Travel south on SW 192nd Ave in Homestead and you’ll find a rescue operation housing with approximately 600 alligators in five different pits on display for guests to view. There is also a lagoon with gators in the back.
Everglades Outpost is a non-profit wildlife refuge that takes in injured animals, rehabilitates them and releases them back into the wild whenever possible. Founded by Bob Freer and his wife Barbara in 1991, the refuge cares for everything from American crocodiles to a 600-pound black bear named Josh.
A majority of the animals have been confiscated from illegal or abusive situations or have been abandoned by their human owners.
Freer grew up in rural New York on a dairy farm with a pet alligator. Moving to North Miami some years later, he had another pet gator, named Lazy.
Since 1991, Freer has found himself surrounded by hundreds of the reptilian creatures on his five-acre property in Homestead.
“Bob has what I like to call a natural gift with the animals,” says Amanda Mazzaro, one of the four regular volunteers and animal handlers at the refuge. She has been there for the past three years.
This passion for caring for animals is a driving force behind keeping this rescue operating. Mazzaro, like Freer, has had a fascination with reptiles from childhood. This appreciation for scaly critters is part of what inspired her to volunteer at the refuge. “How am I going to be able to work with these kinds of animals,” she questioned a short time after enrolling in college. “I came across the Outpost, which had lots and lots of alligators, crocodiles, snakes and all the works.”
Beginning three-years-ago washing dishes, she worked her way up the ladder and now cares for just about every animal at the refuge.
The main goal of Everglades Outpost is to “rehab and release” as many animals as possible. Non-native animals or animals with untreatable injuries are the exceptions. “If they come in with an injury and no one else will take them. We will always take them,” Mazzaro says. “It’s either here, or they will end up passing away.”
Sabal, a 9-year-old Florida Panther has been at the Outpost for most of her life. Her previous owner had declawed and then surrendered the cat. For that reason, she could not be released back into the wild.
The Florida Panther is the only subspecies of a mountain lion that remains in the Eastern United States and is currently listed as endangered. According to the U.S. Fish And Wildlife Service, the number of Florida Panthers left in the wild is somewhere between 120 to 130.
The Outpost relies solely on volunteers, with no funding or help from the State. “We make money by people coming to see the animals,” Mazzaro says. “All of the money that is put in here, whether that be donation or you guys buying entrance to come in to see the animals. All of that recycles back into the animals.”
The sanctuary also hosts educational shows for guests to learn more about the animals housed there and the importance of having them in our ecosystems.
Mazzaro emphasizes the importance of education to help prevent animals like Sabel from ending up at the Outpost.
“So many ways,” she answers with a sigh and soft laugh when asked how people can educate themselves on how to better care for animals. “The biggest thing is to educate yourself on everything. Even when you think you may be helping an animal, in the long run, you’re probably not. And the alligators are a prime example of that.”
A main contributor to the abundance of American Alligators at the Outpost, is due to people feeding them in the wild. When fed by humans, gators lose their natural fear of us and will then be more inclined to seek out humans. “Most of the time, they are euthanized when they approach people,” She says. “The only time they are not is when nuisance alligator trappers like Gabby, who [does not] do this as a full-time job. [She] will rescue the animals and contact us.”
The “Gabby” she refers to is Gabby Scampone, a self-described #Gatorgirl, with a following of 150k on Instagram. Known to her followers as @Gabbynikolle, she rescues reptiles from nuisance situations and brings them to safe-havens such as the Outpost.
Everglades Outpost is now owned and managed by Martha Frassica-Rivera and her husband, Jeffrey Rivera. The pair have been with the Outpost for about 10 years.
While Freer has retired, the founding-father of the sanctuary, still lives on site and is willing to lend a hand when needed. “When in doubt, run and ask Bob for advice,” Mazzoro laughs.
You can donate to the Everglades Outpost here, or visit them in person at 35601 SW 192nd Ave, Homestead, FL 33034.