July 16, 2012

Meet the Swamp Men

Swamp Men: Meet the Cast


    Jonathan “Cattail” Vazquez was born in Puerto Limon, Costa Rica. His parents moved to the U.S. when he was a child but still spent every summer visiting his homeland. Cattail was introduced to the reptile world by his fathers’ friend “Jimmy”, a herpetologist at the University of Costa Rica. In the summer of 1979, at the age of seven, Cattail caught his first boa in the wild during a visit to the rainforest. As the years went by, snakes seemed to be his only passion: He collected numerous snakes both venomous and non-venomous in Florida’s Everglades and wherever his travels took him. Cattail learned the art of handling alligators from his good friend Gus “Onebear” Batista. After many successful years working together and gaining the respect of those in the field, the duo is simply known as “Swampseeker”. In July of 2000, “Cattail” joined Billie Swamp Safari as a snake and alligator handler and was the operations manager for six years before becoming an ACO/Wildlife Officer for the Seminole tribe of Florida.


    Gus “Onebear” is a true Floridian who has been handling alligators for over 17 years. He acquired a passion for the outdoors at the early age of six. Onebear started handling alligators in his teens for fun, but soon after it became his fulltime job and his passion. The name “Onebear” was given when he was working at Billie Swamp Safari. Gus almost lost his life due to a Bear attack. He received severe bites and claw injuries to the head, back, and shoulders. He was lucky to have survived the attack. Gus mentored and shared his methods in handling alligators to his good friend Jonathan "Cattail" in the early 90s. Together they have created an incredible fearless force known as the “Swampseeker". Today, Gus "Onebear" is a ACO/Wildlife Officer for the Seminole tribe of Florida and still in the business in handling and capturing dangerous reptiles.


    Cory Wilcox is a member of the Seminole tribe of Florida. Throughout high school, and after he graduated in 2000, Cory worked for various departments within the Seminole tribe. In 2003, Cory began working for the Big Cypress Hunting Adventures as a guide. Now, Cory’s exceptional tracking and trapping skills have led him to become one of Billie Swamp Safari’s go-to guys. Cory grew up on the Big Cypress Seminole Reservation with four brothers and three sisters; he spent a lot of time hunting and fishing. If he wasn’t playing sports, he was with his family or hanging out in the woods. Cory’s hobbies include hunting hogs, deer, and turkey. He also loves working with and training his hog hunting dogs.


    Rey was born in Havana, Cuba, in 1964. He always dreamed of living in the United States and, after a daring escape from the communist regime in 1986, he settled in the U.S. Rey has always loved wildlife and became an animal trainer upon his arrival in the States. He is also licensed general falconer. He has been employed at Billie Swamp Safari since 1997. In 2005, Rey married his wife Tatika—who also works with the animals and reptiles at Billie Swamp. They live on a small farm where they have four dogs, three horses, two cows, 40 chickens, a bobcat, and many other animals. When he is not working at Billie Swamp Safari or on his farm, Rey enjoys falconry, horseback riding, camping, and going for long rides on his motorcycle.


    Steve was born in Louisville, Kentucky where he was raised with three brothers in a strict, Irish, middle class family. After spending many years as a youngster in Michigan, he settled down in Florida. Prior to working at Billie Swamp Safari, where he has been a manager for the past thirteen years, Steve worked many jobs from maintenance to construction. Steve is the father of two grown children (son and daughter) and the grandfather of two. He enjoys the quiet, laidback lifestyle of living in the woods. You may not guess it, but in his spare time, Steve enjoys carving Native American flutes and beadworking.


    Hans was born in Caracas, Venezuela, in 1976 where he discovered his love for animals. Hans began raising birds and reptiles when he was just seven years old. Then at the age of 17, he and his family moved to the U.S. Hans returned to his native Venezuela to study at the Natural Science Museum in Caracas. And soon after was back stateside where became a licensed general falconer and venomous reptile keeper. Hans is married and has a son. In addition to spending time with his family, Hans enjoys nature photography, taking care of his birds and reptiles, and growing orchids.


    Jodi was born in Buffalo, New York, in 1966 where she was raised by her aunt and uncle and their three children. While she enjoyed growing up in the snowy Northeast, Jodi later moved to south Florida where she studied criminal justice while working as a restaurant manager. In her spare time, Jodi volunteered at wildlife care centers and ultimately chose to dedicate her career to wildlife. Now with over 20 years experience working with big cats and reptiles, she is Billie Swamp Safari’s operations supervisor—a position she’s held for over 10 years. Jodi enjoys living in the woods where she can enjoy nature. Reading, stargazing, weightlifting, and interacting with animals are her favorite things to do.


    Everett Osceola was born on the Seminole tribe of Florida’s Hollywood reservation, and he was partially raised on the Brighton reservation. Everett was brought up to respect his traditional Seminole ways by his mother and his mother’s family— mostly instilled by his Grandfather Frank Shore. Now working for the Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum, Everett shares some of the same traditional values and history that were bestowed to him. Everett helps with Seminole Boys & Girls club by talking to the youth and was given a great opportunity to work with the Seminole Channel. Working for the tribe, Everett has spoken on many occasions throughout the U.S. as well as countries such as New Zealand, Germany, and China. 

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