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Picture of the cover to the September 2006 magazine

From the Pen of Robert L. Cook

During the late spring of 2006, three adult women in Florida were attacked and killed by alligators in unrelated incidents. The tragedy and horror of such an attack are almost unimaginable. There were many different theories about why these attacks occurred. Perhaps the alligators saw food. Perhaps they had lost their natural fear of humans. Perhaps they were defending their nests of eggs or young alligators. We will never know for sure. Following these tragedies, some concerned citizens advocated the complete destruction and removal of all adult alligators from areas populated by humans. I do not believe that is the best solution.

In 1969, the American alligator was listed as an endangered species across the United States. State and federal agencies promptly enacted regulations that protected the species and conducted needed research and monitoring programs, and the species made a full and remarkable recovery. The American alligator was removed from the endangered species list in 1987. The southeastern states, including Florida and Texas, now have extensive populations of free-ranging alligators; there are millions of them.

Like all native fish and wildlife species, the American alligator is an important part of our wetland ecosystems, and a valuable, useful, renewable resource if we will manage them and their habitats responsibly. The Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission recently approved regulations that allow a licensed hunter to harvest one alligator per year on private land in most of Texas during an open season of April 1 through June 30. This will help control the number of alligators in Texas and will allow the legal removal of adult gators from private property. In addition, nuisance alligator control agents respond to calls from citizens to remove alligators from urban areas or from areas frequented by humans, especially children.

Alligators will eat just about anything, from a tin can to a crawdad, but primarily they feed on fish, turtles, snakes, water-birds and small mammals. The peak breeding and nesting season for gators in Texas is mid-April through August, during which time the female alligator will aggressively defend her nest-mound, eggs and young. Alligators reach breeding maturity at 12–15 years of age, when they are 6–7 feet in length. Any alligator over 5–6 feet long can cause serious harm or injury to humans, especially children. Pets are very susceptible to alligators and should be kept under careful watch when in areas typically inhabited by alligators. An adult alligator of 10–14 feet can weigh 500–1,000 pounds and must be treated with watchful caution.

Like many native wildlife species, from rattlesnakes to mountain lions to red wasps, alligators can cause pain and serious injury, even death, to humans and their pets. However, the solution is not their extermination. As our residential areas expand into the state’s bottomlands and wetlands, Texans need to be aware of the critters that they are “moving in” with. Many of these species are very adaptable; they’ve been around for millions of years. Species like the coyote, raccoon and opossum can live in our stormwater drainage tunnels and get fat off our garbage and pet food that we carelessly make available to them in the backyard. Remember, these are not pets; they are not cute and sweet and cuddly. They are wild animals and should be respectfully treated as such.

Get outdoors. Learn about wildlife and habitat. Be part of the solution, not part of the problem.

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