tongue-lashing

Transition metal catalyst prompts 'conjunctive' cross-coupling reaction

Coulomb blockade in organic conductors found, a world first

Adjustable adhesion power

Lake Erie Asian carp could hurt walleye; boost smallmouth bass

Japan sushi boss pays $117,000 for threatened tuna

Reducing CO2 footprint of desal crucial to achieving water sustainability

Heatwaves, drought may curb global power output: study

Antarctic sea ice melt released carbon from oceans as ice age ended

Antarctic clouds studied again after 50-year break

First ever digital geologic map of Alaska published

Climate change altering Greenland ice sheet and accelerating sea level rise

Restoring natural habitats across farms will boost CO2 sinks

Oregon standoff reflects decades-long fight on land rights

What a 'CERN' for agricultural science could look like

Irradiation preserves blueberry, grape quality

Guatemala warily monitors erupting volcano

Nine dead as strong quake hits northeast India

US towns at risk as levees fail amid rare winter floods

Traces of Icelandic volcanoes in a northeastern German lake

Mali extends state of emergency until March 31

Mali pro-govt armed group accuses France of killing 4 fighters

Malawi suspends 63 civil servants over stolen US funds

Expanded use of yuan to help revive Zimbabwe's economy: Mugabe

Mental synthesis experiment could teach us more about our imagination

Why the real King Kong became extinct

Carnegie Mellon develops new method for analyzing synaptic density

Genomes of early Irish settlers sequenced

Memory Foam Mattress Review
Newsletters :: SpaceDaily :: SpaceWar :: TerraDaily :: Energy Daily
XML Feeds :: Space News :: Earth News :: War News :: Solar Energy News

The content herein, unless otherwise known to be public domain, are Copyright 1995-2017 - Space Media Network. All websites are published in Australia and are solely subject to Australian law and governed by Fair Use principals for news reporting and research purposes. AFP, UPI and IANS news wire stories are copyright Agence France-Presse, United Press International and Indo-Asia News Service. ESA news reports are copyright European Space Agency. All NASA sourced material is public domain. Additional copyrights may apply in whole or part to other bona fide parties. All articles labeled "by Staff Writers" include reports supplied to Space Media Network by industry news wires, PR agencies, corporate press officers and the like. Such articles are individually curated and edited by Space Media Network staff on the basis of the report's information value to our industry and professional readership. Advertising does not imply endorsement, agreement or approval of any opinions, statements or information provided by Space Media Network on any Web page published or hosted by Space Media Network. Privacy Statement