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Resident wants city to alter nuisance alligator policy

By Staff | Mar 16, 2011

Chantal Perrotte holds her petition to have the city's Nuisance Alligator Program policy changed. So far, she has acquired about 75 signatures.

Chantal Perrotte enjoys the view from her home at The Dunes because of its serenity, blending with the surrounding natural environment and peaceful coexistence with wildlife.

Early one morning recently, however, she was awoken by some unusual sounds.

“It was dark, so I couldn’t see very well,” recalled Perrotte, a part-time island resident since 2004. “But then I found out what was happening. A state trapper was removing an alligator from our lake.”

But she couldn’t understand why?

“(The trapper) said it was being removed because it was aggressive,” she explained. “But if you were woken up in the middle of the night by somebody poking you with a stick, you’d be aggressive, too.”

Perrotte would like to see the city’s Nuisance Alligator Program policy changed. Under the currently policy, which follows state guidelines, an aggressive alligator of any length will deemed a nuisance and will be captured for destruction. If the reptile is deemed a nuisance alligator, a state trapper will be contacted to remove it.

“I agree that if they are fed or are aggressive, they should be removed,” said Perrotte. “But they should be destroyed just because people are afraid of them.”

According to the city’s policy, an alligator that is determined to be a non-nuisance alligator up to four feet in length will be relocated to conservation areas only.

Like many other islanders who have expressed a concern over the city’s alligator policy, Perrotte is worried that Sanibel’s alligator population will continue to decline. Alligators reach sexual maturity between 7 and 12 years of age, or when they are approximately six feet in length.

“I used to see them every day. There used to be a large gator everybody called ‘Big Al’ at The Dunes. All of the neighbors used to look after him… but now he’s gone,” said Perrotte, who first visited the island in 1999. “(General manager) Sean Balliet told me that there used to be more than 100 gators who lived around the golf course. Now they only have about 20.”

According to Sanibel Police Department records, 237 alligators have been destroyed since 2004, the year the last fatal alligator attack occurred. In that year alone, 80 gators were destroyed.

In 2010, police handled 85 calls related to alligators, with 14 destroyed by trappers. This year, three gators have been destroyed.

Chief of Police Bill Tomlinson pointed out that the city policy mirrors the State of Florida’s Nuisance Alligator Program, whose guidelines have been imposed upon Sanibel.

“Since the date of the last attack, the city was forced to re-evaluate its alligator program,” said Tomlinson, a 25-year veteran of the SPD. “The state forced us to impose stricter rules, because before then they were kind of relaxed.”

In addition to aggressive alligators, trappers are summoned to destroy:

• Large alligators located in residential and commercial areas.

• Alligators that make residents feel unsafe.

• Large alligators located in high pedestrian traffic and public locations.

In addition, special consideration is given to alligator complaints and their proximity to children.

“We have to be reasonable and responsible when we respond to these calls,” added Tomlinson. “We do not rush to judgement on any particular alligator. If people are concerned about them, we take that very seriously.”

For several years, the Sanibel-Captiva Conservation Foundation (SCCF) has promoted a Neighborhood Alligator Watch program, encouraging islanders to understand how to live side-by-side with these reptiles. As a Neighborhood Gator Greeter, residents are encouraged to speak with other home owners and renters about where they have seen alligators, if their behavior is natural or dangerous to humans and, most importantly, promoting not feeding these creatures.

SCCF’s Neighborhood Alligator Watch also encourages islanders to let their lawn care and other workers know they will lose their jobs if they feed an alligator, encourage them to report problem gators for the safety of all, fence all neighborhood pools to keep gators out, keep fenced areas for dogs away from the water, post gator caution signs on waters edges and place alligator educational packets in all rental units.

“If we don’t feed them, then everything should be A-OK,” said Dee Serage-Century, SCCF’s Living With Wildlife Educator.

In the past few weeks, Perrotte has started a petition to have the City of Sanibel change its Nuisance Alligator Program to relocate non-aggressive alligators who are up to six feet long. Thus far, she has acquired about 75 signatures — “Most of them are my neighbors,” she added — including Francis Bailey.

“I tried speaking to somebody at the Police Department about it one time, but the woman there told me that people have been killed by them and if they’re aggressive they have to be destroyed,” Perrotte said. “She wouldn’t listen to me and wasn’t very helpful, so I left.”

Perrotte hopes to bring her petition and present it to the city at the end of the month, when she returns to her home in London, England. She also requests that if other islanders would like to add their names to her petition, they can call her at 395-2484.

“If we don’t have them around, there will be more rats and snakes,” Perrotte added. “I’ve never bothered any alligator, and they’ve never bothered me.”