Committee of the Islands

Keeping Sanibel Special Since 1975

Alligator Tales: The Latest Chapter

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June 14, 2013

Alligator Tales : The Latest Chapter By Barbara Joy Cooley , president , Committee of the Islands “ Sanibel is and shall remain a barrier island sanctuary , one in which a diverse population lives in harmony with the island''s wildlife and natural habitats . The Sanibel community must be vigilant in the protection and enhancement of its sanctuary characteristics . ” – from the Sanibel Vision Statement , Sanibel City Charter , Section 3.18 Those words from the Sanibel Vision Statement , which cite not only living in harmony with our wildlife , but also being vigilant in protecting the sanctuary characteristics of the island , are ones we should bear in mind regarding the island''s alligators . And for several years now , we have been monitoring and reporting on the worrisome aspects of official " harvesting " of these animals . When mid ? April arrived , I noted that it was time to check up on Sanibel''s alligators again . On April 18 , I requested email copies of all the alligator police reports from March 15 , 2012 , through mid ? April , 2013 . Police Chief Bill Tomlinson readily asked his staff to email them to me . I made a similar request of the state’s Alligator Management Program at the Fish and Wildlife Commission : would they please email me information about alligators harvested from Sanibel during the past year ? Lindsey Hord , the state biologist who directs that program , also readily asked his staff to email the information to me . The bottom line is that of 113 alligator ? related incidents / police reports , only 4 alligators were removed from Sanibel and destroyed . That represents much less alligator death than in other recent years ; it is basically a return to the old days , when few gators on this sanctuary island were destroyed . After I read all 411 pages of reports , I made a 7 ? page table / summary , which I analyzed . During this analysis , I was struck by the fact that many small alligators get into swimming pools . That happens more frequently than I imagined . Some people call the police to report the presence of an alligator for no apparent reason , other than that perhaps they think the police need to know . When asked , these callers said no , they didn’t feel threatened by the animal , and no , they were not asking for it to be removed . Sadly , a couple of alligators were struck by vehicles . About those small alligators in swimming pools : what typically happened was that the responding police officer would remove the gator from the pool , then transport it and release it on conservation land off of Island Inn Road . One hungry baby gator found in front of the Sanibel Café was also taken to that spot . A few small alligators were simply relocated to a pond near the place where they were found . The harrowing experience of being relocated by a police officer probably reinforced a healthy fear of humans in these young gators . Many , many times , there would be a call to the police about an alligator , but the subject alligator was gone by the time police officers arrived on the scene . Sometimes the alligator was still on site , but when what good alligators do ! They avoid the police arrived , it fled into a nearby pond or bayou . That’s people . There were a few serious cases in which the alligator seemed to behave as if it had been fed by humans . Everyone on Sanibel should know that it is a violation of the law to feed an alligator , because feeding alligators can cause them to associate humans with food – a very dangerous situation . ( Below , alligator eating a bowfin fish that he scooped out of the muck – a good situation . ) The collection of reports contained evidence that the Sanibel Police coordinated with the J.N . “ Ding ” Darling National Wildlife Refuge management about alligators who’d been seen crossing the road or shared use path and entering refuge property . In one interesting case about a year ago , a crew working on a weir near Tarpon Bay Road was approached by a 10 ? foot alligator who watched them . Refuge officers arrived and stated that the gator did not appear to be a threat and would not be moved . They said that they’d monitor the gator for 30 days ; if it was still in the area then , they’d help remove it . Sometimes people call the police to report alligators doing exactly what alligators are supposed to do . For example , last August , someone reported that a six ? foot alligator was swimming nonaggressively in the bayou , a full 80 yards from the boardwalk near Blind Pass condominiums . More recently , a woman observed an alligator eating turtles in a pond by Hurricane Lane . Imagine that . Nature in action . On a rare occasion , an alligator will do something that is difficult to explain . For example , last October , a resort manager called the police to report that an 18 ? inch long baby alligator bit a landscaper on his only . ” I’m not kidding . At least the boot . That’s right , the alligator “ latched onto the heel of his boot little gator was smart enough to flee into the pond when the police officer arrived on the scene . Recreating in all the wrong places Once in a while , people will call because they see alligators where they thought alligators would not go , like on the beach , or even in the surf . Trust me , alligators do visit the beach now and then . I’ve photographed them there . Then there was the 3 ? foot gator that went to the ball field . It was taken by the police to a body of water off of Island Inn road , to join the small gators who’d been removed from swimming pools . One resident of a lane off of Beach Road repeatedly called the police about an alligator in the water near his property . One day , it dared to sun itself on his property . The trapper was called , but was unable to capture the alligator on February 4 . Some people were a little confused about their neighboring wildlife . A man on Joewood Lane in Gulf Ridge called to report the presence of an iguana . It was actually a 2.5 ? foot alligator , which retreated into the water when the police officer approached . an alligator . A couple returned to Now here’s a case where someone really did have a problem with their home in East Rocks to find an 8 ? foot alligator asleep in front of the side door . The couple did not have a key to the front door , and so could not enter their home . But the alligator was gone , thankfully , the police arrived . The residents said they did not feel that the gator posed any threat . He by the time was just in the way . In the final incident of the reporting year , a realtor reported a 3 ? foot alligator in the retention pond at swam to the middle of the pond when the police Sundial on Middle Gulf Drive . The smart alligator officer approached . The police officer was unable to catch the wily gator , which appeared to fear humans . The final tally ? 113 incidents , 21 reports sent to the alligator trapper , and a total of 4 alligators removed ( destroyed ) and 21 relocated on the island . I wish no alligators had been destroyed ; and I sincerely hope that these four were not destroyed needlessly . What you can do What can you do to protect alligators from this sad fate ? ? Communicate : Be sure new residents in your neighborhood are informed about alligators . ? Educate : Inform people that it is illegal to feed alligators . This criminal act is punishable by up to a $ 500 fine and 60 days in jail . If you see people feeding alligators on Sanibel , call the police at 472 ? 3111 . Feeding alligators is dangerous and it makes the alligators dangerous . ? Calls that can kill : Do NOT call the police about an alligator unless the alligator is behaving in a predatory manner toward humans . Complaining to the police about nonaggressive alligators can result in these animals being destroyed needlessly . Also , unfortunately , trappers have been alligators . So please do not call the police known to knowingly take and destroy the wrong unless there is a threatening alligator . And by the way , an alligator sitting still with his mouth open is only trying to cool off ; his open mouth is not a sign of aggression . ? Remember where you are : Be aware that alligators were here before people came to Sanibel . Who would move to south Florida and then expect the alligators to leave ? ? Keep your distance : Never approach alligators . Do not linger at the edge of fresh or brackish caution , water bodies , especially at dusk , night , or dawn , and especially in warmer weather . Use and be aware of your surroundings . ? Be smart : Do not work with your back to the water , especially in a crouching position . Do not swim in fresh or brackish water bodies in south Florida . ? Mind the innocents : Never allow small children or dogs to play near the water unsupervised . Pet cats should be kept indoors ( not only for their own safety , but also for the safety of birds ) . All photographs by Barbara Joy Cooley As mysanibel.com says , remember that alligators are “ an important part of Sanibel’s natural history as well as an integral component of our freshwater ecosystem . ” The Committee of the Islands was founded in 1975 by those who helped incorporate Sanibel as an independent , self ? governing city within Lee County . Guided by the mission of these founders , the Committee seeks to ensure the continuity of good local government , to protect the environment , and to preserve the sanctuary character of our barrier island community . Further information is available on to coti @ coti.org . You can also visit Committee of the Committee''s website at www.coti.org , or via email the Islands on Facebook .

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