Famed Miccosukee alligator wrestler retires after 30+ years

rockyjim

Two Sundays ago Rocky Jim Jr., a Miccosukee Indian who lives in South Florida, quit a job he’d been doing for more than 30 years.

His decision was prompted by the fact that his hand was firmly encased in the mouth of a large alligator.

Jim had been wrestling gators since he was 13 years old, but having been bitten several times previously and understanding that if the large reptile now clamped onto his hand began to thrash, as is natural, he would lose his appendage, he decided it was time to step down.

Jim was the last of his 600-member tribe still wrestling alligators at the Miccosukee Indian Village near Miami.

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

“Coppinger himself wrestled alligators, and recruited natives – who lived alongside the reptiles and hunted them – to perform, too,” according to the wire service. “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.”

While the term “alligator wrestling” might imply an aggressive man-versus-beast matchup, it’s actually more a ritualistic dance, one based on respect.

Jim, 44, was known for pulling wild, hissing alligators from the water by their tails, then tip-toeing around them, stroking them, tapping them, and getting close enough to go nose-to-nose with them, literally.

For almost a century, alligator wrestling was a fixture at Florida’s roadside parks, river docks and Native American villages.

In their heyday, alligator wrestlers could earn $1,000 a week in tips, according to 2012 South Florida Sun-Sentinel story.

Today, however, the practice is on the decline. Theme parks such as Disney World have diverted tourists’ attention. It is criticized by animal rights groups. There are more lucrative ways for tribes to generate revenue, including gaming and hotels. And the idea of going mano en garra with a 10-foot reptile isn’t appealing to younger tribe members, who are increasingly interested in modern society.

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Antiquated sign reflection of state of rural South

Bank of Ridge Spring 009 a

It’s difficult to tell not only the last time the Ridge Café’s sign was operational, but when the restaurant itself, located in Ridge Spring, SC, was even open for business.

Nevertheless, the sign is a classic:

“Breakfast/Lunch/Dinner”

“Steaks”

“Restaurant”

“Air Conditioned”

“Main St.”

“Open”

That’s a whole lot to pack in, as it appears every thing except perhaps “Steaks” once could be lit up with neon. There are even arrows along the front edge of the sign that would have pointed prospective diners to the entrance.

An indication of how old the sign itself is can be seen in the words “air conditioned.” Today, we take for granted the existence of air conditioning in any dining establishment in this neck of the woods. There was a time, however, when being able to boast of such an amenity was no small deal, especially on a scorching summer afternoon in the Deep South.

The opportunity to gather and discuss cotton prices, the weather or what the yahoos running the state in Columbia were up to would have been especially welcome in a nice air-conditioned café before taking to the fields or after a day spent working under the sweltering sun.

Sadly, the town has seen better days, much like the café.

At one time Ridge Spring had its own bank – the People’s Bank of Ridge Spring – where farmers could deposit earnings from cotton sales and borrow money for seed for the coming season. Now it’s just one of hundreds of branches of a North Carolina-based financial institution.

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What not to step on while ambling around Africa

Puff-Adder

How’s this for lethality? An African snake noted for its potent venom, aggressive behavior and ability to ambush its prey, also has the benefit of being able to camouflage its scent.

The puff adder, found from the Arabian Peninsula all the way across the continent to Gambia and Senegal, and down to the Cape of Good Hope, is capable of masking it sent from would-be predators, according to a new study in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B.

“One of the reasons the snake so effective is that the animal has no observable scent, a team of researchers from the University of the Witwatersrand in South Africa have discovered,” according to the website Red Orbit. “The study team said the snake uses a type of olfactory camouflage referred to as ‘chemical crypsis.’”

Scientists in the study trained both dogs and meerkats to identify the scent of various snakes. Both animals could differentiate between cloths that smelled like snakes and those that didn’t. The meerkats had been only exposed to brown snakes and puff adders – since those two snakes are the only ones that live in their habitat in the wild.

The two animals were actually equally incapable of selecting the scent of the puff adder.

The puff adder is a fairly thick snake that sits still and watches for prey, which includes mammals, birds, amphibians and lizards that happen by. But the adder’s scentless nature might not just serve its hunting game.

“While it’s extremely poisonous, it’s not very quick. The scientists noted that in previous reports that followed puff adders, the more mobile the snake was, the greater chance it would be caught by predators,” according to Red Orbit. “Scentlessness could be for the snake’s protection, the researchers said.”

Puff adders, normally about 3 to 4 feet in length, are a delightful species of snake; they have been known to bite humans multiple times in an attack, and half of serious untreated bites result in death.

Victims can experience pain, bleeding, renal failure and “compartment syndrome” – a condition where organs swell up to the point they restrict their own blood flow.

The snake is responsible for the most snakebite deaths in Africa due to a combination of factors, including wide distribution, common occurrence, large size, potent venom that is produced in large amounts, long fangs, their habit of basking by footpaths and sitting quietly when approached.

In addition, the relative lack of antivenin in rural Africa plays a role in the snake’s lethality.

While less than 5 percent of total puff adder bites result in death, that figure is higher than the overall death rate in Africa from snake bits, which is well below 2 percent. However, amputations and other surgeries are common in response to the bite of the snake, however.

(Top: Puff adder in action.)