Alligator Incident Prompts Review

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On April 24, a Texas Parks and Wildlife Department game warden responded to a complaint about a nuisance alligator in the Shadow Bend subdivision in Fort Bend County. When he arrived, he found a nine-foot alligator lying in the middle of a residential street.

The game warden tried to clear a crowd of bystanders away, including several children who were not keeping a safe distance. The alligator had been injured (it was missing one eye), making it potentially more dangerous. The children were waiting for the school bus, which would soon stop right where the alligator was lying in the roadway.

The game warden determined that it was urgent to get the alligator out of the area for the safety of the people. He used a rope to lasso the alligator and attempted to pull it by hand, but it behaved aggressively. He then tied it to his truck and towed it away from the crowd at 2-3 miles per hour so that he could use his firearm safely to kill the alligator.

"We regret that this incident took place and we sympathize with the citizens who were upset by it," said Col. Jim Stinebaugh, Texas Parks and Wildlife Department law enforcement director. "I believe our game warden in this case did what he thought was best at the time for the safety of the people there. I support our employees, who face a difficult job dealing with the increasing interaction between these wild animals and humans. However, we intend to look into this situation thoroughly and take appropriate action. Our agency is going to assemble a team of experts in the next few days to consider new recommendations on how to handle nuisance alligators."

"We want our game wardens to do what is effective yet humane," Stinebaugh emphasized. "It is not always possible to safely re-locate large alligators and sometimes the only alternative is to kill them. However, we do not want to see an episode like this repeated."

Stinebaugh said a nine-foot alligator like this one could not be safely captured and relocated in this circumstance. TPWD has two game wardens in Fort Bend County and they answer dozens of nuisance alligator calls each year, often with one person working alone.

A wild alligator has the potential to be extremely dangerous. They are accustomed to lying motionless for long periods, but they can move suddenly with surprising speed.

"We want to stress to people who live near alligator habitat that they not take these creatures lightly," Stinebaugh said. "Any alligator encounter is a potentially dangerous situation. Our counterparts in Florida and other states with alligator country are dealing with an increasing number of dangerous and even fatal encounters with alligators."

TPWD tries to relocate smaller alligators five feet in length or less, but this is becoming difficult because there are fewer places that will accept them. At one time, the American alligator was on the endangered species list, but it's population rebounded in recent decades and the animal was delisted. Today, alligators are by no means rare in Southeast Texas. Most zoos, preserves and ranches that want alligators have them.

Also, nuisance alligators have typically lost their natural fear of people. If someone has fed them or if they have found food near people, they may seek areas where people are and become aggressive. If captured and relocated, they may come near people again and become a problem somewhere else. All of this makes relocation difficult.