Wildlife officials: ‘Gator population more visible

Published 12:00 am Saturday, July 15, 2000

FERRIDAY, La. — The population of alligators on Lake St. John isn’t surging, say Louisiana wildlife officials. &uot;We’re on top of the situation,&uot;&160;said Reggie Wycoff, director of District IV of the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries. &uot;But I&160;don’t think there’s any more danger than in previous years.&uot;

Still, those who frequent the lake are seeing them more due to the third year of dry conditions, as well as residents who repeatedly feed the animals and the fact that it is now the alligators’ mating season.

&uot;We got about two dozen complaints last year and have had a few more this year, which I&160;attribute to the fact that it’s been so dry,&uot; Wycoff said.

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&uot;The lake’s down about a foot and the surrounding brakes where gators usually stay are dry, so gators have come out into the middle of the lake where they are more visible.&uot;

Alligators are usually timid and try to find secluded spots, said John Leslie, district biologist in charge of the department’s alligator program.

The months with the highest number of alligator nuisance complaints are May, June and July, said Leslie, and with good reason – that is their mating season.

There is no reliable way to tell how many alligators there are in such a lake without conducting a &uot;night count,&uot;&160;and that is not planned for this year, Wycoff said. He added that most of the alligators people are seeing at Lake St. John are &uot;smaller&uot;&160;alligators.

&uot;What they’re seeing is two- or three-year-old gators,&uot; Wycoff said. &uot;I don’t start getting concerned about them until they get to be seven or eight feet long.&uot;

A good tip, said Leslie, is to never feed an alligator no matter what size it is. Throwing fish scraps into the water also attracts alligators, Wycoff said.

&uot;It’s just like feeding a bear — it’s just something you don’t do, they see you as a food supply and will become a nuisance,&uot;&160;Leslie said, adding that alligators usually only eat small wild animals like nutria or snakes.

Leslie added that in his nine years with the program, he has never seen an alligator kill or even attack a human being.

Alligators, he said, will only attack if they feel threatened or — in the case of females, who can lay up to 40 eggs — if someone gets too close to a nest they made on the shore.

In any case, a private citizen should not shoot an alligator himself because doing so usually only injures the animal.

And when an animal is badly injured, it cannot hunt for food and becomes a nuisance, staying near the shore to wait for the easiest food source it can get, said Jeff Taylor, a nuisance alligator hunter licensed by the State of Louisiana.

Instead, people with nuisance alligator programs can call the Department of Wildlife to request a hunter such as Taylor, who works part-time baiting and killing such alligators at District IV’s seven lakes, including Lake St. John.

In any case, Wycoff said that alligators will eventually return to secluded marshes when rains become more frequent. And a lottery-type alligator hunt scheduled for September should thin out the alligator population, he added.

Each year in July and August, Louisiana residents sign up at the district office to hunt on public lakes. A total of up to 11 hunters are chosen, and each can harvest up to five of the animals. The number of hunters on each lake is determined by the size of the lake.

Landowners can hunt alligators on their land during the September hunting season. The Department of Wildlife issues each of the landowners one &uot;tag&uot; per 100 acres of permanent water in his lake.