When alligators look for love, they sometimes do it at your doorstep.
So during mating season, when gators in the mood go into neighborhoods searching for that special someone, wildlife cops new to the job (and even some who have been around for a while) need some extra training to keep everyone safe.
On Wednesday, for the first time in nearly two years, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission offered that training for officers and, for the first time, even curious news reporters.
And no wonder: Over the past two months, wildlife cops have received 14 calls about alligators.
With mating season in full bloom,.gators are getting bolder as they venture farther than ever to find love. And farther could mean your backyard.
“They’re a lot less worried about their surroundings, looking for a female,” said Lorenzo Veloz, a spokesman for Fish and Wildlife. “Their mind is on that one thing.”
The FWC has been offering this type of training at the Everglades Alligator Farm for more than 17 years. This year, six officers and four media members learned how to capture an alligator, move it, then release it by themselves or with a partner.
Three alligators who live at the farm — Princess, Thor and Loki — were dragged out of their pond to help the humans practice.
Veloz said he doesn’t know of any FWC officers bitten while trying to capture an alligator, which he credits to both common sense and the training sessions at Everglades Alligator Farm in Homestead.
Jeremy Possman, the 34-year-old manager, has been working with the training for 13 years.
“You have to do these things in a safe manner,” he said to the officers as he guided a gator out of the nearby pond.
One officer taped the gator’s jaws shut before both men picked up the beast and moved it across the habitat.
“I’ve done worse things than that, I guess,” said officer Sean Carper when asked if he was nervous. In 11 months with Fish and Wildlife, he has helped on two alligator calls.
But even with two trainers nearby, the training alligator would thrash its tail or take a death roll, repeatedly turning over and over. The officers flinched or jumped back as they took turns easing a rope around the gator’s neck and taping its jaws.
“I know you guys are strong,” Possman said, gesturing to the gator. “But he’s stronger.”
Then, it was my turn.
I got to work with Princess, who was about seven feet long and about 180 pounds. Her jaw had already been taped by Will Nace, a wrangler at the farm, but she was still capable of whipping her tail and wandering around.
Princess began thrashing her tail right before I sat down on her back, and I almost bolted back to the safety of the bleachers.
But, hands quivering, I still held on to her jaw.
“Relax,” said Will Nace, a wrangler helping with the training.
A few minutes later, I relinquished control to Nace and scurried away.
My hands were still shaking.
“Let me ask you this time,” Freddy Romero, an FWC officer taking the training, said laughing: “How did it feel?”
Terrifying. But, I had a better understanding of what it takes to safely handle a gator.
For the officers — who will soon respond to what Possman described as leaner and meaner alligators in the wild — the training took away the nerves they said come with dealing with a wild animal that can break a bone in one bite.
“It was a confidence builder,” Carper said. “It alleviates the anxiety. You feel a lot more aware, a lot more informed.”