It’s that time of year and Florida residents and visitors looking to catch a glimpse of the largest reptile in North America will enjoy abundant viewing opportunities. But do so at a safe distance and preferably with an expert tour guide. According to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission (FWC),
“The American alligator is a conservation success story. Florida has a healthy and stable alligator population, which is estimated at 1.3 million alligators of every size. They are an important part of Florida’s wetlands, but should be regarded with caution and respect.”
When the air and water temperatures start to warm so do the body temps of these ectothermic animals. Alligators control their body temperature by basking in the sun so now is the time to see them in area wetlands, ponds and brackish environments.
As mating season begins and will last through May, males begin to move in search of a suitable female. Crazy stories abound from all over the state about people observing gators everywhere from backyard swimming pools and front porches to under cars and wandering shopping center parking lots. It is tempting to want that awesome photo of giant alligator in front of a Walmart to share with your social media friends but the FWC strongly urges you to keep your distance. Alligators observed outside of their natural habitats should be reported to 866-FWC-GATOR (866-392-4286) which is FWC’s nuisance alligator hotline.
Never feed alligators – it’s dangerous and illegal. There is a popular saying “a fed alligator is a dead alligator.” It’s not far from the truth. Feeding this normally shy and standoffish animal conditions them to associate people with food. The last thing you want is an accidental close encounter with a gator that’s less afraid of you than you are of him. This puts you at risk of injury and almost always results in the animal having to be removed and often killed in the process.
Of course, pets should always be kept on a leash and guarded carefully around any body of fresh or brackish water. Alligators are masters of camouflage even in a few inches from the shoreline. Although their diet typically consists of aquatic animals such as turtles and fish or small mammals like rodents or rabbits, large adults both male and female are highly territorial. Most attacks involving unintended prey such as dogs or people are typically the result of this instinct.
The American Alligator was hunted nearly to extinction before they were placed on the endangered list in the mid to late 1960’s. Since then the population has flourished and Florida’s most beloved beast continues to fascinate us. Although the news media tends to exploit the darker side of this important species, attacks on people are rare and seldom serious so there is no reason not to get out enjoy observing the American Alligator. One of the best and safest ways to observe alligators on the Treasure Coast is to take an air boat tour. Most area air boat captains are American Alligator experts. Not only will they know exactly where to find them, they will also share a wealth of knowledge about the gators that inhabit our area of Florida.
Captain Kenny Elkins owns and operates Marshbeast Airboat Tours and is one of the most educational and exciting experiences in our area. Captain Kenny Elkins and Captain Lindsey Hord, both USCG Master Captains, have a combined total of 60 years working in the alligator industry and air boating the marshlands of South Florida. Marsh Beast Airboat Tours runs daily rides at the Blue Cypress Recreation area located just west of Vero Beach. Check out some photos from an airboat tour with Marshbeast.