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Sydney, a young alligator, is CROW’s newest animal ambassador

By Staff | May 3, 2017

Sydney, CROW's newest animal ambassador will turn a year old in July. She can be viewed in the Visitor Education Center. MEGHAN MCCOY

The Clinic for the Rehabilitation of Wildlife recently introduced a new animal ambassador, Sydney, to the Education Center, to teach the public about the keystone species, alligators.

CROW Development and Education Coordinator Rachel Rainbolt said the past couple of years the Clinic for Rehabilitation of Wildlife has been engaging in a series of renovations to increase the quality of their guest experience for their annual visitors.

“Our mission is to save wildlife, but in order to effectively carry out our mission, we have to change the way people view their relationships with wildlife, which is why the Education Center is such a crucial component to that overall education,” she said.

The newest live exhibit, Sydney, an alligator who will turn a year old in July, has now taken residence at the Education Center. The young alligator came from a captive breeding facility in Florida that breeds alligators for the sake of education. Once Sydney becomes too large for the tank in which she resides she will return back to the facility.

“We are hoping with this exhibit, people can see how beautiful they are and appreciate them. We are very happy to have Sydney with us,” Rainbolt said.

Sydney, CROW's newest animal ambassador will turn a year old in July. She can be viewed in the Visitor Education Center. MEGHAN MCCOY

CROW received Sydney in March. She went through an initial quarantine period in the hospital to verify if she was clean and healthy. Sydney received a full bill of health from the veterinarians.

Rainbolt said the hope of the new exhibit is to express how crucial alligators are to the ecosystem, and human health. Alligators, she said, are an important part of the ecosystem and are considered a keystone species.

“Those type of animals are individuals that provide a commodity, good or service for the animals and the environment they interact with,” Rainbolt said. “One of their biggest contributions, in addition to rodent and animal population control, is really the creation, or generating of, biodiversity and habitat. During nesting season for alligators, which is approaching sooner rather than later, the mothers will begin to dig gator holes for their babies. The nests, or dens, during the dry season, after the rains have left, and the water begins to reach a low level, the fresh water will collect in these gator holes.”

The holes will turn into an area for wading birds and fish that would otherwise have to travel to coastal areas, or the river.

Rainbolt said in the 1950s, the alligator population reached an all-time low because of habitat loss and market hunting. She said in 1987, thanks to conservation efforts from local, state and federal officials,the alligator was pronounced fully recovered making it one of the first endangered specie success stories.

Sydney, CROW's newest animal ambassador will turn a year old in July. She can be viewed in the Visitor Education Center. MEGHAN MCCOY

According to the Florida Fish and Wildlife there are 1.43 million alligators in the state. The alligator still remains protected because the other reptiles within the crocodilian family are still in trouble.

Although alligators are a huge draw to tourism for wildlife photography and viewing, if people do not interact with them appropriately, they can become a nuisance alligators, with the potential of attacks occurring.

Rainbolt said most attacks of alligators on humans are from the illegal feeding of alligators, which makes them bolder, less fearful of humans and more likely to attack instead of flea.

Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commis-sion’s program, Statewide Nuisance Alligator Program, was initiated with a mission to address complaints concerning alligators. Rainbolt said in 2016, SNAP re-ceived 12,759 nuisance alligator complaints resulting in the removal of more than 8,000 nuisance alligators.

The alligator can be considered a nuisance if it is at least 4 feet in length, and believed to propose a threat to people, pets or property.

The number one way to prevent nuisance alligators, she said, is not to feed them.

“A fed gator, is a dead gator,” Rainbolt said.

CROW introduced live exhibits in April 2016 within its Education Center to introduce, and educate the public of invasive species, as well as native species. The exhibits are funded through a grant from West Coast Inland Navigation District, a multi-county special taxing body covering Manatee, Sarasota, Charlotte and Lee counties. Rainbolt said their overall goal is to preserve waterway projects and promote safe navigation through areas within the Gulf of Mexico, or the Gulf Intercoastal Waterway.

Invasive species are organisms that have been introduced to areas that were not their original habitat, or home range. Rainbolt said the typical limiting factors for their population, such as predator/prey relationships and diseases are not here, so it allows them to out compete the native animals for resources.

Other impacts of invasive species, Rainbolt said, can include decreased land value, reduced revenues to natural resources based industries and decreased tourism. The annual cost of invasive plants, animals and diseases and losses to Florida agriculture is estimated to be $179 million a year. Overall, the United States spends an estimated $137 billion annually to control the longterm effects of invasive species.

In the past 200 years, Rainbolt said, 50,000 foreign species of plants and animals have been established in the United States. Of those, she said nearly one in seven introduced nonnative species have become invasive.

To help provide education of invasive species, she said they have live exhibit comparisons of such species as the cane toad verses the southern toad, which is native to the area; green anoles, a native verses the brown anoles, which are the small brown lizards running around; tokay geckos and Cuban night anole, also invasive, and the ball python, an exotic pet species, which is potentially invasive.

“One of the main reasons why invasives are introduced to an area, especially Florida is because of the exotic pet trade,” Rainbolt said. “So by educating people about what impacts invasive species have, we are hoping to promote a longterm sense of sustainability of our ecosystems down here and encouraging people through that education to make the responsible decisions.”

Other natives showcased in the center are two Florida box turtles, and an indigo snake, which was the first in the live exhibit through a collaboration with the Sanibel-Captiva Conservation Foundation Pine Island Sound Eastern Indigo Snake Project.

Since the live exhibits have been established, Rainbolt said they have received positive feedback from the community, as well as an increase of families visiting the center.

“People come here and because we are a wildlife hospital, they want to get in close contact with our patients. When they come here and realize the animals are recovering in the hospital from various injuries, or illness, the exhibit puts into perspective what it takes for us to fix the animals. Part of that is the educational component of being proactive with things like invasive species and alligators, instead of being reactive,” Rainbolt said.

The educational programs that CROW offers talks about treatments and methods they provide for their patients. She said they also try to instill in people a sense of value with the ecological niche, or roles, that each animal plays.

Next season, CROW will introduce two new daily presentations about invasive species and alligators.

On May 1, the CROW’s Visitor Center will have new hours Monday through Friday with daily presentations at 11 a.m. To view additional programs, visit www.crowclinic.org.