Celebrity Python Hunter, Scientist Headline ‘Ding’ Darling Day

Mike Kirkland, manager of the python elimination program

Everglades Burmese python hunter Dusty “Wildman” Crum has appeared in a number of television spots, including the Today Show in late 2017, Swamp Mysteries on the History Channel in June 2018, and most recently this year on the Discovery Channel’s “Guardians of the Glades” series.

Biologist Mike Kirkland manages the python elimination program for the South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD), which created it to help remedy the Burmese python epidemic in the Florida Everglades. He manages a team of about 25 hunters while keeping abreast of scientific programs that work in cooperation toward solving the problem.

Crum and Kirkland will co-present a free program at the J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge about their work to save Everglades wildlife from total devastation at the appetite of exotic Burmese pythons on “Ding” Darling Day, Sunday, Oct. 20, at 11 a.m. in the Visitor & Education Center Auditorium.

“We used to find birds, ducks, deer, rabbits, otters, raccoons,” said Crum, who hunts for snakes –typically in bare feet — in the eastern Everglades. “Where I’ve been hunting, there are none of these animals left.”

Researchers believe the pythons have decimated their food supply of prey in the eastern Everglades and Miami-Dade County, says Kirkland. In response, he has expanded SFWMD’s python elimination program, deploying python hunters into Collier County, to where the snakes are moving to find more prey.

Note: There will be no live pythons presented as part of this program.

During “Ding” Darling Day, the Refuge Nature Store will be selling an assortment of wallets, coin purses, and other handmade gifts produced by Crum and his partner from the skins of pythons captured in the Everglades.

Edison National Bank and Bank of the Islands sponsor the python presentation for “Ding” Darling Day.
The 31st annual eco-festival runs all day Oct. 20 with free activities that include free admission to Wildlife Drive and refuge tram tours, live wildlife presentations, animal yoga, nature sketching, origami, archery clinics, hot dogs, a touch tank and butterfly house, face-painting, and kids’ nature crafts. Federal Duck Stamp and Junior Duck Stamp winner presentations, plus conservation art activities will take place throughout the day. Refuge officials estimate the value of free activities that day at $75 for a family of four.

Recreation concession Tarpon Bay Explorers (www.tarponbayexplorers) offers free stand-up paddleboarding clinics in the morning and all-day discounts on kayak tours and boating excursions for “Ding” Day. Reservations for tours are recommended at 239-472-8900.

“Ding” Darling Day celebrates the birthday of the refuge’s namesake, father of the Federal Duck Stamp program and Pulitzer Prize-winning political cartoonist, Jay N. “Ding” Darling. It will be part of the pre-celebration for the refuge’s 75th anniversary in 2020.

The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, “Ding” Darling Wildlife Society-Friends of the Refuge (DDWS), and Tarpon Bay Explorers cosponsor “Ding” Darling Day with generous support from the local community and businesses.

Visit dingdarlingdays.com for a full schedule of the day’s events or call 239-472-1100 ext. 237 for more information.

Sponsors for the 2019 event include: ROSEATE SPOONBILL SPONSORS: Doc’s Ford Sanibel Rum Bar & Grille; GREAT EGRET SPONSORS: Mitchell’s Sand Castles; GREAT BLUE HERON SPONSORS: Bailey’s General Store, Mike & Terry Baldwin, Bank of the Islands, Casa Ybel Resort, The Cedar Chest Fine Jewelry, Island Sun/River Weekly, Just Water, Matzaluna The Italian Kitchen, Rotary Club of Sanibel-Captiva, Sanibel Captiva Community Bank, Sanibel-Captiva Kiwanis Club, Sanibel Moorings, Feather Jim & Patty Sprankle, Sunny Day Guide; REDDISH EGRET SPONSORS: Sarah Ashton – Realtor, RE/MAX of the Islands, The Gresham Family, Island Inn, Jensen’s on the Gulf and Marina & Cottages, Tiffani Kaliko and John Silvia, Dick & Emily Muench, Palm Printing, Stewart & Sons Insurance; SNOWY EGRET SPONSORS: Ambu Yoga, Big Red Q Quickprint, John Brennan, Coastal & Heartland National Estuary Partnership, Colony Inn, Kevin & Diane Husk, Island Therapy Center, Panther Printing, Santiva Chronicle, George & Wendy Schnapp, Winston & Gretchen Spurgeon, Nancy Tome, WTLQ, 97.7 Latino and Maxima 97.3 & 95.7..

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