© 2008 Albert A Rasch
I'm bicycling down Lakewood Ranch Blvd when I see two couples peering into the water of one of the many ponds and lakes in the area. I assumed that it was probably a gator and figured I might as well introduce myself and give an impromptu discourse on American Alligator biology.
I jumped the curb, rolled over the sidewalk, clamped down on the front brake, then flipped the bike around 180 into the grass. (Learned that in New York City.) Fortunately for me they were so engrossed by what they were looking at that they didn't see me splatter all over the grass. Picking myself up, I walked over to them and asked, "Whatcha got?"
The they about fell over themselves telling me that there were three gators in the pond.
Tourists. They had to be. Only tourists are that agog by some alligators.
I walked up a bit more and sure enough there were two little fellows floating in the lily pads, and a third one swimming up from the far side.
I thought it all a little strange. Most of the time you can't get very close to an alligator. But these fellows were positively unconcerned by our close proximity, and the third, well make that third and fourth little guys were positively swimming towards us. "This isn't good." I thought to myself.
Obviously someone has been feeding these youngsters and have come to equate humans with food. Whomever is doing it has pretty much signed their death warrants. As these little fellows get bigger, they will no longer be cute little gators, but huge "potential maneaters" that are "terrorizing" the local denizens of the condos that surround them.
That's when they become a nuisance alligator.
Let me quote the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission ( FWC )web site:
"What is a nuisance alligator? Generally, alligators may be considered a nuisance when they are at least four feet in length and pose a threat to people or their pets or property. (Note: The threat is determined by the people who call in. AAR) Alligators less than four feet in length are naturally fearful of people and are not generally capable of eating anything larger than a small turtle. They eat small fish, frogs, and other small animals. They are too small to be a threat to even small pets and pose no threat to people. They are typically not dangerous to people unless someone attempts to handle them. Also, they are common in Florida, and the mere presence of a small alligator is not cause for concern, even when they turn up in places where people may not expect to see them such as retention ponds and drainage ditches. However, occasionally alligators less than four feet in length are legitimate problems and must be addressed. If an alligator less than four feet in length approaches people, does not retreat if approached, or is in a location that is not natural, call the Nuisance Alligator Hotline at 1-866-FWC-GATOR (1-866-392-4286). The Statewide Nuisance Alligator Program strives to reduce the threat from alligators to people and their property in developed areas, while conserving alligators in areas where alligators naturally occur. If you have a nuisance alligator call the Nuisance Alligator Hotline at 1-866-FWC-GATOR (1-866-392-4286). "
That's when the FWC calls the alligator trapper. There are about 40 licensed trappers and the Commission has some of its own. Using treble hooks on multi-strand cable and baited with chicken , they set up and try to hook the alligator like a big fish. This works best on the smaller ones. The larger ones are usally snagged with very sharp treble hooks on heavy braided line with substancial rods and reels. And of course there is always the harpoon. Really, I kid you not.
The long and the short of it is that the vast majority of these gators are killed, either on the spot, which means that the trapper only has a short time to get the carcass to the processor, or they are kept alive until they are killed at the processor.
Though listed as an endangered species in 1967, they were fully recovered by 1987 and removed from the list. And though they are no longer in any danger of extinction, they are still threatened by the constant, inexorable encroachment and habitat loss caused by man. And as we continue to build into those areas that once were the domain of the otter, egret, and the alligator, the incidence of contact with them increases. There are thirteen confirmed fatal alligator attacks from 2000 to 2007. Three in 1990's, four in the 1980's, and three in the 1970's. (Source: Wikipedia - List of fatal alligator attacks in the United States by decade)
That's strange... Recovering species, building boom, population growth, increased alligator attacks...Uhmmm...
While ruminating on their eventual downfall, one of the fellows asked me about the difference between a gator and a croc. I gave them a quick (For me!) description of the alligator's, crocodile's, and caimen's features and launched right into proper respect and interaction with wild animals. I gave them my usual "Welcome to Florida. Don't feed the racoons, don't feed the gators, and make sure you put on bug repellant at dawn and dusk unless you like viral enciphilitis." speech. I told them how these alligators would ultimately be destroyed because some thoughtless person had decided that it would be entertaining to feed alligators. I reminded them that if they were scared (And they were.) of these little bitty gators, that at most were twenty to twenty two inches long, "Imagine," I said, "if just one was six or seven feet long and you were as close to it as you are to these." They all nodded their heads politely and in thoughtful appreciation as eyes dart right and left. Feet started to shuffle in apprehension as the thought of a six foot alligator possibly being somewhere in that pond. It was more than they cared to contemplate. I smiled inwardly as they beat a hasty retreat.
I didn't bother to tell them that there were four more gators floating in the lily pads just a few feet away.
I found the following leaflet on the FWC website.
Don't Feed or Molest
I'm going to print out a dozen or so of themm and put them over by the condos. I'll highlight the part about a reward, that should get a few of those condo commandos interested!
Gosh, I really do like stirring the pot!
Albert A Rasch
The Hunt Continues...