NAPLES — People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals is not embracing alligator hugs in Tin City.
PETA posted an “action alert” on its website to urge Naples City Council to reverse the decision made last week to allow “Gatorman Mike” Sturgill to open an alligator exhibit that is to come with the sale of chances to hold, hug and get a photograph with a bred-in-captivity alligator.
Sturgill’s conditional use permit was narrowly approved, 4-3, with the debate on whether the business was a “cultural use” under city code.
“Alligator hugging is not part of anybody’s culture,” said Kristin Simon, a PETA spokesperson and animal cruelty caseworker. “It’s not a cultural thing. It’s about making a buck,” Simon said.
The vote can be overturned, but council must call for a re-vote no later than Monday.
That doesn’t look like that will happen, according to several city officials. Mayor Bill Barnett said the PETA members contacting council are from across the world, but not from Naples.
Council’s decision was based on what was best for Naples, Barnett said.
“This guy, Mike Sturgill, he’s already got a successful business going. He’s not abusing alligators, OK. They get three squares a day or whatever they eat,” Barnett said.
Sturgill, 57, has worked with alligators since 1997 beginning in Everglades City before opening his own business about four years ago in eastern Collier County on U.S. 41. He is licensed by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.
Sturgill could not be reached to comment Wednesday.
Price has no intention of requesting a revote, which needs to be made by him or another council member who voted in the majority.
“I do not plan on asking for a revote and plan to spend my time working on things that will improve our quality of life here in Naples,” Price said.
Price said he received emails mostly from non-city residents.
“I can only hope we could spend the same amount of effort trying to create jobs and feed the hungry.”
Kathryn Taubert, a former animal trainer and animal activist initially urged council to decline the permit to protect the animals. Taubert is a Fort Myers resident,
Naples resident Dona Erkebeck agreed.
“I don’t think this is the kind of exhibit Naples should have, and, I don’t think baby alligators should have their mouths taped shut for 10 hours for the amusement of tourists,” Erkebeck said.
Naples and Collier County residents contacted PETA, unfortunately, after the decision was already made, Simon said.
Sturgill plans to open up for business in Tin City as soon as October.