Successful management helps alligators thrive
STARKVILLE, Miss. -- Thanks to the careful management and conservation efforts of Mississippi’s state and federal wildlife biologists, alligator populations across the state are thriving.
In fact, Ricky Flynt, alligator coordinator with the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks, said he considers the healthy alligator populations a conservation success story. From the early 1900s through the 1960s, alligators were not protected and were nearly eliminated, he explained. Now, their numbers are high enough to allow limited recreational hunting.
Flynt said alligator hunting in Mississippi is not a population reduction effort. Instead, the season allows sports enthusiasts to harvest a limited number of animals in a safe and regulated manner. Permitted alligator hunting also allows biologists to gain stronger data on current alligator statistics throughout the state.
“Each hunter is required to submit a harvest report which includes biological information on each gator, such as length, sex, health biometrics, girth and weight,” Flynt said. “In the past, we had one or two biologists trying to gather all of this data, and it was impossible to get the amount of information that our hunters are now helping us generate.”
Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks just concluded the 13th permitted alligator hunting season earlier this month, issuing 920 permits to Mississippi residents in a lottery-style drawing. Flynt said more than 4,100 people applied for permits in one of the seven Mississippi Public Water Zones.
The number of permits issued in each zone reflects the alligator population and waterway size, both for hunter safety and hunting success.
Hunters are also encouraged to attend the Alligator Hunting Training Course offered to permit winners each year. Although the course is not mandatory, about 90 percent of eligible hunters participate even if they have previously attended.
The full 2017 Alligator Harvest Report is being finalized. To date, hunters have reported harvesting 730 alligators. One hunter set the alligator size record with a 14-foot, ¾-inch male. Although hunters harvest nearly 1,000 alligators in the annual hunt, hunting does not have a significant impact on the statewide population.
Flynt said most hunters enjoy the experience of safely hunting with family and friends, regardless of harvest. Those who do successfully hunt alligators retain the meat for personal consumption and typically preserve the hide and head to commemorate the event.
State officials estimate that around 40,000 alligators reside in the 408,000 acres of suitable habitat across the state. With these numbers in mind, residents should be aware of alligators, especially in areas where human development and recreation have encroached upon alligator habitats.
“As long as humans continue to displace alligators in their habitat, we will have reports of nuisance animals,” Flynt said.
As with any potential situation for human-wildlife interactions, people should be cautious and use common sense when observing and enjoying alligators at a safe distance.
Never feed alligators. Not only is it unsafe, it is also illegal. Alligators naturally avoid people, but feeding the reptiles makes them associate human activity as a source of food, which can result in serious danger. An alligator that has lost its natural wariness for humans will need to be captured and destroyed.
Never approach or harass an alligator, especially a female defending its nest.
Gators are a natural and important part of the aquatic ecosystems across the state. They control populations of prey species, create peat through nesting activities and benefit other aquatic species with their burrows.
A wealth of information about alligators in Mississippi can be found at the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks website under alligator program at http://www.mdwfp.com/alligator/.
[Editor’s Note: Extension Outdoors is a column authored by several different experts in the Mississippi State University Extension Service. Dr. Jessica Tegt is an Extension Professor with Mississippi State University Extension, specializing in human-wildlife conflict resolution and youth education.]