Bayou-Diversity (5 April 2020) I have come to the conclusion that alligators don’t travel well. It’s an opinion based on several incidents that have occurred over the years in my dealings with these survivors from the age of dinosaurs. Historically alligators were found throughout Louisiana but were always more abundant in the coastal marshes and along the major river systems. Beginning in the late 19th century market hunting for their valuable skins decimated wild populations to the point that biologists feared the species might become extinct. For that reason all harvest of alligators was banned in 1963. Within ten years alligator populations recovered dramatically, and the added shelter of the Endangered Species Act in 1973 enhanced their protection. The success story of alligators since that time reflects the wisdom of sound wildlife management practices. Today populations across the state are healthy, and thousands are harvested annually during highly controlled, sustainable trapping seasons.
As an employee of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service I was often involved in alligator related activities including research that entailed the capture and tagging of thousands of alligators in the coastal marsh, transporting them to reestablish populations, and responding to nuisance alligator complaints. These experiences have led me to believe that alligators don’t travel well. Case in point: A while back a seven-footer was captured at the state fish hatchery near Monroe. He had been enjoying the easy pickings of grain fed fish in the ponds much to the dismay of the hatchery manager. I offered to relocate the opportunist to Handy Brake National Wildlife Refuge and sent two men to do the job. When they arrived at the hatchery the culprit was tied up, and his mouth taped shut. As they loaded him in the back of the pickup truck the hatchery manager casually mentioned that he was indeed a fast booger and in fact had initiated a few tense moments the preceding day, which led to a quick trip to the emergency room for one of their biologists. Thankfully it was not too serious. Taking this occupational hazard in stride, our men headed north on Highway 165. They were somewhere south of Sterlington when the driver noticed in his rearview mirror the alligator, untied and untaped, slither over the tailgate at 55 mph into four lanes of traffic. He later made the observation that people rarely stop to assist a motorist in trouble – but for an alligator, they stop. There was a minor traffic jam and considerable commotion before the escapee, remarkably intact, was apprehended and sent on his way.
This story is very similar to one that happened many years ago as I was transporting a load of alligators from south Louisiana to northwest Arkansas. In the piney hills just above Hamburg, Arkansas the same MO was used for the escape, and I found myself sitting straddle the offender on the yellow stripe in the middle of the road. I could barely hold him in place; I certainly could not get him back to the vehicle alone, and the passing pulpwood truck driver would have none of it. During this same large relocation effort involving hundreds of alligators and several states, a friend watched an eleven-footer escape his bonds Houdini-like, rise up over the back of his truck cab, devour his radio antenna, and depart the vehicle heading back south down I-49 near Jackson, Mississippi. I have also discovered that they don’t even like to ride in boats. On a dark night in the Lacassine Pool a large and temporarily captured individual dismantled our artificial lights, crunched a fine 35 mm camera, and treed us on top of the airboat engine cowling. Could they be trying to tell us something? (Adapted from “American Alligator – Ancient Predator in the Modern World; photo by Burg Ransom)