By LAURA LYLES REAGAN
Special to the PRESS
South Padre Island Birding Nature Center and Alligator Sanctuary (SPI BNCAS) received a call on the morning of October 27, 2019 from SPI Police Department regarding a four-foot nuisance alligator near the KOA entrance, right off Padre Blvd. Texas Parks & Wildlife were contacted first and, since they were several hours away, they asked the Police Department to contact SPI BNCAS).
There had been sightings of this alligator around the Sea Ranch Marina for over a month. Center Executive Director, Cristin Howard said, “If fish scraps are thrown into the water, that is free, easy food for an alligator, and it is common for habituated (nuisance) alligators to consistently hang around docks and piers where this may occur.” She advised that it is important that fish scraps be thrown into the garbage if alligators live in your area.
When SPI BNCAS staff arrived there were numerous people, police cars, and golf carts near the alligator. The alligator demonstrating no fear of the humans. This behavior along with the proximity to the KOA deemed this a situation where the alligator needed to be removed. Howard said, “We are very happy to able to assist the City of South Padre Island and Texas Parks & Wildlife.”
Howard reports that the rescued alligator was released into the juvenile gator pond. “He seems to be adjusting well to his new friends,” said Howard.
The SPI BNCAS was around the Laguna Madre Water Districts’ water treatment plant, and, as such, there is a freshwater habitat on the island that wild alligators have resided in for years. There’s a large population of wild American Alligators in the Rio Grande Valley, and that population is growing. SPI BNCAS partners with Gator Country, of Beaumont Texas and have been issued a permit by Texas Department of Parks and Wildlife, to create a safe way to house “nuisance alligators,” habituated to humans due to humans feeding them, for the rest of their natural lives, while also sharing a unique educational experience for local residents and visitors alike.
A nuisance alligator is one that has been hand-fed by humans and has therefore lost their instinctive fear of humans. It only takes one time of feeding a wild alligator for them to become habituated to humans, according to SPI BNCAS Naturalist Javier Gonzalez.
“It is illegal to feed and own wild alligators, and the fine is $1,500 per foot for which they will collect your assets to cover the fine. We are passionate about teaching this, and making it known that by feeding an American Alligator you are giving that alligator a death sentence. Once an alligator is deemed a “nuisance” it can never be returned to the wild; it has one of two fates- it can be killed on the spot or taken to live out the rest of its’ life cared for in a park.”
SPI BNCAS is now the second place in Texas that is permitted to do this. Alligators have been around for millions of years, and they don’t need any help finding food or need anyone to feed them.
Alligators are fascinating animals that have been around for millennia, and we are so passionate about further educating people on this complex reptile that we coexist with in the Rio Grande Valley. Many people see this animal as a constant hunter with a voracious appetite, but this is simply not true. As people learn more about their biology and behaviors, SPI BNCAS Naturalist Javier Gonzalez hopes they become less misunderstood and more respected.
There are 0.03 deaths per year, and there are 7 million alligators in the South East. Alligators were nearly hunted to extinction in the 1950s and 1960s. Once they were protected from hunting, however, they were able to recover quickly because of their unique breeding behaviors. They were removed from the endangered list in 1987.