Wild Things Gone Wild

Click the image to go to the article, which examines what happens when exotic animals are bought as pets, then released into ecosystems where they have no predators or other population-regulating mechanisms. Yikes:

…As Magill was driving to the Miami Metrozoo, where he is the communications director, he passed a troop of rhesus macaques scampering up the road, as if on the plains of Kashmir. Later, the monkeys were spotted wandering through nearby farm fields, gorging themselves on tomatoes. Elsewhere, a small antelope was found wandering the halls of an administration building, a group of juvenile baboons broke into the weight room of a private home, and a python was found dead on the beach in Miami, with two full-grown raccoons in its belly. It was as if all Florida had turned, for a moment, into Disney’s Animal Kingdom.

When Magill arrived at the zoo, it was in ruins. The monorail had been wrenched from its steel stanchions, its tracks twisted like a coat hanger. A six-horse trailer had been tossed over a ten-foot fence and into the rhino enclosure, and a new five-million-dollar aviary had blown away. “It was like God had come through with a twenty-five-mile-wide weed whacker and just levelled the place,” he says. Miraculously, though, almost all the animals had survived: the zookeepers had herded them into a few bunkerlike buildings. The escapees that Magill had seen were mostly from private collections.

Florida is an “Ellis Island for exotic animals,” Magill says. Some twelve thousand shipments of wildlife enter the country at the Port of Miami every year, second in number only to Los Angeles, and the state is home to thousands of pet stores, breeders, and animal-research facilities. “We’re a biological cesspool of introduced life,” another biologist told me. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission estimates that between three and four thousand primates escaped during the hurricane, together with as many as fifteen thousand other animals, including parrots, gazelles, wallabies, six mountain lions, and an Asian pheasant caught loping down the Florida Turnpike. The majority were rounded up or exterminated. (A rumor soon spread that the roving macaques, which were from a primate-research center, had been infected with AIDS. “It wasn’t true,” Magill says. “But pretty soon people were in the streets shooting them with shotguns. It was completely surreal.”) What happened to the rest isn’t clear.

Only a few months earlier, for instance, a new warehouse for exotic reptiles had opened in Homestead. The owners couldn’t afford to build a stormproof facility, so they’d rented an old greenhouse instead. “It was really makeshift,” Patrick Reynolds, a lieutenant with Florida Fish and Wildlife, told me. “Everything was in Dixie cups and plastic dishes—stacks and stacks of them. The little ones were for frogs and scorpions and tarantulas. The larger ones were for snakes.” Reynolds remembers seeing hundreds of Burmese pythons among the stock. They were just babies then, a few inches long, but would grow into some of the world’s largest and deadliest reptiles. “And, well, Hurricane Andrew came through and the wind just took them, and—whoooooo!—off they went. There wasn’t one stick of that greenhouse left.”

Curled up in their flat plastic containers, those animals could have flown for miles—Frisbees, flung by the storm. Or so Reynolds and other wildlife managers speculate. Most of the animals would have died in flight, victims of what Reynolds calls “the blender effect.” But a few may have survived long enough for a landing, in some saw-grass marsh or a cypress slough, and slithered off in search of food or a mate. The wind was blowing west that day, straight for the Everglades…

Read the whole article here.

Or, take a short cut with the abstract and a couple of additional resources that the magazine provides free of charge.

For example go to this blog post for a link to other articles connected to the same topic.  Best short cut is probably this 10 minute podcast.

9 thoughts on “Wild Things Gone Wild

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