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Often times it is hard to discern fact from fiction. This is especially difficult when it comes to environmental issues. Geoff Trager, a local marine biologist was an invited speaker at the March Capri Community general meeting to shed some light on the topic of poaching in Southwest Florida.

Trager introduced his first book in his “Poachers in Paradise” series, “Killers in the Swamp.”

“All my life’s work has been as a scientist and marine biologist,” said Trager in his opening remarks to the Isles of Capri residents who were present. “What I have learned over the years though, is that no matter how many scientific papers on environmental subjects I write, very few are interested in reading them because of their formal titles.”

Trager decided that he would have to take a different approach to getting critical scientific information out to the public. He came up with the idea of writing scientific fiction.

“I found I could embed good scientific information in an entertaining way by hiding it within the stories based on real lives here in the Everglades,” said Trager.

Trager explained that he became motivated to use authentic material that he could fictionalize into the stories he tells as a result of a reptile survey he was doing in the bush five years ago. A dirty grey pickup truck pulled out in front of him on a dirt track where he was working and blocked the road.  A man got out of the truck holding up a gun. “Hey, I got to tell you something,” the man said as he approached Trager. Thinking that Trager was a poacher, like himself, he proceeded to tell Trager all about the crimes he had committed. “He went on and on, and my wife, who was with me, was giving me looks like she was thinking, Honey, I don’t want to get shot today,” said Trager. The fact that this poacher would spill the beans on himself, led Trager to think that this might just be the way to find out the details of how, when and who was poaching so that something might be done to help stop it.

Without a doubt, Trager’s theory began to work. There was no question that by the way he dressed, he truly fit into the scenery and poachers were more than willing to share their stories with him. Trager is also a kayak guide and does work with Rookery Bay in helping to educate people about the environment in which they live or visit.

“I want to get me a kayak to smuggle me a deer carcass across the ranger station,” one poacher told Trager when he was out in his kayak one day doing research. This particular poacher (whom Trager renamed as Hanson) was a guy that the rangers had been trying to get for 20 years.

“Hanson grew up eating manatee, deer, and anything in the wild – living off the land, so it was no changing him now,” said Trager. Hanson is the main bad guy in Trager’s second book coming out in the not too distant future. True stories reveal techniques officers use to catch poachers.

Several of the other fascinating stories Trager shared with the audience had to do with one poacher who was feeding alligators chocolate chip cookies to catch them.  Another was observed poaching Palmetto berries, with are illegal to take.  The berries are used to make a drug to treat prostate problems. Finally, in his book there is a professor, helping the wildlife officers, who is always doing things to save the day.  Some of the things he comes up with are surreal such as making electricity when a cell phone dies by using beer cans and potatoes. Trager demonstrated this and left the audience in awe.

Trager encourages residents to help.  He offers this advice: “Never approach a poacher and tell them they are doing something wrong as all poachers are armed. Take a picture or video with your cell phone if you can do it discretely when you see someone taking illegal fish or feeding alligators. Feeding wildlife is illegal, and it causes alligators to become dangerous as they will approach humans thinking that they are a food source.”

You can call in a tip and send photos to FWC Tip Line. If you suspect a fish, wildlife, boating, or environmental law violation, report it to the FWC's Wildlife Alert Reward Program: 888-404-FWCC (3922). Cell phone users can call *FWC or #FWC, depending on their service provider. If information results in an arrest, the caller may be eligible for a reward of up to $1,000.

Trager will avail himself to meet with book clubs, civic groups and other groups to share his book and knowledge of how to enjoy and protect our fragile environment. His humorous stories of his romp in the swamp and dialogue with lawless “rednecks” running from the warden seem to capture the attention of the audience at the onset.   His first book is dedicated to wildlife and wilderness around the world.  Those attending the Capri Community general meeting gave him a standing ovation. Many bought copies of his book, and begged him to hurry along and finish writing his second book in the series so they can see if Hanson finally gets caught.

Contact Ann Hall at ahall7911@coconuttele.net.

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