Later, Gator? Hardly-- once-declining reptile is back
Wildlife official estimates about 8,500 gators live inJackson County
by Allison Mather
The Mississippi PressSunday, July 11, 2004 (Page A-1)
Some things are inherently Southern. Good manners, high humidityand mosquitos are so prevalent they often go unnoticed. Not like analligator.
Alligators are an unofficial mascot for much of the South. Theyappear on everything from business cards to school uniforms.
Unfortunately, they also appear in roadways and back yards.
The American Alligator has made a comeback over the past fewdecades. Although once protected by the Endangered Species Act, in1987 the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service removed the alligator fromthe protected list and declared the alligator population fullyrecovered.
Ricky Flynt, alligator program director for the MississippiDepartment of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks, estimates there are now32,000 to 38,000 alligators in the state.
"Compared to some other states, (the population) is relativelylow," he said. "A state like Louisiana probably has 300,000."
"I don't see nearly as many alligators here as I do in Louisiana,"said Pon Dixson, refuge manager at Grand Bay National Estuary andResearch Reserve.
Flynt said the majority of alligators live in the coastalcounties, with about 24 percent of the state's alligator populationin Jackson County.
That means there are about 8,500 alligators in the county, or ninealligators per square mile.
When alligators and humans come into conflict, Pascagoula AnimalControl officers Richard Martin and Ed Holmes respond to remove thereptiles.
"If they're able to be turned loose, we take em up to theEscatawpa River," Holmes said, explaining that the size of the animalis usually the determining factor.
Otherwise they call a licensed trapper to remove the alligator.
This year they've had five calls about alligators, which they saidis slightly more than average.
"The heat -- that's what's contributed to a lot of that," saidHolmes, explaining that the reptiles often sun themselves on the sideof U.S. 90, enjoying the heat from the road.
Holmes said an alligator is considered a nuisance when it isaround children, pets or just anywhere "they shouldn't be." Oftenproblems arise when people feed alligators, and he said dozens ofcalls are received each year for this reason.
"When people make mistakes is when they start feeding gators,"Martin said.
"Don't feed a gator," Holmes agreed. "That's the main rule."
Dixson said alligators will usually try to avoid humans, but thegrowth of communities and spread of development into the reptiles'natural environment sometimes forces the issue.
"Sometimes they get a bad rep because people encroach into theirhabitat," Dixson said. "They play a vital role in the balance of theecosystem. They serve a purpose there."
"Most nuisance complaints are because of human entrance intoalligator habitats," Flynt said.
Although the alligator population has rebounded, Dixson saidalligators are still protected by law.
"It is still illegal to kill or possess an alligator in the stateof Mississippi," he said.
It is also illegal to feed alligators, disturb an alligator nestor possess alligator eggs.
Because the alligator populations are so much larger in Louisianaand Florida, both states have alligator hunting seasons.
Flynt said he is currently investigating the possibility of analligator hunting season in Mississippi. When his investigation isover, he will then recommend to the Department of Wildlife, Fisheriesand Parks whether or not to allow hunting.
"Anything we do would be on a very limited basis with a limitedarea for a limited time," he said.
Feature intern Allison Mather can be reached firstname.lastname@example.org or (228) 934-1475.
© 2004 The Mississippi Press