For as long as I can remember, I’ve had a certain obsession with alligators. It’s not an unhealthy obsession, I don’t think, but I’ve always been enamored with the best apex predator Mississippi has to offer. I can remember going to Trapper John’s Alligator Farm in Jones County as a kid and having this giddy feeling when they’d feed the gators. I loved it! Then we moved to Florida, and there were alligators seemingly everywhere. I don’t remember the name of it, but there was an alligator farm not too far from where we lived there, too. They had this one particular saltwater crocodile named “Gomek” that I’ll never forget. At the time, he was the one of the largest crocodilians to ever live in a zoo. It was a paradise for a reptile crazed kid.
Of course, moving to Florida was a real eye-opener regarding alligators. Growing up in the Pine Belt, we rarely ever saw an alligator in the wild. Of all of the time spent on the local rivers, I can’t think of one time that we saw one. We’d see them when we’d venture over to the Alabama River, or the Tombigbee River, but never in the Leaf or Bouie. Every now and then, you’d hear a story about one that got into someone’s pond, but that was pretty rare. And we never saw them when we went fishing at Bogue Homa Lake, just outside of Laurel. Now, I see them all over the place. In Florida, however, one of the first things you learned as a kid was, “If there is water, there is an alligator”.
People that live outside of the Southeastern United States don’t have the understanding, or awareness, as those that live here regarding alligators. Just a couple of years ago, I remember a family from Oklahoma was visiting Disney World when their young child was attacked, and killed, by an alligator. This poor family was shocked by the incident and really had no awareness of the fact that gators could be lurking in that water. It’s a tragic reminder of just how dangerous these creatures can be, and of their presence. And, if that doesn’t remind you, there have been 4 fatal alligator attacks in the Southeast in the last 2.5 months. This problem seems to be growing, rather than slowing down.
I believe there are numerous factors involved that are contributing to the increase in alligator related incidents. One, is the urbanization of once sparsely populated areas. Alligators need a few different things: food, water, and warmth being some of them. With the increasing popularity of building around water sources, we are bound to run into more gators. Two, although alligators seem like slow moving, docile creatures, they are not. They are almost perfect killing machines. They move much quicker than anticipated in short bursts and can grab you in a hurry if you are too close. Your best defense against being attacked by an alligator is to keep a very safe distance between you and them. Three, people like to feed alligators. Just like I enjoyed watching those gators feed at the farm, other interested weirdos like to watch gators eat, too. Aside from trying to wrestle an alligator, this might be the worst thing you can do. You don’t think alligators remember where food comes from? One that is being regularly fed will begin to associate food with people. In short, don’t feed alligators.
Now that I’ve given some potential reasons for alligator related emergencies, what is the solution? My solution is simple…kill them. I’m kidding, I know we can’t kill all of the alligators in the country. They are obviously important to the ecosystem, and we should do what is necessary to protect them for future generations. On the other hand, I’ve got no problem in doing my part to keep the population at bay. The Mississippi Alligator Season begins this week and I’ll be out there like a kid on Christmas Eve. It’s one of my most favorite things to do in the outdoors. It’s hard to beat the sights and sounds of the river at night coupled with the fact that you’re hunting something that would rather eat you than let you touch it.
This time last year, we were worried that we’d miss the alligator season altogether. First, none of us (out of the group of guys that I go with) were drawn for tags. Then, there was a hurricane. Finally, a local man that read one of my columns about not having tags came to the rescue. Mr. Jerry singlehandedly saved the 2021 alligator season for us. This year, one of our guys was lucky enough to draw tags. For years, Brad Bridges has offered his services up to me and cleaned most of the deer that I’ve killed recently (probably). I affectionately refer to him as “The Deer Skinner” when I mention him. Well, this year he’s the man with the tags. I’m hoping that in order to pay off some of my hunting season debt that we can put him on a giant Mississippi gator! Either way, I’m pretty sure that we will all have a good time together. That’s the best thing about alligator hunting, it’s a great social event.
If you’re one of the fortunate folks that was drawn for gator tags this year, I wish you luck over the next couple of weeks. Be sure to abide by all of the guidelines that the MDWFP has set forth for hunting, because you can just about be sure that you will be checked. Most importantly, be sure to be safe on the water. There’s a lot that can go wrong navigating waterways in the middle of the night, and it only takes one small slip up to ruin a life. Be mindful of other people out enjoying this great activity, and by all means…fill your tags!
Are they really important for the ecosystem? It was working just fine before the population shot back up. I think trying to let the population continue to grow is similar to the fools reintroducing grizzlies and wolves to some of their old ranges. It makes those in the alligator program proud to see an animal they helped grow the population of.