In Florida, humans share space with all manner of reptiles; most noteworthy are alligators and several species of exotic snakes. Humans and reptiles thrive in Florida’s semi-tropical climate, and learning how to co-exist safely, is a human concern. It is entirely on mankind to work out the co-habitation details since alligators are an integral component of Florida’s freshwater ecosystem and protected by law.
Alligators have been adapting to an ever changing environment for 35 million years. In Florida ‘gators are holding their own at an estimated population of one to one and a half million. The U.S. Census Bureau lists the population of Florida at 18,801,310. People still have the edge, but when clashes with alligators or other reptiles do occur they are not pretty.
According to Senior Animal Care Specialist Cayle Pearson, human fatalities involving alligator attacks average out to one every other year. Non-fatal attacks average in the teens annually. Given the amount of news coverage these encounters generate, attacks appear more prevalent than the figures bear out.
Pearson notes that “it is illegal to engage an alligator in any way in the state of Florida, and that includes feeding.” He works as a trapper for Animal Trappers of Florida, and specializes in nuisance wildlife removal and relocation. “An alligator that has been fed loses any natural fear of humans, and then views people as a potential food source; a dangerous combination of factors.”
The building boom experienced statewide during the last decade displaced much of Florida’s wildlife, including alligators. Exposure to construction workers and food left behind at construction sites created an unnatural environment for the alligators. When building was finished and homeowners settled into newly developed areas, the gators often remained waiting for a hand out. More often than not this scenario played out badly for the reptiles. It didn’t matter that the gators were there first, there can be little tolerance for them when humans are endangered.