One morning last week, an alligator was removed from the marina by an FWC-authorized trapper. The strategy that he used to capture the gator was simple and effective: He loudly played a recording of the birdlike chirping sound made by a young alligator in distress. Within minutes, the marina gator was making a beeline for the source of the sound.
When the gator was close enough the trapper used a heavy spinning rod to snag it with a large treble hook. After a brief, splashy fight, the gator was pulled alongside the dock where a snare loop was place around its neck and it was hoisted out of the water. Its jaws were taped shut and it was dragged off the dock and taken away.
There was little drama and no gunfire. The entire process took no more than about 20 minutes. I was told later that the gator measured out at about 6.5 feet long.
The gator was captured because someone called the FWC and reported it as a nuisance alligator. If you should become one of the lucky Floridians who ends up with a gator in your swimming pool or lying on your front porch, you can do the same thing — but there are a few things you should understand.
First, there is no charge for the service to the person who requests a gator removal. Second, it will probably not be an FWC officer who does the job unless there is an immediate danger to someone. It will probably be a subcontractor who is called in by the FWC to respond to the gator complaint.
And maybe most importantly and most misunderstood: That gator is almost certainly not going to be relocated and released back into the wild, unless it’s a baby less than about four feet in length.
Almost all nuisance alligators become the property of the trapper who captures them. The trappers may receive a small cash payment from the FWC for taking the gator, but most of their pay is derived from the sale of the animal.
Alligators are valuable because they can be processed for their meat and for the hide. Ever seen a pair of alligator boots, or an alligator handbag or belt? Those and other items are made from the belly portions of alligator hides. So don’t report a gator as a nuisance just because you’d rather not have it around, since doing so almost certainly is a death sentence for that animal.
FWC officers (and subcontractors) do not usually release gators over four feet in length because Florida has a large, healthy population of alligators that inhabit virtually every suitable habitat in the state. Dropping a large new gator in the midst of an established population would be disruptive to that population, so it’s usually not done.
Of course, nobody has ever counted all the gators in Florida, so we can only guess at the population. But estimates mostly are in the range from 1.25 to 1.5 million. That’s a lot of big lizards.
During the last five years, there have been on average around 8,000 nuisance gator removals a year in Florida. The average size of the gators taken is about 6.75 feet. It’s a pretty small number compared to the overall population.
There is also a recreational harvest of alligators in Florida. People who want to harvest gators themselves are able to apply with the FWC for the opportunity. If selected, they are given two alligator tags that must be used within a certain range of dates and in a specific area. For people who would like to experience the excitement of an alligator hunt but who aren’t sure they want to try it on their own, there are guides in Florida who offer alligator hunting packages.
During the last five years, Florida’s recreational gator harvest has averaged about 7,600 gators per year, with an average size of about 8.25 feet. The significant size difference between recreationally harvested gators and captured nuisance gators is due to the fact that recreational hunters are able to pick which gators to pursue and they tend to want to use their two tags on bigger, more valuable animals. Nuisance gator trappers are stuck catching whatever gator has generated the complaint.
There is one other way that Florida alligators can end up sharing a plate with hushpuppies and cole slaw or made into cowboy boots: Our significant alligator farming industry. For the last few years, Florida alligator farms have produced nearly 40,000 gators per year, far exceeding the combined total of nuisance alligator removals and recreationally harvested wild animals.
Alligator farms produce their animals primarily by starting with alligator eggs or recent hatchlings and raising them to marketable size in captivity. Some of the eggs or hatchlings are produced by the farms, but there are also programs in place which allow private landowners whose property includes alligator nests to sell gator eggs to the farms.
Since mother alligators diligently guard their nests until the eggs hatch and then protect the hatchlings for about the first year of their lives, it takes a brave batch of harvesters to traipse through the swamps stealing eggs or hatchlings from large and angry mama gators.
Let’s go fishing!
Capt. Ralph Allen runs the King Fisher Fleet of sightseeing and fishing charter boats located at Fishermen’s Village in Punta Gorda. He is an award-winning outdoor writer and photographer, and is a past president of the Florida Outdoor Writers Association. Contact him at 941-639-2628 or Captain@KingFisherFleet.com.