Tiger cub, Florida panthers displayed in Sarasota

MELISSA FOLLOWELL
Herald Staff Writer
Posted on Sun., Aug. 20, 2006

SARASOTA, FLORIDA – Snakes slithered, butterflies fluttered as spiders sneaked up on their prey and mosquitoes attempted to escape.

The Critters and Creepy Crawlies day at the Florida Learning Center attracted both children and adults on Saturday.

For some, like 14-year-old Larissa Lewis, it was an opportunity to learn about Florida.

“I like seeing the animals like this; you can’t see them in Colorado,” Larissa said.

She came to Florida to visit her grandparents and was one of many people mesmerized by the Florida panthers and the two-week-old tiger on display.

Ray and Bennie Komarek smiled as they heard children talk excitedly about what they’d learned or watched their eyes light up when they saw a new critter.

“That enthusiasm is half of the reason to come here and see all this,” Bennie Komarek said.

In addition to lectures and question-and-answer times, the children could work on a series of art projects with pipe cleaners, glitter and the like to build their own creepy crawlies.

Bill Samuels of the Florida Panther Project, alongside Vernon Yates of Wildlife Rescue and Rehabilitation, answered questions about the pair of Florida panthers on display.

Because of education and endangered species laws, the number of Florida panthers living in the wild has increased in the past 10 years, Samuels said. Once down to between 50 to 75, there are now 100 or more living in Florida.

The audience yelled questions at the pair and when asked several times how many permits it takes to have such a dangerous creature, Yates chuckled.

“A wall full of them,” he answered.

The crowd favorite, however, was a two-week-old Siberian tiger.

All day, children and adults alike asked for a chance to hold the tiger and were disappointed but understood why they couldn’t. Most were satisfied with the educational posters that taught them all about different kinds of large cats.

Entomologist Fred Santana brought a display of insects that drew as many oohs and ahhs as they did cringes. For those who needed help identifying insects, Santana offered to do so if they were in an appropriate container.

Mark Shelby of Bella Terra gave a speech on snakes and when to stay away.

“Young boys are the No. 1 victims of snake bites,” Shelby said.

He said curiosity and lack of common sense often are a bad combination.

Many Floridians panic at the site of even a garden snake, so Shelby explained which snakes should be left alone at all costs and how to safely extract non-poisonous snakes, like the run-of-the-mill black garden snake, from a home or other area where they are not welcome.

In a state like Florida, where many people are from other parts of the country, all the exhibitors agreed it is important for people to be familiar with the dangers and know which critters have simply gotten a bad name.

“Some snakes are good. They eat rats. We don’t want to be overrun by rats, do we?” Shelby asked.

Melissa Followell, Herald reporter, can be reached at 708-7920 or mfollowell@HeraldToday.com.

http://www.bradenton.com/mld/bradenton/news/local/15315960.htm

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