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St. Petersburg's 10-foot urban alligator faces death sentence

ST. PETERSBURG — State officials have upped the ante in the search for a 10-foot alligator that has long eluded capture in the city's southern canals and waters: They've authorized the use of deadly force.

Alligator trapper Charles Carpenter said he asked for — and received — permission from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission on Tuesday to shoot the reptile dead if he can find it.

That's a big if, however. Carpenter, Pinellas County's alligator control agent, said he has spent two years hunting for the 10-footer.

"He's good at not getting caught," Carpenter said.

The situation escalated Monday night, when residents told Bay News 9 that the alligator ate a mixed-breed dog named Jett, which was running loose in a canal near 11th Avenue S and Sixth Street S.

Wildlife commission spokesman Gary Morse said he has heard several rumors of dogs being attacked in the area — one was that three dogs were eaten by an alligator — but they hadn't confirmed any of those reports.

Carpenter said he investigated a sighting the next morning, 8 a.m. Tuesday, in a culvert near Tony's Meat Market at 1209 Fourth St. S.

"We came out and looked for him and couldn't find him," he said. "I've heard a few different stories about him. I just take it with a grain of salt."

The alligator has become especially adept at eluding all the usual methods of capture, Carpenter said. The target has been on the run for too long, he said, has evaded too many traps and has too many places to hide. And the places it does hide make trapping it dangerous. So Carpenter said he decided to ask the state for permission to kill the reptile and harvest its carcass.

Authorizing the use of lethal force is a rare tactic to curb what the state calls a "nuisance" alligator — one that's longer than 4 feet, can swallow pets and doesn't retreat from humans.

"Nuisance" alligators aren't good candidates for relocation, the state says, because they cause problems for the existing alligator populations in the areas in which they're relocated.

Even if they did manage to corner the animal in a culvert, the trapper said, there's no way to safely trap and remove it with all the concrete and pipe in there. The animal could too easily use the concrete to cut away anything binding him. A huge underground drainage system also gives alligators an easy escape route.

"Every time the trapper shows up, the gator is gone," Morse said. Once they hit that drainage system, he said, "they're lost to us."

Another problem is that the state has received reports of locals feeding the aforementioned alligator. There's no sense in baiting traps if the alligator isn't hungry.

Not only is it illegal to feed alligators in Florida, Morse said, it's also dumb. "Feeding gators is about the most dangerous thing anyone could do," he said, "other than jump in the water and wrestle them."

How would Carpenter kill the reptile? He could use his semi-automatic pistol or his hunting rifle, he said.

Morse said lethal force is appropriate in this case.

"We've been after this gator for two years," he said. "He won't take bait in this situation."

Jamal Thalji can be reached at thalji@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8472.

St. Petersburg's 10-foot urban alligator faces death sentence 07/27/10 [Last modified: Wednesday, July 28, 2010 7:02am]
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