ST. JOHNS COUNTY, Fla. – It is alligator mating season which means you will likely see more of them over the next few months.
Jim Darlington, a reptile curator at the St. Augustine Alligator Farm Zoological Park, said the gators play distinct roles.
“Males typically will attach themselves to a territory or like their favorite little nook or lagoon,” Darlington said. “The females are usually in search of males and they visit these areas.”
According to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC), there are more than 1.3 million alligators in the Sunshine State.
The courtship between alligators started in early April. Alligator mating season began in May and will go through June.
Female alligators deposit their eggs in late June or early July. The eggs hatch around August and into September.
“The females will usually use their back feet, but their front feet will pick a little nook cranny,” Darlington said. “They will pile up a lot of dirt and debris, vegetation, everything they can and soon after deposit eggs in that and they will guard that nest viciously.”
The mating season also leads to more alligators winding up in places you would least expect them. There have been several instances recently where alligators were seen roaming through neighborhoods.
“Alligators have a pretty good compass,” Darlington said. “If they are driven out of an area or blocked off on a normal route, they want to go from this direction and end up a half-mile over there. All of a sudden there are houses with fences. They are going to start pulling along the fences and bumping along the whole front of people’s property just trying to get from Point A to Point B.”
If this happens, Darlington said do not approach them, do not interact with them, and most importantly, do not feed them.
“That’s what gets them used to people,” he said. “That’s what gets them to like being around. That is also what makes them hang out at the water’s edge closer to people more than you would normally find.”
Pet attacks can also happen. Darlington said alligators are carnivores and opportunistic, but you should not be afraid to walk your dog or go about your normal routine. Just keep them on a leash and make sure they do not get too close to water.
FWC officials said there are circumstances when alligators can be a threat to people or pets. In those situations, they are considered “nuisance alligators.”
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There are trappers working for FWC — and they must get a permit from someone who called asking for an alligator to be removed. News4JAX rode along with an alligator trapper A.J. Ellis on a day he was responding to six cases of nuisance alligators being reported.
“You could imagine if he was not tired at that point and had an arm or something in his mouth, it would not be very good,” Ellis said while capturing his second alligator on May 5 in St. Johns County.
Trappers like Ellis are the only people allowed to handle the alligators and are not randomly seized.
Generally, an alligator is deemed a nuisance if it is at least 4 feet in length and the caller believes it poses a threat to people, pets or property, FWC said.
People can file a complaint and a permit is issued if it meets the criteria. Once a trapper is called, they have up to 45 days to snag the gators before the permit expires. A complaint can then be resubmitted.
“I try to get there as soon as I can,” Ellis said. “[I have to get the gators] out of the neighborhood so everybody can be safe again and feel comfortable being outside.”
One of two alligators caught was lurking in a pond near an Elkton construction site and business. A manager said they were interfering with work and even becoming aggressive because someone had been feeding them.
“He was just kind of sitting there as we were walking up,” Ellis said. “He felt a little pressure and went down.”
Ellis said it can be a game of patience. It took him nearly an hour to capture his first target.
“I always try to secure their jaws and their eyes,” he said. “It just helps to keep them calm a little bit.”
Then he hauls them to his truck for a measurement. That gator ended up being five feet long. Less than a mile away and an hour later, Ellis captured a 6-foot-4 alligator out of a pond on a golf course. These situations are urgent calls — but there are also emergencies.
A few weeks ago, Ellis had to wrangle a 10-footer that made itself at home outside someone’s front door in St. Augustine. Ellis has a warning for people who may encounter alligators that way.
“Stay inside obviously,” he said. “Do not try to catch or remove the alligator yourself.”
It is for your own safety and it’s against the law. If an alligator is longer than 4 feet, the FWC euthanizes them. The FWC said trying to relocate alligators that big is tough because zoos and farms typically do not have much space for them.
If there is an attempt to relocate them to another remote area, they will try to return to where they were captured. The FWC said that can cause some problems for people or other alligators if they are successful. They would need to be re-captured and the FWC says it would be harder to do so a second time.
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