Marlin Perkins never prepared me for this.
Aging boomers like myself remember watching the old Mutual of Omaha’s “Wild Kingdom” TV show back in the 1960s and 1970s. This show, along with “The Undersea World of Jacques Cousteau,” was the direct ancestor of the entire Animal Planet/Discovery/Science channel family. For those who don’t remember, Perkins (the elderly zoologist) would always have to capture and tag some ferocious wild beast. No fool that Mr. Perkins – he would always leave that task to his capable, younger assistant, Jim. (Jim remained uninsured by Mutual of Omaha for the duration of the series.) Anyway, Jim would always manage to shoot the beast with a tranquilizer dart, and there would be scenes of incredibly brave Jim wrestling with the not-so-tranquilized beast. After the tranquilizer kicked in, we’d see a few shots of Marlin Perkins wrestling the more sedate beast.
I never understood just why they had to tranquilize and wrestle so many wild beasts; I always assumed that it was done in the name of science. Because of my television familiarity with exotic locales (and because I spent a good many of my formative years in subtropical Florida), I knew what I was getting into when I moved to the Keys some 26 years ago. I knew we had poisonous snakes: both the diminutive yet beautiful coral snake, and the it-can-grow-over-seven-feet-long eastern diamondback rattlesnake. I was aware of the large brown/black scorpions that liked to hide under whatever I was moving outside. I knew of the myriad species of roaches and “palmetto bugs” that loved both the indoors and outdoors. And mosquitoes? No-see-ums? Annoying reminders of the downside of the tropical life.
The late 20th and early 21st Centuries have brought new communities of invasive exotic species to South Florida and the Keys. Everyone loves those cute fun-loving iguanas, especially hibiscus growers on Key Colony Beach. So as not to feel left out, Grassy Key got its own invasive pest, the Gambian pouch rat. They make great handbags. (That was a joke.) And if your average size roaches and “palmetto bugs” weren’t bad enough, we have a population of the giant tropical Cuban Death’s Head cockroach. They grow up to 2-1/2” long, are yellowish-brown, have a black head-like shape on their upper backs, and people who are into such things actually keep them as pets. I am not making this up. There are several websites on the Internet (as if you’d look for them somewhere else) where an interested individual can actually purchase exotic tropical roaches to be used as pets (or food for even more exotic pets).
Nothing, however, prepared even the most prepared among us for the invasion of the over-20-foot serpents! It seems that all those people who used to keep those cute cuddly little Burmese pythons and anacondas for pets let them go in the Everglades. It was all fun and games until the snakes, absent any natural predators, kept eating and growing up to their genetically approved 20-foot-plus lengths and started consuming alligators and deer and small imported cars. And then, they started having wild swampy snake sex and now there are new generations of predator-free serpents in the Everglades, all eating their way to 20-foot Nirvana. Nary a month goes by without the reporting of another 20-foot legless beast. And now, southwestern Florida is girding its collective loins to battle the new invasive extra-large tegu lizard, another exotic reptile that can exceed four feet in length! Leapin’ Lizards! Snakes Alive!
If only Wild Kingdom were still on the air, and Marlin Perkins were still alive, he’d know what to do. He would just send Jim out into the Everglades to tranquilize and wrestle some of these 20-foot serpent beasts, and all would be right once again in the natural world. And on the new cooking segment of the new Wild Kingdom show, Perkins would share his tasty python and tegu recipes! Reptilicious!