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Celebrity python hunter, scientist headline on ‘Ding’ Darling Day

By Staff | Aug 14, 2019

JOEY WAVES Dusty “Wildlman” Crum in the field with a capture.

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

Biologist Mike Kirkland manages the python elimination program for the South Florida Water Management District, which created it to try to 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 about their work to save Everglades’ wildlife from total devastation at the appetite of exotic Burmese pythons at the J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge on “Ding” Darling Day, Oct. 20, at 11 a.m. in the Visitor & Education Center Auditorium.

There will be no live pythons presented as part of the program

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

PHOTO PROVIDED Dusty Crum and Mike Kirkland presented at the 2019 “Ding” Darling lecture series to full houses.

Researchers believe the pythons have decimated their food supply of prey in the eastern Everglades and Miami-Dade County, Kirkland said. 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.

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

The 31st annual eco-festival runs all day on Oct. 20 with free activities to 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. Officials estimate the value of free activities at $75 for a family of four.

Recreation concession Tarpon Bay Explorers will offer free stand-up paddleboarding clinics in the morning and all-day discounts on kayak tours and boating excursions. Reservations for tours are recommended. For more information, visit www.tarponbayexplorers.

“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 and Wildlife Service, “Ding” Darling Wildlife Society-Friends of the Refuge and TBE cosponsor “Ding” Darling Day with generous support from the local community and businesses.

For more information or the schedule, call 239-472-1100 or visit www.dingdarlingdays.com.