We Live in Gatored Communities

By Benjamin Isip / April 19, 2013
[Warm weather means active alligators, and we remind everyone to be cautious when having fun around the water.]

Residents of most communities share the land with a wonderful variety of wildlife.  Inside even gated communities, many county and association ponds are inhabited by alligators.  Typically, we can share peacefully, but occasionally an alligator becomes aggressive or large enough to be a real nuisance.  You've talked with insurance agent or attorney (if you haven't, the time is now), who told you that community associations are very limited in what can be done to control wildlife, so now what can be done?  Educate your community on what to do!

If your community is one that has some of the very common rules like no swimming in the ponds and keeping children and pets away from the water's edge, make sure everyone knows it!  Share guides about living with alligators like the one available
at http://myfwc.com/media/152524/Alligator_Brochure.pdf.  Kids can even learn all about how to live safely around them from a coloring book available at http://myfwc.com/media/310155/Alligator_AAA_booklet.pdf.  The key is making sure that everyone knows what to do when a nuisance alligator has been spotted, so that appropriate action can be taken by the appropriate parties right away before anyone gets hurt.  Without clear communication, people may assume that your community association may be responsible for protecting people from wildlife.  Here are some great talking points you can use:

What is a nuisance alligator?

Generally, an alligator may be considered a nuisance if it is at least 4 feet in length or poses a threat to people, their pets, or property. If an alligator is smaller than 4 feet and isn’t bothering anyone but the ducks, it isn’t considered a nuisance.

What do I do if there is a nuisance alligator in my neighborhood?

The best thing you can do is to contact your local or regional Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) office at 352-732-1225 or call 1-866-FWC-GATOR.  If the alligator is deemed to be a threat to the public, licensed trapper will be sent to remove it.

 7' alligator moving out of the neighborhood

Why don't they remove small alligators?

Generally, alligators less than 4 feet in length are not large enough to be dangerous unless handled.  They eat small fish, frogs, and other small animals. Typically, they are not large enough to be a threat to even small pets. The mere presence of a small alligator is not cause for concern.  Occasionally alligators less than 4 feet in length are legitimate problems and must be addressed.  If an alligator less than four feet in length is in a location that is not natural (such as a swimming pool or garage), call the Nuisance Alligator Hotline at 866-FWC-GATOR (866-392-4286).

Alligators and Floridians usually have a peaceful coexistence, but there are recorded attacks and occasional fatalities.  The key to staying safe is being alert to the possibility of alligators being present.  Never feed gators or swim or wade in waters where large alligators are known or likely to occur, especially at dusk or night (when they naturally feed).  It is illegal to feed alligators.  When humans feed alligators, it causes the alligators to lose their natural fear of humans and to associate humans with food.  It doesn't matter if people feed them human-food like marshmallows or throw them fish guts when cleaning fish, it's all bad.  It changes the alligator's behavior.

Normally, alligators avoid humans, but alligators that have been fed by humans will move toward humans and can become aggressive.  Alligators that have been fed by humans are dangerous and should be reported to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

It is very important to keep children and pets away from the water's edge wherever alligators are likely to be present.  Do not allow dogs to swim or explore waters that are known to have alligators because dogs look like prey to alligators. There are far more alligator attacks on dogs than on humans.  An alligator's prey selection seems based mostly on size of the potential prey animal, not so much on a keen recognition of specific animals as prey or non-prey.

What are some laws protecting alligators?

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) lists alligators as a species threatened due to similarity of appearance, which specifically refers to the similarity between alligators and the endangered American crocodile.  In Florida, alligators are considered a Species of Special Concern but can be harvested legally under proper licenses and permits issued by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.  It is illegal to feed or harass alligators in Florida.

What are some common misconceptions about alligators?

Myth #1. You should run zigzag if you come across an alligator.

This is a common misconception.  First, it is rare for an alligator to pursue a human because humans are too large to be suitable prey.  However, if an alligator does make an aggressive charge, run fast and straight (away from the alligator, of course).  They usually do not run very far. But remember they are most likely to charge at you if you are near their nest.

Myth #2. Alligators have poor eyesight.

Alligators actually have very good eyesight, which is an important adaptation for hunting.  They are especially adapted to see and sense movement of potential prey animals.  The position of their eyes on their head (almost on the side) gives them a wide sight range.  The only place they cannot see is right behind them.

Myth #3. Alligators are not good climbers.

Alligators have sharp claws and powerful tails to help them push their bodies up.  Young alligators are agile climbers and adults have been known to climb fences to get to water or escape captivity.  Low fences, therefore, may not be sufficient protection for pets in areas where alligators are present.  Fences should be more than 4.5 feet tall if you are attempting to keep alligators out of your yard.

Myth #4. Alligators make good pets.

This is entirely untrue. Alligators make terrible pets.  Although baby alligators may seem like a cool pet, it is illegal to possess or take an alligator without the proper licenses and permits from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. Alligators are purely instinctual hunters and do not show affection.  Unlike cats and dogs, alligators will never love the hand that feeds them.

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