Wildlife rubs elbows with ODA students in unusual year

Special to the HeraldApril 14, 2014 

This year, students on the Out-of-Door Academy campus have seen deer, big snakes, birds, turtles, possums, alligators, and even giant boars. Recently, a dozen baby alligators hatched at the back of the baseball field in a swampy manmade pond.PHOTO PROVIDED

This place is a zoo.

This year, students on the Out-of-Door Academy campus have seen deer, big snakes, birds, turtles, possums, alligators, and even giant boars.

Recently, a dozen baby alligators hatched at the back of the baseball field in a swampy manmade pond. The maintenance crew was notified about the new arrivals, and they are on the lookout for the 10-foot mother on watch in the nearby lake sewer at the back of campus. She reportedly is very protective of her babies.

"We walked behind the pond to get a baseball that was hit back there, and saw these little baby gators just jumping around in the water," said freshman Najee Rhodes. "I've never seen anything like it. They were only like 5 inches long."

Other animals have been spotted by teachers and students at practices and sporting events. There have been reports of deer on the lacrosse practice field behind right field of the baseball diamond.

"We have had to stop practice many times because we did not want to hit any deer with our powerful shots," said junior Angus Martin. "Lacrosse balls really hurt when they come in contact with something, and we don't

want to endanger this precious species."

ODA students and faculty are well aware of the wildlife sharing campus today. The animals are normal in the wilderness, but when the ODA upper school was founded in 1996, the coexistence of students and wildlife was unusual.

Construction in the area began in 1922 when the Uihlein family expanded their agricultural business and bought the now-named "Lakewood Ranch," a property encompassing 893 square miles.

As more people migrated south, the property was sold to the state.

Developers began to build communities in 1994 and contractors started to knock down trees and preserve land in preparation for houses and other facilities.

With the housing boom, schools and communities grew and builders needed to clear more land. This was the habitat of all sorts of animals such as alligators in swamps, great numbers of bird species, panthers, coyotes, turtles, snakes, insects, hogs and squirrels.

Throughout the 18 years the campus has been active, maintenance personnel, faculty and students have seen variety of animals. But in the past year, more unusual animals were spotted and peculiar sounds heard on campus.

One morning, a middle schooler claims to have heard a pack of coyotes howling in the woods behind the Commons area.

Recently, Timmy Orlosky said he heard a bald eagle by the visiting team dugout of the baseball field.

"It was insane. I walked over to the away dugout and saw this huge eagle swoop down and lift this rabbit right off its feet." Orlosky said, "I felt bad for the rabbit, but it was pretty cool to see that happen in person."

In another wildlife sighting, a maintenance crew reportedly witnessed a few boars in the woods tearing up the terrain making a huge racket.

One reportedly heard the boars making "moaning noises and snuffling loudly."

At ODA, while students are in class prepping for college, animals are wrestling in the nearby woods outside classroom doors. Students caught up in the survival of high school often don't even notice the animals are on a mission to survive the wilderness.

They were here first and the campus stole their homes. But the school and the animals can live together, students say.

"I think it's actually kind of cool to have these animals roaming around campus," said sophomore Joey Coco.

"I mean yes, it can be scary to realize that a deer or wild boar was running around where were play four-square, but we are the Out-of-Door Academy and animals live outdoors."

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