Alligators might lose protected status in Florida

This alligator was spotted at the northeast boundary of the Everglades National Park near Miami, Fla. But others have been found in more urban areas, and their rebounding populations has officials considering loosening protections. Victor R. Caivano / AP
/ Source: news services

Florida wildlife officials are considering removing alligators from a list of protected species and letting homeowners deal with nuisance gators themselves.

Officials estimate the state has as many as 2 million alligators.

The changes would downgrade gators from a species of special concern to a game animal within five years and then remove them altogether from the state’s list of imperiled animals.

That could lift restrictions that now make it illegal for homeowners to kill nuisance alligators on their property. Currently, they must contact the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, which contracts with a trapper to remove the gator.

More alligators also could be killed over an extended period if the changes are approved. Under the current protections, each hunter is allowed only two gator kills per permit during a 10-week hunting season.

The proposed changes will be considered at commission’s December meeting.

Dangerous situations?
Palm Beach County trapper Rick Kramer said removing those restrictions could mean trouble for people who aren’t professionals.

“I think it’s going to cause some dangerous situations,” Kramer said.

Alligators were once thought to be on the brink of extinction after years of over-hunting. They were listed as endangered species in 1967 but removed from the federal list 20 years later. In Florida, they remained under state protection.

Biologists believe there is now about one alligator for every nine humans living in Florida.

State alligator coordinator Harry Dutton said Tuesday the potential changes have nothing to do with the three fatal alligator attacks that occurred in one month earlier this year.

“I wish the three fatalities didn’t happen, and if they didn’t, this would still be going on. It’s just a timely thing to do,” he said.

In fact, deadly alligator encounters are rare. Before the May attacks, just 18 fatal attacks had been reported since 1948 by alligators, an evolutionary survivalist that has barely changed in 65 million years.

'Part one' of long process
Dutton cautioned that the proposed rules would not result in an immediate open season on a creature coveted by chefs and shoemakers.

Instead, it represents the first comprehensive review of Florida’s alligator policy in 20 years.

“We’re in part one of a many part process,” Dutton said.

Under current rules, alligator farmers can cull 4,000 alligators from their stocks per year.

Professional trappers catch about 8,000 more that threaten people, pets or livestock. Hunters each take about 8,000 more.