When Kevin Hibler isn’t working at his car wash, he wrangles nuisance alligators in Manatee County.
He’s hunted alligators in the past, but the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission asked him to become a contracted alligator trapper five years ago. Ever since, it’s been a unique side job.
“I enjoy it,” he said. “As long as I can, I’ll keep doing it.”
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In 2016, the Statewide Nuisance Alligator Program received 12,759 nuisance alligator complaints, resulting in removal of 8,050 alligators.
Orlando topped the list, with 235, and Sarasota and Tampa came in second and third place, respectively, with 176 and 174 removals last year.
No South Florida city south of West Palm Beach made the list.
Nuisance alligators are called in through the SNAP hotline (866-392-4286), where a series of questions determines whether an alligator should be removed. If it’s necessary, trappers like Hibler will receive an email permit to remove the nuisance alligator.
His go-to tools are a fishing pole and a snare. If that doesn’t work he uses bait, which only permitted trappers can do.
Only alligators that are longer than four feet can be trapped. Last year, Hibler said he trapped around 70, which equates to about one every five days. The majority of the nuisance alligators are then taken to a processor to be sold off as meat and leather.
Occasionally, the wrong alligator is caught.
“Sometimes if you have two or three alligators in a pond and there was one aggressive one and you set a bait, you may catch another one,” Hibler said. “You might not get the problem alligator right off the bat. You try to, but sometimes you don’t.”
If complainants feel as if the wrong alligator was captured, FWC authorizes trappers to remove another, Hibler said. This in particular was the case when 2-year-old Lane Graves was killed by an alligator at the Seven Seas Lagoon near Orlando last year. In total, six alligators were killed and, according to FWC, “experts are confident that the alligator for the attack was removed.”
According to FWC data, two people in Sarasota County have been killed by alligators, most recently in 2001. One alligator was removed in each instance.
But if nuisance alligators are smaller than four feet, Hibler said he relocates them to Lake Manatee or Evers Reservoir at Jiggs Landing.
So far this year, Hibler said he’s gotten a few more calls than usual. He suspects it’s because of the drought.
“Right now our water levels are very low in all these ponds through this area because we just haven’t had the rain,” he said.
With dried up ponds leading to larger banks, it’s easier to see alligators basking in the sun.
Tammy Sapp, a media contact with the FWC’s division of hunting and game management, added that Florida’s estimated 1.3 million alligators are more active as temperatures heat up in spring, and prolonged dry conditions may make alligators seek out water.
People should stay away from alligators if one is seen, only swim in designated swimming areas during daylight hours and should never feed an alligator. Pets should be kept on leashes away from the water. For more information on alligators, FWC provides a guide to Living with Alligators.
This year, Hibler hopes to throw his name in the ring for the FWC’s public hunt lottery. There are random drawing phases for a limited number of limited entry alligator hunting permits: May 12-22, May 26-June 5, and June 9-19. The winners will be drawn during the two days after the drawing phases and recommended harvest training classes are provided throughout the state.
CITIES WITH THE HIGHEST NUISANCE ALLIGATOR REMOVALS IN FLORIDA IN 2016
- Orlando: 235
- Sarasota: 176
- Tampa: 174
- Kissimmee: 164
- Fort Myers: 154
- Naples: 135
- Lakeland: 123
- Bradenton: 116
- West Palm Beach: 104
- Jacksonville: 101
Source: Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission