Co-existing with alligators? It might sound crazy to outsiders, but for Floridians, it’s just another part of life.
May marks the start of alligator nesting season, which is a vital time to stay alert and use your best judgment when you’re in or near local waterways.
Sam Haught, with Wild Florida, provided the following tips for staying safe.
Wild Florida will host Gator Week and offer free Gator Park admission to guests who donate any amount toward the Wild Florida Scholarship Fund for Osceola County students. Additionally, as the founders of National Alligator Day on May 29, Wild Florida also will celebrate this special day at the end of Gator Week
1. Use caution, just as a general rule, especially this time of year.
Consider which bodies of water you’re going to be in or near – and stay away from areas where a big gator is hanging out, or acting protective of a certain part of the swamp.
It’s the protective nature of a mother alligator to stick around until after her babies hatch, even for a year or so, meaning you’ll want to give her some space.
“It’s a hard time for many gators, because they go into nesting mode, people get scared, and (some people will) call a trapper to have the gator removed,” Haught said. “Then all the hard work the mom put into building that nest and hatching goes to waste, because the eggs spoil, or get eaten or killed.”
That’s NOT an ideal situation.
It’d be a lot better if people gave gators space, and just used caution and common sense regarding where these big animals tend to nest this time of year.
“We want people to be aware, and not freak out if they see a gator acting protective during that time – because that’s their home,” Haught added. “It ends up as a big loss whenever a gator gets pulled.”
2. Look around.
This might sound similar to the first item on our list, but it’s worth repeating: Be aware. Look around. Check your surroundings.
“It doesn’t matter if it’s day or night, if you get too close to a nest, the mom’s going to come at you, and it won’t be good,” Haught said.
Haught can’t even offer advice like, “Don’t go swimming at night,” he said, because a) It’s usually not a great idea anyway, but more importantly, b) If you kayak, boat, Jet Ski, or do anything too close to a gator’s nest, regardless of what time of day it is, it’s a recipe for trouble.
And just about every body of water in Florida has alligators, or the potential for alligators. These animals are almost everywhere.
“That’s a good thing,” Haught said. “It shouldn’t scare anybody. It’s an incredible story that we have these amazing predators still in the wild – not all confined to a park, zoo or cage.”
3. Stay away from swampy areas.
Mother alligators who are sometimes aggressive and protective of their nests in the late spring and into the summer months, are often in their native environments. If you see a pond or a body of water with lots of swampy, grassy areas, that’s one to steer clear of. When these moms make their nests, they’re looking for secluded areas with vegetation, Haught said, adding that they want privacy, and know better than to “park it right by a swing set at a playground.”
They’re not dumb animals – they know they’ll be spending significant time here, which is why they’ll pick that swampy, secluded spot.
So, why is it important to know all of this?
“You could be wakeboarding behind your boat and crash near the weed line, and end up near a gator nest,” Haught said. “That’s definitely something you should try to avoid. Stay away from swampy areas. Try to be more in the open water. I wouldn’t go digging around in those more remote areas during this time of year.”
Not to harp on the dangerous nature of alligators, but consider a 14-foot gator with all that artillery and power – it can hide virtually undetected in about 2 feet of water. We have about 1.5 million gators in the state, around Central Florida especially, and the population is growing. We need to figure out how to best share our space with these animals.
It’s worth mentioning, if an alligator ends up in a more visual, out-in-the open area – like a retention pond, neighborhood park or pond – most of those are not nesting animals, Haught said. They’re just curious, exploratory gators that are getting pushed out, or they’re looking for a mate. They should not be seen as a threat.
“We just have development in their path,” Haught said.
Learn more about Wild Florida.