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Photographer takes walk on the wild side


Dryden man's famous photo leads to Animal Planet show


March 10, 2010
DRYDEN — They say timing is everything. And they're right as far as photojournalist Mike Mercier is concerned.

2004 was a time to celebrate. Mike and his wife Donna reached a milestone—25 years of marriage. So they took a trip to Florida to mark the occasion and ended up getting a most unexpected gift. The nature enthusiasts were hiking in Everglades National Park when Donna spotted nature at her wildest. An alligator was making a meal out of a Burmese python.

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Donna and Mike Mercier as they’ll appear on ‘Killer Aliens’ on Animal Planet this Sunday.
Always prepared with camera in hand, Mike snapped off a photo that would end up on page one of the New York Times. After the New York Times picked it up on Sunday, Feb. 29, 2004, Mike was contacted by National Geographic and later by the BBC.

This Sunday, that moment and more will be featured in 'Killer Aliens' airing from 8-10 p.m. on Animal Planet—complete with a photo of Mike and Donna. Because she couldn't film on location, producers used a stand-in for her role.

"She gets all the credit," Mike says, referring to his wife.

The show highlights the threat and damage invasive species cause the environment, with Florida listed as 'ground zero' for invasion.

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Mike worked on location in the Everglades this past June with Michael Hoff Productions.

"I was excited to be a part of it," Mike says.

The memorable experience put Mike up close and personal with other killer snakes—rented from a rescue agency for use during filming.

"It was different being in the car next to a boa constrictor in a pillowcase and a Burmese python on the other side next to me," Mike says. "It was bizarre being that close, even though it was in the pillowcase and couldn't do anything."

Producer Elena Cruz and camera operator Victor Murillo welcomed Mike's inquiry to tag along during their end of the shoot and he ended up getting a contract.

"I took production stills of the action behind the camera," Mike says. "They liked what they saw and are now using a couple of those shots in their advertising. I'm excited by the show and the advertising of the show."

One such shot is a python going after a black cat.

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An alligator’s unusual lunch became Mike Mercier’s ‘shot seen round the world’ taken while on an anniversary trip to Everglades National Park in Florida. It has appeared on the front page of the New York Times, in National Geographic and the BBC.

A naturalist and wildlife enthusiast, Mike says 'Killer Aliens' highlights the problem with alien species, some which were raised as exotic pets.

"There's a big problem with released animals out there," Mike says. "The show puts everyone in Florida on alert that there are many invasive species—not just pythons."

Other problem species include feral hogs, Nile monitor lizards and "Gambian rats the size of cats," says Animal Planet's Melissa Berry in a press release.

"All of these non-native and therefore alien species have been imported by humans and in most cases is a direct result of peoples' obsession with having exotic animals as pets," the release states. "When these creatures grow up and become too much to handle, all too often they are disposed of irresponsibly into forests, swamps and even backyards, leading to lasting and in some cases dangerous consequences."

Florida's weather-related natural disasters also drew attention to the problem.

"Hurricane Andrew helped shed light on the problem of invasive species when the destroyed buildings it left it its wake allowed many creatures to get loose from zoos and other places," Berry says in the press release. "With no natural predators, their populations continue to spread rapidly throughout the state, spreading disease, destroying vegetation and crops, preying on native species and in the worst cases harming humans."

For more information on the show visit www.animalplanet.com. Visit www.wildphotoguy.com for more on Mike Mercier.

Catherine Minolli is Managing Editor of the Tri-City Times. She began as a freelance writer with the Times in 1994. She enjoys the country life, including raising ducks and chickens.
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