Taxonomy, Phylogeny & Etymology |
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11. Human Conflict
Twenty-nine humans are believed to have died in hundreds of
alligator-related incidents since documentation of them began in
1928. All but three fatalities occured in Florida (two happened in Georgia,
one in South Carolina).
Human population and development is always growing; meanwhile,
legal protection of the alligator allows the animal's numbers to
flourish. Hence, there's bound to be conflict, sometimes deadly.
The "Staying Safe"
section of this site discusses
human-alligator conflict avoidance in much detail, so this page
will deal with a few surrounding issues.
Florida, it probably comes as no surprise, is the most
affected by this reality, with its 19 million residents and nearly 82
million annual visitors sharing the landscape with (and even taking it from)
the alligator. The state numbers its 'gator population at about 1.5
You may find edifying the state's
documentation of alligator bites on humans .
The commercially desirable 'gator was nearly
hunted to extinction by the 1960s. It was only when federal and state
governments imposed strict protection laws and when the concept of
"sustainable use" was implemented, that the reptile was able to make its
dramatic population boom. Sustainable use involves recognizing the
economic value of a species and utilizing a system of conservation that
preserves commercial interest so long as the species is preserved (see
"Cultural & Economic Impact"
'Why did the alligator cross the road?' Probably because
it was in search of resources, such as new watery habitat, and
the potential that it provides: food, security, and a mate.
The sustainable use model is controversial,
ethically unpalatable to those who oppose using animals as commercial
resources. Its proponents point out that is has proven a very effective
policy of saving many species which hold economic value, from threat of
The alligator was federally listed in 1970 as
endangered and by 1987 was declared recovered but "threatened due to
similarity of appearance" to the "threatened" American Crocodile. In
Florida, the animal was classed by the state as "threatened" in 1974,
and down-listed to "Species of Special Concern" in 1979, owing to its
remarkable increase in numbers.
States in which the
alligator naturally lives have successfully managed 'gator populations by
means of hunts, harvesting and "nuisance"
Florida and other states in the alligator range
have established "nuisance" alligator programs to better manage
human-alligator conflict while maintaining protection of the species. All alligator states except Oklahoma and North Carolina allow controlled
hunting of alligators and some permit ranching (harvesting of eggs from
the wild). These programs are designed to regulate, not deplete,
alligator populations, while contributing to economic interests.
It should also be noted that alligators
may be killed by motor vehicles while crossing a roadway, or by
the injuries sustained from hooks that may become lodged in the
jaws when the alligator attempts to take the bait or lure of a
NOTE: A directory of state government
wildlife authorities who deal with "nuisance" alligator complaints may
This image, captured on Highway 60 in Yeehaw
Junction, Florida, illustrates one of the ways in which
humans and alligators come into conflict. This road, an
important traffic artery, cuts through a very rural region and
thus is usually rife with roadkill.
A less publicized form of conflict involves fishing.
An alligator will often pursue a fisherman's lure or bait and be
snagged by the hook. Removing the hook can be difficult. The
juvenile pictured at left did not survive, even after a veterinarian's
(Image: © Damen Hurd/ Wildlife,
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