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Obey the law: Don't feed the alligators
EGLIN AIR FORCE BASE, Fla. -- A large alligator rests in the bed of Jackson Guard vehicle after being trapped. If you experience a nuisance alligator near an Eglin fishing pond or stream, including military family housing, contact security forces at 882-2502. If you live in the surrounding communities, you should contact the FWC's Nuisance Alligator Hotline at 1-866-FWC-GATOR (1-866-392-4286). (U.S. Air Force photo)
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Obey the law: Don't feed the alligators

Posted 7/2/2007   Updated 7/2/2007 Email story   Print story

    


by Jerron Barnett
Eglin Environmental Public Affairs


7/2/2007 - EGLIN AIR FORCE BASE, Fla.  -- Don't call it a comeback, alligators have been here for years. Don't treat them like pets and feed them, either. Feeding alligators is against Florida state law and is hazardous to your health and the alligator's as well.

American alligators inhabit nearly every fishing pond and stream on the Eglin reservation and the alligator population has increased statewide since state officials have put measures in place to recover the species. With the number of people living near water and engaging in water recreation activities increasing all the time, so has potential for alligator-human encounters.

"The problem occurs when people try to feed the alligators," said Justin Johnson, Jackson Guard wildlife biologist and outdoor recreation program manager. "The alligators then start to associate people with food."

Mr. Johnson continues with the premise that once that person who has just fed the alligator walks off, the next person who encounters the alligator, which the alligator approaches, that person might perceive the alligator's behavior as being aggressive in nature, when it's really just a learned behavior.

The end result is the alligator must be trapped and killed rather than relocated, Mr. Johnson said. The reason is because that alligator will forever associate humans with food, no matter where it is.

"Alligators are a natural part of Eglin's ecosystem and people damage the balance of the system when they feed alligators," said Dennis Teague, Jackson Guard endangered species biologist and nuisance wildlife coordinator. "You might think that feeding them is being kind to them--it is not."

In 2006, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission claimed that there were four unprovoked or provoked alligator bites on humans in Florida reported, down from 10 reported in 2005. One of the bites in 2006 resulted in a fatality.

On average, there are approximately five nuisance alligators a year that must be removed from Eglin ponds and streams, Mr. Johnson said. 

He said he understands the "cool factor" people associate with seeing an alligator feed, but advises people to obey the "Do Not Feed" alligator signs that have been posted near Eglin fishing ponds and streams. The FWC states that people should observe and photograph alligators from a safe distance.

"Most people I've talked to on the phone that report nuisance alligators seem to be aware of the rules," Mr. Johnson said. "We hope that level of awareness continues for human safety and the alligators' safety."

Jackson Guard has brochures available in their lobby to help make local residents aware of the alligator population on Eglin, which is estimated to be several hundred.

Jackson Guard is located along Highway 85 North in Niceville. Their phone number is (850) 882-4165 or 882-4166.

If you experience a nuisance alligator near an Eglin fishing pond or stream, including military family housing, contact security forces at 882-2502. If you live in the surrounding communities, you should contact the FWC's Nuisance Alligator Hotline at 1-866-FWC-GATOR (1-866-392-4286).

Visit http://myfwc.com/gators/ for more information on alligator management in the State of Florida.



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