LAKE COUNTY, Fla. – The American alligator can be spotted all over the United States, spanning from Oklahoma to Florida and reaching up to North Carolina.
In Florida, there are 1.3 million alligators in each of the 67 counties across the state, according to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.
You can spot alligators almost everywhere you go in the state from lakes to retention ponds to rivers in their natural habitat. But what happens when you spot an alligator on your front porch? Or maybe even you notice an alligator is close to you on a golf course? Do you know who you would call to help remove them if they pose a threat?
News 6 wanted to get an firsthand account and speak with one of the men who is called to help handle alligators larger than four-feet and are believed to pose a threat—often times referred to as nuisance alligator trappers.
From the Marines to FWC Alligator Trapper
Ray York is a licensed nuisance alligator trapper for the state of Florida under the division of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. He covers the southern Lake County nuisance complaints.
Before he was removing alligators and keeping the public safe in Florida, he served as a platoon sergeant in the Marines—some of his service included the War in Iraq in 2003.
His service to his country and the lessons learned have spanned into his role serving others in the state of Florida.
"With me being in a leadership role (in the military) that definitely crossed over to the fact that I started a business and took on the dual role of an alligator trapper. The military is the number one contributor to what I have become and what I have done, " York said.
A passion for nature and the outdoors inspired him to get involved with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission after he met a few trappers in 2006.
"I always grew up doing things like this, I love the outdoors and love nature," York said.
Alligator trappers are under the Statewide Nuisance Alligator Program, or SNAP, that helps to "address complaints concerning alligators" in Florida.
A person applies to become a licensed trapper through an application process with the commission—the work is part-time—-and the position is filled.
York became a trapper in 2011 with SNAP.
I really do this for the public service," York said when describing to News 6 why he is passionate about working with the Florida Fish Wildlife and Conservation Commission and educating the public.
Nuisance alligators and the key information to inform the trapper
An alligator is only trapped if it is seen to be a nuisance, if they are over four feet in length and "pose a danger to people, property or pets," according to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.
The program started in the state of Florida in 1978 in an effort to control the alligator population.
There were 13,962 nuisance alligator complaints in 2015 and 7,513 were removed, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission reported.
York said he captures about 100 alligators a year for the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.
Anyone who is concerned about an alligator being a potential threat can call the SNAP hotline to make a complaint.
One of the criteria for an alligator to be removed is the property owner or management authority has to grant legal access to their property for an alligator to be removed.
If the complaint meets the criteria then a permit will be issued for a nuisance alligator trapper to come and remove the alligator.
The permit is good for 45 days York said.
However, there are a few key elements that help a trapper before they come to a location to trap an alligator.
"I always ask them details about when the last time they saw the alligator: how big they think it is, what it was doing at the time. All of this can help me. Because most times when I arrive on the scene, the initial moment is when I can catch it the quickest," York said.
"Once I have been there and try to find it, it kind of catches on to what I'm doing and it can allude me a little bit. If they give me any hints, like if it's ate one of it's ducks, then that makes it easier to catch it," he said.
Seven-foot alligator removed in Lake County
News 6 went out with York on a nuisance trapping call in South Lake County and observed an alligator removed from a property right before sunset.
York told News 6 the best time to remove an alligator is first thing in the morning or right before dark.
"First thing in the morning alligators are typically facing the sun to bask. Especially, if the night before was cooler where they are able to stay present or out where I can see them longer," he said.
"Once it becomes dark you can see their eyes, but then at the same time that is when they feed the most. So they will obviously take a bait quicker," York said.
The equipment he uses is a fishing pole, 150 pound test line, treble hook and a pole when in the water, head lamp and an alligator call, he said.
The alligator call, York told us, is the sound a baby alligator that will attract a larger alligator to a trapper.
"Most times, you are in and out in 30 minutes or so. Most of the alligators are a nuisance, of course, and they are not really afraid of people, so they are not going to run and hide themselves," York said.
The permit was a guide to where York should look when we arrived at the location. After walking around the location, we spotted the an alligator and the retrieval process began.
The alligator was spotted and trapped in a duration of over 16 minutes from start to finish.
I have taken people and would take them with me on any given day. Everything I do, I am proud of it and I think it's exciting," York told us.
We attached a GoPro camera to York via a chest mount to get a first-person perspective from his point of view.
Take a look at the trap from his perspective below:
The result was the capture of a seven-foot-long female alligator. She was relocated later on that night. The price for capturing and removing an alligator is only $30.
'That was definitely the most exciting trapping episode'
During the interview, York told News 6 about his most interesting trap capturing an alligator that was perfectly comfortable with his habitat.
Take a listen to what he said in the clip below:
Safety is a key issue for anyone trapping an alligator and time is of the essence in responding to a call. One of the biggest fears, York told us, was making sure he is able to get to a property in time before an alligator injures someone or them.
One important take away he told us in our interview was to avoid feeding alligators.
In the State of Florida, outlined in the statutes, it is unlawful for anyone to "intentionally feed, or entice with feed any crocodilian."
Something that York expressed is that the public should comply with the rule and avoid feeding alligators.
The nuisance alligator harvest permit specifically asks, "Has the alligator been fed?"
"Don't feed alligators, that is the number one reason we have to catch them," he said.
"Number one reason that they cause trouble and it's not their fault, but once they have been fed by a human, they associate you with food. They will follow humans for the rest of their lives," York said.
For more information Statewide Nuisance Alligator Program or the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, go to http://myfwc.com/alligator.