Living With Alligators in Central Florida
"Hey, Mike, my husband and I are moving down from (name of blizzard-stricken northern city goes here...) and we'd like to find something on one of the lakes that doesn't have any alligators..."
Yes, there are some big gators out there, but you stand a better chance of being hit by lightning here in the "Sunshine State" than of being attacked by an alligator. For some reason, death by lightning strike seems so much more divine than being consumed by an overgrown lizard though, right?
The idea of living on a body of fresh water in Florida that does not have alligators is just not that realistic, not for very long, anyway. Alligators are a part of the natural order down here and are really quite common in most of Florida's lakes, rivers and streams. Even the best efforts at keeping a body of water "gator-free" are guaranteed to be short lived.
Why? Alligators get up and relocate, especially during the summer mating season. Alligator populations in and around Florida's lakes, rivers and streams also continue to grow at a healthy rate. This is one reason why the State recently expanded the annual alligator harvest. Combine an increasing alligator population with an increasing human population, and it's easy to see that alligator-to-human encounters will continue to increase.
The vast majority of alligators one may come across down here are less than 6 feet in length, but gators in the 8 ft. to 10 ft. class are not uncommon. The largest Florida alligator on record was just over 14 ft. in length. Male alligators tend to grow larger than females.
The State of Florida has a nuisance alligator program and will respond quickly to any concerns. The response typically involves sending a licensed trapper to locate and remove the animal. Nuisance alligators are typically euthanized.
With a few well-publicized exceptions, almost all alligators stay well-clear of humans. But growing populations of people and alligators create a situation where more and more alligators are exposed to humans on a regular basis. Over time, this continued exposure can lead to alligators losing their natural fear of humans. In many cases, the loss of this natural fear can be attributed to humans feeding alligators - something that is against the law.
This is a great link to a site with resources for living with alligators and how to spot the warning signs of a gator that has lost its fear of humans: http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/uw230
If you have an interest in going out on an alligator hunt with a licensed guide, check out Jerry Flynn's alligator hunt guide service here: http://www.gatorchasers.com/
The bottom line is that the alligator is a creature to be respected and understood, and if you come across one that does not seem to bothered by your presence, stay clear of it and report it to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission at 1-866-FWC-GATOR.