ALLIGATORS JUST BEING ALLIGATORS?
you read newspapers, watch TV or follow Twitter and other social media,
you know that a child recently drowned in a lake in Florida where alligators
lived. I have received questions about the incident and alligator ecology.
What you do you think about the recent attack on the child at Disney
World in Orlando and the subsequent killing of all the alligators captured
in the lake? Was that really necessary? Should there be signs warning
about the presence of alligators?
The death of a child is indisputably a tragic event. This is no exception.
The responses, however, are a complicated mix of numerous agendas involving
sociology, psychology and economics as well as ecology. For some people,
no justification exists for preserving a particular wild animal, or
even other members of the species, that kills a person.
will side with the animals, placing responsibility on humans to avoid
such situations. Whatever the case, emotional responses and public relations
efforts can override what some might consider practical approaches following
warning signs, I heard one suggestion that every lake in Florida with
an alligator should have a sign. An impossibility since virtually every
body of water in the state could have alligators.
up signs at the border would be about as useful: Welcome to Florida.
Beware of alligators. Educating the general public about alligator ecology
and behavior would be a more reasonable - and effective - approach.
Where do alligators live in the United States and is the range expanding
northward due to global warming? Could alligators live around Washington,
Alligator populations occur naturally in all coastal states from the
Carolinas to Texas and in Arkansas and southeast Oklahoma. They are
not currently found in Virginia, although the natural range may have
once extended to the Great Dismal Swamp.
limit of alligator populations is northeastern North Carolina. Small
alligators that people have illegally released have been reported from
many parts of the country, but outside of their natural range, most
do not make it through the winter. I am not aware of any definitive
studies that document northern or inland geographic distribution of
the species in response to climate change.
alligators are more prevalent in some regions than they were several
decades ago, mostly due to protective regulations that were begun with
the Endangered Species Act in the 1970s. This protection allowed alligator
populations to increase in size and expand their range.
warming resulted in higher winter temperatures or reduced snowfall,
alligators would be able to survive some places where they do not now
because of "icing behavior" in which they stick their snouts
up through a layer of ice on lakes to breathe.
cold winters, alligators must keep their body under water. Presumably
they cannot do so effectively in northern regions where winter ice is
too thick. Alligators might become more prevalent in northern limits
of their range if ice cover were to be reduced. A population of alligators
in the Potomac River in D.C. would not be particularly surprising under
not to minimize the personal suffering of families affected by deaths
from alligators, but wild alligators injure fewer humans in a decade
than dogs, cats and horses do in a week.
alligators harm even a few humans? Most injuries are caused when humans
have fed the alligator (a foolish and illegal activity), invaded its
territory (including moving into it permanently) or threatened its young.
choose to inhabit a place where they might come in contact with alligators
or any other large animal, wild or domestic, each person should be responsible
for knowing where not to tread.
goes without saying that it is the responsibility of parents and guardians
to watch out for children under their care when alligators are known
to be present. You can't expect an alligator to do so.
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