ORLANDO, Fla. – If you live in Central Florida, alligators can show up anytime, anywhere. Polk County deputies were called to deal with a 10-foot, 700-pound alligator wrestling with itself near a middle school.
(Scroll down to see which Florida lakes have the most “bull” alligators.)
While gator encounters often make headlines, News 6 wanted to know just how frequent are those sightings, and where are Florida alligators spotted the most? To answer the question, News 6 went to Gatorland.
Gatorland is home to more than 2,000 alligators, it is also fittingly Central Florida’s first major tourist attraction.
We met with Brandon Fisher, a gator expert who still has all 10 fingers and toes despite his day job.
“Everybody thinks, ‘Alligators, oh they are big and scary!” But they are not going to eat people just to eat people, they are not going to eat your dogs and cats just to eat them. They get scared. They are a very protective animal,” Fisher said.
He explained both native Floridians and newcomers alike are often fascinated by alligators, and sometimes folks mistake the small alligator living in the retention pond in your neighborhood as a kind of neighborhood pet.
“Once you hand feed an alligator, once you touch a wild alligator, that is it. You have basically signed his death certificate. They get used to us very, very quickly,” said Fisher standing near several dozen alligators in one of Gatorland’s feeding pit. “These guys here at Gatorland are used to us, so that makes them a little bit more dangerous than alligators in the wild.”
News 6 contacted the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC), the state agency designated to deal with nuisance gators.
News 6 found, at least once a day on average, Florida alligators and human habitats collide.
FWC state data shows 380 people reported alligators that were a little too close for comfort last year. Brevard County had the most calls statewide for troublesome gators. Orange County came in 4th.
(We mapped out this data for you! Scroll down to see if alligators were spotted in your neighborhood.)
News 6 also found other notable nuisance cases, including a “10-footer” in Debary, six gators together in St. Cloud, another at a school in Sanford and at least five gators were spotted at Publix stores across the state.
However, of the nearly 400 calls, most of the documented sightings happened at public parks or residential areas near wetlands.
When News 6 went to one of those residential areas in north Lakeland, we met a girl and her grandmother: two people who called twice about nuisance gators during 2020.
“There was a (trapper) who came out here once, but (the gator) went into the drain,” said the girl, who named the 4-foot animal Freddy. “There is a house that is supposedly feeding him.”
One state trapper said most of the time people feed alligators and the animals become used to humans.
“That is the biggest mistake,” state trapper Mark Moniz said. “They think they are feeding the fish but they are actually feeding the alligators too.”
Moniz, a trapper for 16 years out of Polk County, said he also gets calls to trap gators that are too close to other people’s pets.
“If somebody is fearful of it, they call in and we have to respond to it. If we do not and something happens, I would feel bad myself.”
Moniz, who traps alligators only part-time, said he gets about $7 a foot for harvested gators. Live animal prices vary. “When it threatens a human or animal, it is usually harvested. If [the gator has] threatened people or animals, they usually harvest them.”
The largest he’s ever caught? “13.6-feet,” he said proudly.
That is considered “bull gator” status, and locally, Lake Poinsett on the St. Johns River, Lake Kissimmee in Osceola County, and Lake Jesup in Seminole County had the largest population of “bull” alligators (or alligators longer than nine feet).
“Lake Jesup actually used to be a dumping site for alligators in the state,” said Fisher. “Whether it is a myth or not, I always heard growing up you could take a stone and skip it on Lake Jesup and hit like ten alligators. There are a lot of them there, I know that.
To report a nuisance gator, or find a licensed trapper, click on this link here.
Find out where Floridians called to report a “nuisance” gator in 2020. If the map doesn’t load, click this link here. (Data: Florida Fish and Wildlife, Mapping: Donovan Myrie.)
Find out which body of water in Florida has the most “bull” gators, using the map below. If the map doesn’t load, click this link here. (Data: Florida Fish and Wildlife, Mapping: Donovan Myrie.)