A keystone species in Florida, American alligators are an important part of the landscape and play a valuable role in the ecology of our state’s wetlands. According to the US Fish and Wildlife Service, the alligator’s greatest value to the marsh and other wildlife are the “gator holes” that many adults create. These depressions in the soil fill with rain during the wet season and maintain water during the dry season, creating crucial habitat for fish, crustaceans, snakes, turtles and birds.
With an increase in tourism and land development, interactions between people and alligators are increasing. According to a brochure produced by the Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC), alligators are found in all 67 counties. There are a number a safety tips to help us peacefully co-exist with this species. Some of these tips include:
- Observe and photograph alligators only from a distance; Florida state law prohibits killing, harassing or possessing alligators.
- Never feed alligators – it’s dangerous and illegal. When fed, alligators can overcome their natural wariness and learn to associate people with food. When this happens, some of these alligators have to be removed and killed.
- Be aware of the possibility of alligators when you are in or near fresh or brackish water. Bites may occur when people do not pay close enough attention to their surroundings when working or recreating near water.
- Do not swim outside of posted swimming areas or in waters that might be inhabited by large alligators. Alligators are most active between dusk and dawn, therefore, avoid swimming at night.
- Alligators less than four feet in length are generally not large enough to be dangerous unless handled. However, if you encounter any alligator that you believe poses a threat to people, pets or property, call the Nuisance Alligator Hotline at (866-392-4286).
In addition to patient care, an integral part of the Clinic for the Rehabilitation of Wildlife (CROW)’s mission includes educating the public on sustainable relationships with wildlife. Residents and guests are encouraged to explore the onsite Visitor Education Center (VEC). The VEC offers a variety of experiences, including camera feeds of hospital treatment and rehabilitation areas, interactive children’s displays and live animal exhibits!
One of these exhibits at CROW features Sydney, a young American alligator. With her 300-gallon tank filled with artificial plants, rocks, floating driftwood and a basking platform to simulate her natural environment, she spends her days swimming around her enclosure. Besides the enrichment items, Sydney’s tank maintains a steady temperature of 75 to 82 degrees and daylight-balanced lighting to reflect a climate that alligators would experience in the wild.
To learn more about Sydney or other educational offerings, visit CROW’s Visitor Education Center, located at 3883 Sanibel-Captiva Road or click here. The center is open Monday through Friday from 10am to 4pm, and daily presentations are held at 11am.