Monday, August 9, 2010

Use good sense, not fear, with alligators

Feeding alligators causes them to lose their natural fear and act aggressively toward people

Simply Living

August 9, 2010

"Are there alligators in that lake?"

People who visit our lakeside property and bamboo nursery have asked me that question countless times.

I always answer: "Yes."

At  all times, in any Florida lake — man-made or spring-fed — at least one  gator is likely to be present. Alligators are aquatic animals. Although  they nest in marshy areas and travel over dry land, these descendants of  prehistoric predators spend most of their time in or around water. I  find that fascinating. Many people find it frightening.

"You don't swim in the water, do you?" is the usual follow-up question.

I most definitely do, and so does Ralph, our children and now our year-old grandson, Atom.

Swimming  in a clean, clear, silky-smooth lake is one of life's simple pleasures.  The fact that at least one alligator may be in the lake, too, doesn't  stop me from enjoying the water. It just makes me more aware.

I'm  not a particularly brave, brazen or foolish person. I'm just someone who  has always liked swimming in lakes,  strives to understand her  surroundings and  appreciates and respects the critters that share her  world. Awareness and education are essential when confronting any of  life's many dangers.

The more you learn about potential problems, the easier it is to avoid them. Alligators  are large, scary-looking animals with a mouthful of sharp teeth, a  powerful tail and the ability to stay under water for long periods.  Although their potential to inflict great harm is undeniable, most of  their energy is directed toward the fish, turtles and small mammals that  make up their diet.

Fatal alligator attacks on people are rare.  The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission has documented 22  alligator-related deaths in Florida since 1948. Figures from the  National Weather Service show that more people in Florida were killed by  lightning in the past four years than by alligator bites in the past 62  years.

I find such statistics reassuring — especially when I'm  floating in the middle of the lake or taking an evening dip to cool off  after working in the garden.

Alligators were a part of Florida  long before people. Their ancestors swam in lakes like the one in my  backyard 80 million years ago. An animal that has remained relatively  unchanged for such a long time must be doing something right. People may  not like alligators because they are so large and potentially  dangerous, but it's hard not to admire an animal that has so  successfully survived and adapted to an ever-changing world.

Although  I have no desire to have a one-on-one encounter, I respect alligators  and enjoy seeing them in the wild. Anyone who can get past the fear  factor will find these  armored creatures captivating to watch. But  watching them is all that should be done. Under no circumstances should  anyone ever feed a wild alligator. Not only is feeding these  large-bodied, small-brained animals illegal, it's what causes them to  lose their natural fear and act aggressively toward people.

Three  times in the past 19 years, we've had to have aggressive alligators  removed from our lake. When we were swimming, these rogue gators swam  toward us rather than away. When we tried to scare them off, they  ignored us. Behavior like that is not normal and indicates potential  problems. Fortunately, the fish and wildlife commission is there to  help. (The commission's Nuisance Alligator Hotline is 1-866-FWC-GATOR,  or 1-866-392-4286.)

The commission considers an alligator a  nuisance if it is at least 4 feet long and poses a threat to people or  pets. The agency sends out a licensed trapper to remove the animal. If only it were as easy to remove nuisance people...

When it comes to  alligators, our imagination gets us in trouble. Allowing fear to replace  common sense may be easy to do, but it's not particularly helpful.

If  we spent half as much energy evaluating facts as we spend concocting  scary scenarios, we'd be safer, saner and more in tune with nature. We'd  also enjoy swimming in clean, clear, silky-smooth lake water without  unnecessary worry and fear.

1 comment:

  1. Okay, but if Atom's first sister gets named Poke Salad Annie, Watch Out!