Environment

Alligator hunting has become big business in Florida

Of the more than 87,000 alligators hunted from 2000 to 2015 across Florida, 540 were nabbed in Manatee and Sarasota counties, according to data from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.
Of the more than 87,000 alligators hunted from 2000 to 2015 across Florida, 540 were nabbed in Manatee and Sarasota counties, according to data from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. Herald file photo

It’s a well-known fact that Florida has a lot of alligators. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission estimates the state is home to about 1.3 million of the freshwater reptiles.

So how many of them are hunted?

More than 87,000 between 2000 and 2015 by the FWC, which coordinates two gator hunting programs: the statewide nuisance alligator program and the recreational statewide alligator harvest program.

The nuisance program is one of five components of Florida’s comprehensive Alligator Management Program. “Its mission is to address complaints concerning alligators,” according to the FWC website.

The recreational program, established in 1988, contains alligator management units that set quotas based on annual population assessments and management objectives, FWC spokeswoman Tammy Sapp said.

The program has been nationally and internationally recognized as “a model program for the sustainable use of a natural resource,” Sapp said.

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When it comes to the business of hunting alligators, which has become a lucrative business across the state in recent years for their skin and meat, Florida residents and non-residents aged 18 or older can register for a permit, which allows for hunting two gators. Any alligator longer than 18 inches is fair game.

An 11-foot alligator wandering onto a Southwest Ranches bike trail was caught on Wednesday, Sept. 7, 2016. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission snagged the 450-pound gator after Davie Police found the massive reptile on a bike tra

The commission publishes data showing where the gators were hunted and how many were hunted each year, as well as the carcass size.

Some of the data’s highlights:

▪  Hunters nabbed 540 gators from Manatee and Sarasota counties combined from 2000-15. The largest in Manatee was 12 feet, 9 inches hunted at an unspecified location in the county. The largest in Sarasota County was 12 feet, 6 inches out of Curry Creek.

▪  Lake Poinsett in Brevard County had 5,188 hunted gators, more than any other area in the state in the 15-year period. It’s 1,066 more than the second-place alligator hunting destination, Lake Okeechobee. Orange Lake ranked third with 3,110 alligators hunted.

▪  In 2011, the programs combined had more than 8,000 hunted, the most of any year between 2000 and 2015. Of those, the largest was 13 feet, 6 inches, found in August in the Kissimmee River.

▪  Hunters most often encountered and successfully killed 8-foot alligators. The second-most common was 7 feet, followed by 7 feet, 6 inches.

▪  Ninety-nine of the alligators did not have a specific hunting location listed.

Though alligators are found most often in freshwater, they can tolerate some levels of saltwater for a short period of time. The average male alligator size is approximately 11 feet and the average female is around 8 feet long, according to the Smithsonian National Zoo and Conservation Biology Institute.

To download FWC’s data, visit myfwc.com/wildlifehabitats/managed/alligator/harvest/data-export.

Janelle O’Dea: 941-745-7095, @jayohday

Alligator safety

  • If a body of water is not a swimming pool, an ocean or a designated swimming area, don’t go in it
  • Don’t feed alligators
  • Observe and photograph them from a distance
  • For more safety tips, visit FWC’s “Living with Alligators” brochure.
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