Florida and alligators are in the national news more and more lately, but anyone who has lived in Florida for any amount of time is undoubtedly surprised by all the attention alligators are getting, because she or he knows that at any given moment, alligators are always all around us, sometimes in the most unusual and unexpected places. After all, at one time a good portion of this state was a swamp.
Therefore, you can pretty much figure that wherever you might find a body of water of any considerable size in Florida, an alligator could possibly be present, and given the unique drainage problems due to an unusually high water table, man-made retention ponds and drainage canals abound. So, alligator sightings, even in urban areas, are not that unusual, and most Floridians–at least most that I know–have an alligator story or two.
For instance, there was that time I took my oldest son fishing in a pond under the aegis of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC). When we arrived, there was an FWC ranger parked there. As we were retrieving our gear from the car, the ranger blew his horn several times, and then he got out of his truck with a brick in his hand. Soon thereafter, an alligator emerged from the pond, and when it did, the ranger hit it upside the head with the brick, and it fled. The ranger then told us not to be frightened because the gator would not bother us now before he got back into his vehicle.
A little while later more people arrived, and the ranger repeated the ritual again–blowing his horn and hitting the alligator upside the head with a brick, so I asked him why he kept hitting that alligator upside the head with a brick. He told me that alligators were naturally afraid of humans; therefore, they were, of no threat to humans. However, once they lose that fear, they become dangerous. And since people kept coming to the pond just to feed this gator, he was losing that fear, and to put that fear back into it so that it would not have to be hauled away and euthanized, he was hitting it upside the head with a brick.
And then there was this resort outside of Tampa where my family spent a week or two every summer when our children were young. There were numerous bodies of water–both small and large, man-made and natural–everywhere on this resort. And an alligator lived in the manmade drainage canal right outside the bungalow in which we usually stayed.
When we visited, we saw it frequently during all times of the day, both in and out of the water, sunning itself peacefully on the bank. However, the resort staff continually reminded all the guests not to mess with them or, most importantly, feed them under any circumstance, and even further, the resort posted signs and reminders everywhere, to include the interior of the bungalows, reiterating these very points, so we just went about our business and left them alone and ceded all bodies of water to them.
And I have even more gator tales in addition to those two. It is quite possible that because the family of the young boy who recently and unfortunately lost his life in a lagoon at one of the Disney resorts were not from Florida, they were completely oblivious to the potential threats made deadly by continued contact with humans lurking unseen just below the surface all around them in the manufactured utopia of Disney.
Anyway, so-called “nuisance” alligators (and bears) are showing up more and more frequently in places that put them in direct confrontation and conflict with human beings. But the greatest and over-arching problem here, though, is not the alligators (or bears). The greatest and over-arching problem is urban sprawl. People keep building a bunch of really unnecessary shit, especially given the large number of unused, empty buildings and houses, further and further out, thereby disturbing the natural habitats of alligators (and bears), and when an alligator (or bear) shows up in their yard or pool, they freak out, and the animal usually ends up dead.
People seem not to realize (or want to admit) that their yard and pool (and resorts) sit right smack in the middle of what used to be the alligator’s (or bear’s) crib. If anyone or anything is a nuisance here, we are. We are invading their space and not the other way around.