Two Everglades City airboat captains found out last week that feeding snacks to wild animals is illegal.
Florida Fish and Wildlife officers issued citations to them after undercover agents observed them feeding marshmallows to raccoons and alligators.
Posing as tourists on two separate airboat rides with Everglades Island Boat Tours, FWC investigators observed Graham Potter, 67, of Copeland, feed marshmallows to raccoons, and Randal Daniels, 72, of Chokoloskee, feed marshmallows to alligators, according to reports.
When investigators later confronted the two captains and issued them misdemeanor citations, Potter was apologetic, courteous and cooperative, while Daniels denied the allegations and called the FWC investigator a “horse’s ass,” reports said.
When investigators informed Daniels that he had been captured on video feeding alligators and asked him if he wanted to make a written statement, Daniels said: “Hell no I don’t want to make a statement and I ain’t signing (expletive),” the report said.
Gabriella Ferraro, a spokeswoman for FWC, said feeding wildlife is a common problem in the airboat tour industry in Florida.
“Airboat tours are gratuity-driven,” Ferraro said. “The better the tour, the better the tips.”
The problem, she said, is that the animals begin to associate food with people and can lose their natural fear of people and become a nuisance.
“And nuisance animals are often euthanized,” she said.
Ferraro also said that when animals lose their natural fear of people, they will come dangerously close and could pose a public safety threat.
“There is a risk to the public as tourists may see this as acceptable behavior,” she said. “It’s not acceptable.”
Ferraro said that feeding wildlife may also have a negative impact on people and businesses that abide by the law.
Ferraro said people visit Florida to admire the wildlife and said that setting a good example of environmental stewardship is important.
“Unacceptable behavior and unlawful behavior is not tolerated,” Ferraro said. “It seems like the message is still not being taken seriously.”