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Playing tricks with Mother Nature

By Staff | Feb 5, 2009

To the editor,

The Jan. 31, 2009 Fort Myers News-Press reports that there are increasing numbers of iguanas living on Sanibel. It does not surprise me at all that iguanas are now overly abundant on Sanibel. It would seem to me that there are not enough large predators on Sanibel to keep the population of iguanas under control. I don’t know if bobcats could even tackle an iguana. Probably, their only predator is the alligator, whose numbers have been sharply reduced by the City of Sanibel’s decision a number of years ago to stop being a sanctuary island for alligators.

The response to the two deaths on Sanibel from alligator attacks by Sanibel’s City Council swung the pendulum on alligators too far the other way. While removal of tame alligators (those that have been fed by humans) of large size was necessary, too many medium-sized and/or wild alligators were removed (trapped and killed) at the whim of homeowners. Alligators have even left the “Ding” Darling refuge (which is saltwater) for the fresher waters of our ponds, canals and rivers and are subsequently trapped as well, so alligators have been reduced in number in even in the wildlife refuge. Without these predators, the iguana population has skyrocketed. The effect on Sanibel will eventually spread wider, as alligators also eat raccoons and snakes, the main nest predators of the many birds that make their homes on Sanibel. Their numbers, already reduced by habitat destruction, will decrease even further.

The J.N. “Ding” Darling Wildlife Refuge sponsored a study of the alligator population on the island a couple of years ago which, for whatever reasons, has been completed but not released to the public. The City Council must rethink the issue of alligators on the island. Our economy is weak and many of the people coming to the island want to see an alligator. As a volunteer “rover” on Wildlife Drive, I cannot even think to tell them where they are likely to see one. I occasionally see one at the Bailey Tract; otherwise they have become truly scarce. We really cannot afford to play tricks with Mother Nature.

Francine Litofsky