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Could Sanibel better define a ‘nuisance’ alligator?

By Staff | Mar 21, 2011

It has been six-and-a-half years since the fatal alligator attack of 2004, long enough for that year’s hatchlings to be seven feet long and old enough to reproduce. But with all the alligator education launched since that horrible event, are there reasons for concern about the viability of our alligator population?

Seems like people have been counting alligators forever around here, but as discussed at a recent meeting between the Sanibel-Captiva Conservation Foundation (SCCF), J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge staff and the City of Sanibel, making sense of all that counting is a difficult task.

It is a science in itself that at best gives you a window on a population trend over a long period of time. With that said, count numbers from 2009 and 2010 in the Refuge’s Bailey Tract are very close.

Prior to 2004, the number of alligators trapped and killed on Sanibel, averaged around 30 to 35 per year. Excluding the 142 taken in 2004 in the sweep of the island (preserved lands not included), the take numbers from 2005-09 average 28 alligators killed per year. The number killed in 2010 was 16.

Right now the city’s alligator policy mirrors the state of Florida’s, with the positive exception that complaints are called in to the police who visit the site, talk to the homeowner and don’t always call the state licensed trapper. That is a good thing.

In recent conversations with Lindsey Hord, coordinator of the State of Florida’s nuisance alligator program, the number of alligators the trapper is allowed to take when called is determined by city policy. City policy also determines the length of the gators harvested. Could the policy spell out how to respond if another attack occurs? Could we better define a “nuisance” alligator?

Ongoing education plays an important role in protecting humans and alligators. Residents making sure no one feeds alligators and helping newcomers learn the do’s and don’ts of living with dinosaurs is paramount. Neighbors helping neighbors understand that those gators are not laying in wait for them but just basking in the sun, trying to stay warm. Recognizing that no matter how many alligators are removed, it is never safe for children or pets to be close to lake edges.

A balanced alligator policy on Sanibel will forever require on-going community vigilance and participation. One thing for sure: we try harder than any other community to live with the wild ones.

Here are three opportunities to learn more about these dinosaurs that live amongst us:

* “Gator Tales” at SCCF — Call 472-2329 for more information

• SCCF’s Wildlife Tour at The Dunes — Call 472-3355 for more information

“Alligator Awareness” at The Dunes — Call 472-3355 for more information.