In the spring a young gators' fancy lightly turns to thoughts of — well, not love exactly, but mating. The male gators climb out of their gator holes to hunt for a lady gator. That's why you're seeing so many stories right now about alligators showing up in places people don't expect.
In just the past month, Florida newspapers have run five separate stories about alligators on the move. A 4-footer showed up in a Winn-Dixie parking lot in Sarasota, but didn't get to do any grocery shopping before it was captured. A guy walking his dog in Boca Raton spotted an 8-footer in his swimming pool (not doing the backstroke, though). Another one that measured 8-feet-7 was picked up by the cops while wandering along a major highway in Venice (it had no ID). A 15-footer nicknamed Chubbs waddled by the ninth hole of a golf course in Palmetto, but nobody wanted to hire it as a caddy.
My favorite is the story from Flagler Beach about an alligator of indeterminate size that strolled through a strip shopping center and stopped in front of the donut shop. An antique store employee filmed the visit.
"I am a native Floridian and am not spooked by them, but I do know not to startle them and to get out of their way," she told the Miami Herald.
That's a pretty good guideline to follow every time alligators create a commotion by swimming in your pool, gobbling burgers at your picnic or slapping their tails on your front door as if knocking to get in. Most of the time, though, the people who see them aren't nearly that chill. They act like they didn't know gators lived here and go into an oh-my-God panic.
And that's before they find out that gators can climb fences.
To us native Floridians, though, seeing an alligator strolling along a roadside or sunning itself by a pond is no big deal. We also know that if you see a body of fresh water larger than a puddle, it's probably got at least one alligator in it.
There was a time about 50 years ago when alligator sightings in Florida were rare — not counting the ones featured in gator-wrestling shows and on postcards with bikini-clad women. They had been hunted to near-extinction. When the first list of endangered species came out in 1967, alligators were on there, along with panthers, manatees and Key deer.
But thanks to the Endangered Species Act — which was co-written by a Florida man named Nathaniel Reed — they have come roaring back. Now there are about 1-million of them in Florida lakes, rivers and swamps, not to mention in your garage under your car. In fact, there's a whole alligator-related industry, and it's so profitable that it recently attracteda ring of poachers.
Because we keep building our homes in gator habitat, the people moving into Florida keep calling up state wildlife officials to complain about all the gators popping up in their retention ponds and golf course water hazards.
Florida's Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission deals with such complaints using the Statewide Nuisance Alligator Program, or SNAP for short — proof that even bureaucrats have a sense of humor. In 2016, the SNAP staff handled 12,772 nuisance gator complaints, leading to trappers killing more than 8,000 gators.
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To me, though, alligators aren't nuisances. They're heroes. They're on the front lines in the Everglades, battling the pythons to stop them from taking over. And I know of at least three incidents in which alligators helped the police apprehend suspects. Talk about taking a bite out of crime!
If you see one, though, don't get close enough to tell it thank you. Just keep your distance and say, "See ya later."
Times senior news researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this report. Contact Craig Pittman at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @craigtimes