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During gator season, more houses means more encounters and more videos

The reptile’s springtime courting season has begun. And when the cameras roll, deputies are often the stars.
Hillsborough County Sheriff's Deputy Shyanne Wheaton uses a push broom to drag an alligator back into a retention pond.
Hillsborough County Sheriff's Deputy Shyanne Wheaton uses a push broom to drag an alligator back into a retention pond. [ Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office ]
Published May 3
Updated May 3

TAMPA — It’s not in her job description, but Hillsborough County Sheriff’s deputy Shyanne Wheaton is taking on the role of alligator wrangler this spring.

Twice in the last month, Wheaton has cajoled gators from yards back into their wetland homes in suburban neighborhoods.

“We’ve officially changed her name to Crocodile Dun-Wheatee,” the Sheriff’s Office quipped in a social media post showing some tense video from her latest encounter, recorded on a body-worn camera.

On Thursday, amid the sound of barking dogs and nervous laughter, Wheaton got a 4-foot alligator to clamp down on a broom she borrowed from a homeowner and dragged the hissing creature across the grass into a retention pond.

“Don’t fall in!” fellow deputies shout on the video recording.

“I think I owe you a new broom,” Wheaton tells the homeowner.

Wheaton Gator 2

GOOD NEWS SUNDAY: Deputy Wheaton saved another gator!!! 🐊 That's right... the same deputy from the beginning of April that helped relocate a 10-foot gator ended up at another gator call that was oddly very similar! We've officially changed her name to Crocodile Dun-Wheatee 😂 On Thursday, Deputy Wheaton, Deputy Noland and Deputy Morrey responded to a call for a gator under a car in a Tampa neighborhood in District I. The gator was approximately 4-foot and had wondered from a nearby pond located behind the homes. It was found taking a snooze in the shade under a car. Deputy Wheaton was determined to get the gator back to its pond. She was using a broom to navigate it in the correct direction and eventually, the gator latched onto the broom and went for a joy ride to the pond. Deputy Wheaton pulled it back home safely — no one was injured. Again, we want to remind you it's that time of year! It's mating season and in general, gators become more visible and active during the spring and summer. #teamHCSO wants to make sure you know what to do in the event you find yourself in a similar situation as this one! 🚨 Keep a safe distance 🚨 Keep your pets on a leash and away from the water’s edge 🚨 Swim only in designated swimming areas during the daylight (gators are most active between dusk and dawn) 🚨 NEVER feed a gator 🚨 Call our non-emergency number at 813-247-8200 or call FWC's toll-free Nuisance Alligator Hotline at 866-392-4296 Great work, District 1! #HillsboroughCounty #FloridaGator #Alligators #FWC #FloridaFishAndWildlifeConservation #HCSO #HCSOd1 #Gator #Aligator #MatingSeason #HCSOgns #GoodNewsSunday

Posted by Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office on Sunday, May 2, 2021

On March 31, Wheaton was called to help people in a similar bind at a Tampa apartment complex — this time, with a 10-foot gator snoozing under a car. She got help from the expert trappers at the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, who relocated the reptile to an alligator farm.

Fortunately, the Sheriff’s Office said, no gators or humans were harmed in either incident.

Alligators get friskier with the warmer weather, ranging farther to mate and to eat. They begin courting in early April and mate in May and June.

And more and more, new houses are going up where they do their looking. So encounters are on the rise — as well as mobile phone recordings.

“In recent years, Florida has experienced tremendous human population growth,” the fish and wildlife commission said in a news release. “Many residents seek waterfront homes, and increasingly participate in water-related activities. This can result in more frequent alligator-human interactions, and a greater potential for conflict.”

On April 10, track and field athletes at Alonso High School in Tampa reported record times, the school joked, when their coach spotted an alligator creeping across the field.

And in the last week, deputies in both Pinellas and Hillsborough counties have responded to a number of surprise visits.

Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Deputy Greg Starling got the call Wednesday when a 9-foot alligator wandered into the intersection of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard and Williams Road just east of Interstate 75. Before a line of motorists, at least one of whom captured the moment on a viral TikTok video, Starling ushered the scaly pedestrian safely across the street into nearby wetlands.

On April 26, Pinellas County Sheriff’s Deputy Heather Harris snapped a selfie with a gator floating peacefully behind her in a backyard swimming pool — then another two or three after he was pulled from the pool and his mouth was taped close.

Related: Alligator in the pool? Pinellas sheriff's deputy to the rescue.

According to the fish and wildlife commission, an alligator is considered a “nuisance” animal if it measures 4 feet or more and is deemed a threat to people, pets or property. In this case, the agency will send one of its trappers to help remove the animal safely.

You can alert trappers by calling the agency’s Alligator Hotline — 866-392-GATOR.

What if they’re too small to qualify as a nuisance? That’s when people often call 911.

Whatever you do, don’t play Crocodile Dundee. State law prohibits killing, harassing or possessing alligators. Handling even small ones can result in injury. And pets, like small dogs and cats, should be kept out of any nearby bodies of water where the creatures could be lurking, especially around dusk.

Leave the wrangling up to the men and women in uniform, the Sheriff’s Office says.