Gators not a problem locally

Published 4:50 pm Thursday, June 3, 2010

Central Alabamians don’t normally see too many gators — at least until mid-December. And that’s in Atlanta.

But last week’s emergence of a 9-foot alligator on a Jemison dirt road incited the question of where exactly that one came from and how many more there could be behind him.

Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources Conservation enforcement officer and Shelby County game warden Brad Gavins, from the Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries division, said there are not many gators in Shelby County and isn’t aware of many others in Chilton County either. While he sees more than he used to, he doesn’t see the presence as prevalent.

Mostly, if any spring up in those areas, it’s due to residents who catch baby gators, keep them as pets for a short period of time until they grow and release them once they become too large or dangerous to raise.

“People are transporting them as juveniles when they’re cute and pretty to look at,” Gavins said. “Then they’re getting big and turning them loose.”

Chilton County game warden Shannon Calfee said he’s only received two valid gator complaints in his coverage area in more than five years. He said the gator population is currently very low in Chilton County.

As people continue to capture and raise gators, they reach a point where the animal grows up and feeding them two chickens a day becomes too much work. So they let them go into the wild.

In all of his time as a game warden here, Calfee has yet to actually see one on the job.

“As much time as I’ve spent on the river and creeks, I’ve never seen one when I’ve been out and about on a daily basis in Chilton County,” he said.

Gavins said it is illegal to own or even feed a gator.

According to the complaints and reports he has received, after three years as a game warden, gators are by no means a problem for the areas he covers.

So long as locals continue to catch, raise and release the reptiles, towns will see them turn up forever. He said there was a time in the recent past when a gator showing up in town or even on a dirt road was almost unheard of.

“Alligators really don’t want to be around people,” Gavins said. “They’ll stay away from people as long as they can.”

Calfee agrees.

“A wild alligator isn’t aggressive at all,” he said. “It’s a very elusive creature. They don’t want to be bothered or to approach you.”

Gavins said when too many gators populate a given habitat, the dominant reptiles will become territorial and intimidate the younger animals and force them away. That could lead to some gators wandering into unfamiliar territories, such as areas populated by people.

Gavins said the Coosa River areas aren’t a real threat either. It’s never had a history with gators, and he has no reason to believe there has been or will be any sudden increase.

“There’s not going to be a sudden occurrence,” he said. “It’s always been there. The main problem is people catching the small gators when they’re fishing and keeping them as pets.”

If Chilton County residents are catching gators, raising them on their land and releasing them once they grow too large to feed or house, sending a gator into populated areas is highly dangerous, according to the game wardens.

Gavins said the Jemison gator’s size and aggression played a large role in the officers’ decision to shoot and kill the animal.

“It wasn’t worth taking a risk not knowing its history,” Gavins said. “It’s highly capable of being dangerous to humans.”

Gavins said it was in the area’s best interest to put the gator down. If it had been smaller, they might have relocated the gator to an isolated area.”

If anyone sees a gator, Gavins aks that person to leave the animal alone or call 911. Calfee said if a person sees a gator, he or she should keep a safe distance from it and certainly resist any urge to provoke it.

“Don’t try to catch it yourself,” he said. “It would take three or four experienced people to trap one.”