The Attack of the Killer Rhododendrons (40 page)

BOOK: The Attack of the Killer Rhododendrons

Jac must have forgotten about the chain of command. “I need everyone but Serge and Simon to sit in the front of the boat,” she announced. Jim put her in her place by explaining, gently, that it was his boat and that he gave the orders. “Can I get everyone in the front of the boat?” Jac tried a little more modestly. Simon captured footage of Serge jumping off the boat, as though trying to catch a turtle. Simon then got into another boat to film Serge jumping from a slightly different angle. This was followed by several jumps by Serge while Simon bobbed around in the sea filming him. Television is as authentic as a Sasquatch.

On the ride back to the boat ramp, Jim told me about his first
experiences catching turtles many years earlier. He explained that, when a community celebration was coming up, “Uncle” would tell him, “Go out and catch a turtle.”

Jim’s reply would be “But we don’t have a permit.”

“Go out and catch a turtle.”

Jim told me that in his culture you don’t say no to an elder, and so he would head out to catch a turtle. Today, he catches them for studies of their natural history. Occasionally, for a big occasion, he catches a turtle for consumption but finds that he must leave the killing to someone else.

While writing up my notes that evening, my shoulders reminded me that I had climbed back into the boat too many times and had carried too many turtles across the wet sands of Mount Gordon Bay. The aching in my shoulders would disappear in a day, but my memories of catching turtles would persist.

I could hear my wetsuit slapping wildly against the cabin, where it hung to dry. It seemed unlikely that we would be heading out to catch turtles in a strong wind. When folks showed up for breakfast, they were wearing heavy jackets to protect them against a cool wind. “I know that I wouldn’t be out fishing in this,” said one of the helpers.

But the order of the day was to wait for Jim. He was in charge of operations on the water, and he would decide on the suitability of the sea. Assuming that we would be driving back to Townsville without getting back on the water, the crew from the university had scarfed down mounds of bacon, eggs, baked beans, and coffee. When the word came through that we would be heading out despite the weather, a few faces turned to the sea and seemed to regret their choice of breakfast foods.

Jim’s reconnoitring had shown that Queens Bay was less choppy than other spots in the region and held some promise for the capture of turtles. When we arrived at the put-in point, Ellen asked if I wanted to go jumping again. I told her that I would be very pleased
to give someone else the opportunity. After a rethink, I realized that this was the wrong response.

“Do you need me to jump?”

“Well, it looks like we are short one jumper.”

I gathered up my gear, squeezed into my wetsuit in record time, and ran to Jim’s boat. As we sailed away, Jim explained that he had never failed to catch at least one turtle. His perfect record was on the line. Our efforts weren’t helped by the breeze that generated ripples, making it difficult to resolve detail below the water surface. We and the others sailed slow loops across the bay, concentrating on shallow spots with seagrass that turtles might feed on.

The bay might have contained one hundred turtles or none at all. The latter seemed more likely, until one animal made the mistake of sticking his head up for a breath not too far away from our boat. We raced over and soon landed it. Only two turtles were caught that day, but we were two subjects closer to a more thorough understanding of the lives of green sea turtles and the impact of the FPTHV virus. Measurements were made, blood taken, skin swabbed, weights recorded, and photographs snapped. Just after I helped to release the last individual back to the ocean, someone asked, “Did you remember to take its hood off?”

I got a turtle. Imagine my disappointment in receiving, not a faithful and playful childhood companion, but an introduced pest. In some ways, that red-eared slider, roughly the size and shape of a deflated, green toy balloon, was the start of my introduced-species adventures. Those adventures had come to an end with me leaping onto an endangered sea turtle off the east coast of Australia.

Whether a 25-cent pet turtle or a million-dollar racehorse, many responsibilities come with ownership of an animal. One of those responsibilities is a willingness to say that enough is enough. I suppose that some people might argue that Roxy should never have been taken into captivity, no matter how sick she was. I am
not one of those people. Like Ellen, I believe that it is necessary to balance the possibility of Roxy making a recovery sufficient to release her back into the wild against the quality of her current life. As much as anyone can judge these things, she seems comfortable in her pool. Surely there is also merit in keeping Roxy alive in terms of what we can learn about FPTHV and its impact on sea turtles in the wild.

Given sufficient time, it is probable that green sea turtles will evolve a degree of resistance to FPTHV. That assumes that green turtles will survive that long. Many, many people are working to ensure that survival. If Roxy makes a sufficient recovery, it is my sincere hope that one day, twenty years from now, she will be munching away on seagrass as some guy jumps from a boat and lands on her back. And I hope that guy is me.


of my previous book,
The Curse of the Labrador Duck,
I posted a $10,000 reward. I offered to hand over that sum to the first person who could produce a legitimate stuffed specimen of the extinct Labrador Duck that I had not described in the book. As soon as the title hit bookstore shelves, I began receiving messages from individuals claiming my reward. A number of people explained that they had spotted a Labrador Duck in this or that museum, but the curators of each of those institutions verified that they had no such creature in their collection. Others sent messages about stuffed Labrador Ducks in their possession, without any supporting evidence. When I asked for a photograph, the correspondents went silent. I received photos of stuffed ducks in attics and on sideboards, but each of these turned out to be either an eider or a Long-tailed Duck. Two expectant individuals told me that they had Labrador Duck eggs, in the hope that they might get some portion of the $10,000. In both cases, the eggs had been laid fifty years after the species had fallen to extinction, and so there seemed little need for follow-up. One wag sent me a photograph of a Labrador retriever wearing a rubber duck bill. Worthy of a chuckle, but not worth any money. After a year, my offer expired, and I wiped that amount off my mortgage.

I had fun with the Labrador Duck offer and so would like to make another one. I was completely serious in soliciting poems about lupines in Iceland. In an attempt to get you to put pen to
paper, I promise to put the best poem in pride of place on my website:

And what about Roxy? As I write this, she is still swimming lazy laps of her indoor swimming pool. It is my sincere hope that, as you read this, she will be swimming much larger laps of the Pacific Ocean, or laying eggs on a beach 1,000 kilometres away. Feel free to write to me at [email protected] for an update on Roxy’s condition.

It must be just about time for me to go on another quest.


I offer endless thanks to all of my travelling companions for providing me with their unique perspectives on the world. Goodness knows why they put up with me. I would have no story to tell without the generous aid of many experts in the field, including Ellen Ariel, Chris Barron, Legese Begashaw, Ken Brown, John Cortez, Norbert Dankers, Clint and Irene Davy, Lincoln De Silva, José Luis Echevarrias, José Antonio Torres Esquivias, Ed Freytag, Andy Green, Hector Garrido Guil, Carlos Gutierrez, Michelle Hookano, Gabriel Laufer, Jan Light, Mariano Paracuelos, Charlie Perez, Perry Ponseti, Brian Self, Iain Sheves, Andrew Tyler, Raphael Vega, and Carmen Yuste. My colleagues at St. Mary’s University College and James Cook University provided tremendous moral support throughout my adventures. I am truly grateful for the guidance and patience of my friends at HarperCollins Canada, particularly Jim Gifford and Noelle Zitzer, and for the enthusiastic support of my agent, Rick Broadhead. My loving family, the Chiltons and the Volks, have never once asked if I was on the right track. Loving thanks for the understanding.

About the Author

, Professor Emeritus at St. Mary’s University College, Calgary, and Adjunct Professor at James Cook University, Townsville, Australia, is an internationally recognized ornithologist and behavioural ecologist and the acclaimed author of The Curse of the Labrador Duck. Glen Chilton now resides in Australia.

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Cover design by Lisa Bettencourt


The Attack of the Killer Rhododendrons
Copyright © 2012 by Glen Chilton.

All rights reserved under International and Pan-American Copyright Conventions. By payment of the required fees, you have been granted the nonexclusive, nontransferable right to access and read the text of this e-book on-screen. No part of this text may be reproduced, transmitted, downloaded, decompiled, reverse-engineered, or stored in or introduced into any information storage and retrieval system, in any form or by any means, whether electronic or mechanical, now known or hereinafter invented, without the express written permission of HarperCollins e-books.

EPub Edition APRIL 2014 ISBN 9781443411479

Published by Harper Perennial, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers Ltd

First published by HarperCollins Publishers Ltd in a hardcover edition: 2012 This Harper Perennial trade paperback edition: 2014

No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without the prior written permission of the publisher, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in reviews.

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