Well not actually, but alligators are among their nearest living relatives. Having them as neighbors takes some getting used to. Sort of like hurricanes. While they are dangerous, they are nothing like the crocodiles shown on TV documentaries. They don’t run after you, despite urban legends to the contrary. They aren’t very bright, but they do like a lot of the things we humans enjoy too. Their three desires are: They like to eat, the like to sit in the sun all day (helps them digest their food) and they like the company of the opposite sex, if you know what I mean. That’s about all. Did I say they aren’t very bright?
During the seventies, alligator hunting was banned. That hurt a lot of Florida “crackers” who made some extra money selling the hides and meat. Government authorities were warned there would be a population explosion and an inevitable conflict with the burgeoning human population. And that did happen, first with pets, mainly dogs and later with attacks on humans. The state of Florida eventually allowed the “culling” of alligators over 4 feet in an effort to placate the alligators’ uneasy neighbors. But on eco-friendly Sanibel, where I live, the attitude was “They were here first,” we should learn to live with them. Sanibel went several steps beyond the state. Only 8 footers (small monster size) were eligible for “culling” and only if they were determined to be threatening.
I live on a golf course, the Dunes, that is mostly lakes and an alligator heaven. In one humorous incident about 10 years ago a lady called the county police about a monster 13 footer she said was behaving aggressively. The county police arrived and dispatched the gator post-haste. Only one problem, this was “Big Al,” a fixture at the Dunes and beloved by many. City Council threw a hissy fit and mandated that only gator friendly city police be involved in the future. But in short order the alligators began misbehaving. An 81 year old environmental activist and contributor to the local paper, was walking his dog near some open water. The dog apparently started yipping at a gator. The gator naturally went after the dog and the owner tried to intervene. Big mistake and he didn’t survive. Two other incidents occurred 3 years later, one fatal and the other with a woman pretty well mauled.
Now we are a popular resort island and for some reason alligator attacks seem to play well in out of town papers. That gets the local Chamber of Commerce all out of joint. Anyway, business interests got the better of things, and now anything over 4 feet is now eligible for “trapping” if anyone thinks an alligator is aggressive. And trapping means it will be served as an hors d’oeuvre in some fancy Midwest restaurant and the remainder will end up as Gucci handbag.
Most of the alligator aggressiveness comes from the actions of well meaning people who feed them. Alligators are normally fearful of humans and will retreat from an encounter as fast as the human. But when fed, they lose their fear of humans. When a gator snuzzles you it’s a lot different from a dog. And a lot more dangerous. In reality the human’s act of friendship will turn out to be a death warrant for the gator.