When I pulled into work Tuesday morning I saw all the law enforcement vehicles across the street. I wished I would have known all the excitement at Lake Park Elementary was over an alligator. Not that my friend and gator trapper, Dave Regel, ever needs any help. I just like to watch a professional do his job. Dave loves gators and he loves his work, even though that work usually means the eventual death of an alligator. As a state licensed nuisance alligator trapper, it’s Dave’s responsibility to provide this service to the residents of Collier County.
In the online comments, I noticed the concern of some readers regarding the fate of nuisance alligators. People want to know why the gator wasn’t driven out into the swamp and just released. Sounds simple doesn’t it? Not quite. So let’s dive a little deeper into the problem with gators.
Alligators were listed as an endangered species in 1967. This action was taken as an estimated ten million gators had been killed since 1870. Twenty years of protection allowed the gator population to recover. In 1987 they were removed from the endangered list and are now a protected species under the state of Florida. Most estimates place our gator numbers at well over one million animals, some say more. That’s at least one gator for every eighteen of us.
Besides protecting gators we have helped their population grow by creating even more habitat. Every time we build we need fill so we dig ponds whether it is sub-divisions or shopping malls. This creates almost instant habitat for frogs, fish, birds, and finally their predator, alligators. These are very territorial reptiles and losers of fights leave one pond and find another, maybe in your neighborhood.
So now that gators have bounced back from the brink of extinction we are left with the problem of managing their numbers. The state of Florida allows licensed gator hunters to take two animals per season. Anyone can apply for one of these permits. That’s one solution for controlling gators in their natural habitat but what about the gators in our midst, these city dwelling alligators that can be a threat to public safety? That’s where the trappers like Dave Regel come in.
Gators that have set up camp in suburban areas have basically lost their instinct to steer clear of people. Usually they are fed scraps and leftovers and get way too comfortable around us. These are the gators that are usually responsible for the attacks, sometimes fatal ones, on humans. The truly wild gators have no patience for contact with people. I am not referring to the lazy gators out on Turner River Road that allow tourists within feet to snap their picture. I mean the really wild gators out in the swamp who would rather hit the water than hang around for pictures. Those gators don’t associate humans with their food source. Out in No Man’s Land no one is tossing them hot dogs or popcorn and thereby habituating them to our presence. Remember feeding a wild alligator is punishable by fine and/or jail time.
Any gator over four feet in length is considered to be a threat to public safety and per game commission rules that animal is legally dispatched for its hide and meat. Authorities used to try and relocate alligators but their homing instinct is incredible. Gators will travel many miles to return to their territory. Relocation is just not an option and there are not enough zoos and other facilities in the state to place all the thousands of nuisance gators trapped each year.
In the case of alligators, protection has worked and we are now left to make the responsible and safe choices to manage them.