Lions and Tigers and … Hutia?

I’ve been alluding to the various sorts of interesting critters one encounters in the Bahamas, without actually devoting an entire blog post to them.  And that really isn’t fair to them, is it?  Because there are many of them that are unique to these islands, either by species or behavior.

There are, of course, the aquatic creatures.  The reefs in the Bahamas, especially those in Exuma Park, are rich with sea life and corals.  The ones that attract the most attention, if for no reason other than their ill-deserved reputation for ferocity, are the sharks and stingrays.  The ones in Exuma Park behave fairly “normally” – they don’t “flock,” they don’t hang out together.

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An encounter with a shark in the Sea Aquarium snorkel spot in Exuma Park.  These guys are harmless.

But in spots where there is human contact, especially feeding, they become conditioned to being fed by people and respond to certain stimuli.  The rays and sharks at Manjack Cay in the Abacos respond to the sound of an outboard engine – that’s their dinner gong.

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When Lincoln Jones’ boat arrives, the rays know they’re going to get fed.

At Compass Cay and Staniel Cay in the Exumas, it’s usually a few sharp raps on a fish cleaning table.  There the sharks and some rays veritably crowd together, looking for food in the form of fish or conch scraps or even leftovers.

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The sharks at Compass Cay (left) are enough of an attraction that the marina charges a docking fee.  At Staniel Cay, the sharks are bigger and more numerous, but you don’t get as close to them.

At Big Major’s Spot on the Exumas, it’s the swimming pigs that come trotting down the beach and swimming out to the boats at the sound of an outboard approaching the beach.  There are many them, in a range of sizes, but it always seems that we attract the 300 pound porkers looking for brunch.  I can’t help but laugh at their swimming and snorting as they approach us.  Boaters are cautioned to stay in water so deep that the pigs can’t touch the bottom; otherwise, they are known to push off the sand and vault themselves into a dinghy.  A few popped inflatables sit on the beach as testament to anxious hooves looking for food.

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You couldn’t make these piggies up!

Reptiles are also part of the crowd looking for a handout.  At Bitter Guana Cay and South Gaulin Cay in the Exumas (among others), there are colonies of the endangered Exuma iguana.  When we approach the beaches in our dinghy, these guys – some of whom are up to 3 feet long – swagger out of the brush.  Although visitors aren’t supposed to feed them, they clearly to, because the iguanas are clearly looking for handouts.  (We’ve chatted with cruisers who reported that the excursion boats come bearing crowds of tourists with snacks for the iguanas.)   When shelling, a tossed shell will get an iguana’s attention, then a baleful glare when it discovers it’s not edible.

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More than a dozen iguanas will come out to greet you on the beach.

Then there is the creepy little hutia, which I’ve mentioned before.  It’s the only mammal native to the Bahamas, and had just about gone extinct when the Bahamian government decided to reintroduce it to Warderick Wells Cay and protect it.  It’s an ugly little thing: part cat, part rat, part possum.  It looks like it got evolution lessons from the strange creatures of Australia.  The nocturnal beasties came out of the woodwork (or what little of it they hadn’t already decimated) when we had a happy hour on the beach.  Now, without predators, hutia are breeding amok, and inexorably consuming most of the greenery on the island.

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This stuffed hutia is an exhibit at Exuma Park headquarters.  This is about as much of them as I like to see.

Finally, there is a human sort of creature which I’ll call the Honey Badger (or HB) – from the famous YouTube videos and the tagline “Honey Badger don’t care; Honey Badger don’t give a sh!t.”  Sadly, this creature is endemic to the Exumas; it is recognizable not so much by appearance as by behavior.  They have a certain insouciance; an utter disregard for any rule, custom or person other than him or herself.  Their habitat is sometimes (though not always) a charter boat.

We’ve had many a run-in with Honey Badgers.  They’ve climbed over us at a dinghy dock in a rush to get to theirs first; they’ve strewn their gear all over marinas, forcing hapless others to climb over it; they’ve played their music so loud everyone else in an anchorage can hear it.  They leave mooring fields without paying their fees.  They refuse to tie their boats to moorings in the prescribed manner, regardless of the risk to the mooring or to other vessels.  They Skype when the shared internet pipeline provider says not to.  You’ll know them when you see them act.

Most recently, we had made a reservation at the Emerald Rock mooring field at Exuma Park, and been assigned ball E22.  Upon arrival, we drove up and down the mooring field, looking for our ball.  Not seeing it, we temporarily tied up to ball E7, while Rick launched the dink and went looking for ours.  Wouldn’t you know it, a charter catamaran occupied by HBs was on it.  When Rick asked them whether they’d been assigned the ball, they acted ignorant; Rick explained that one had to call Exuma Park headquarters on the radio to get an assignment.  Of course, HB had not done so, but agreed to call right then and there.  When Cherie at the Park told him that E22 was assigned to Calypso, HB demanded to know what was available for him (I heard the conversation; even though Rick was out in the field with HB, I was on the boat listening on VHF 09).  When HB was told to move to E26, HB said, “OK, I tell Calypso to take 26.”  As Rick scoped out E26, another boat came to claim it, as it had been assigned to them.  Then, Cherie told us to keep E7, then, but as she did so, Slice of Life arrived to claim it.  Luckily, Slice of Life were as accommodating as we were, and landed on E11.  A complicated game of Musical Moorings, precipitated by a wilfully clueless HB….

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Look around you in a mooring field.  You may have Honey Badgers as your neighbors.

3 thoughts on “Lions and Tigers and … Hutia?

  1. Julie

    OMG, Honey Badgers! That’s a riot! BTW we did a dive with some sharks and rays yesterday where they were thrown a cylinder of chum – the rays were literally trying to eat the cylinder like it was crack. Apparently the plethora of dive/snorkel boats spoil these creatures. Is this how Honey Badgers are created?

    Reply
  2. Becky

    maybe you should have packed some Honey Badger spray when you left MD. We could mail you some if you would like. This was funny!

    Reply

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