Episode 7 “Alligators”
Stories from a Game Warden
Disclaimer: All names have been intentionally changed.
Working in Florida has provided me with the opportunity to catch my fair share of nuisance alligators. When larger alligators are fed by humans, they become a nuisance. These alligators lose their natural fear for people and instead, associate people with food. It is then when they become a problem as safety concerns arise when people are around these gators. Studies have shown when relocating these large nuisance alligators, it only relocates the problem, and unfortunately these alligators must be euthanized. As a policy, all alligators bigger than 4’ were assigned to a state licensed alligator trapper who in turn utilizes the head, hide, and meat. Alligators under 4’ were assigned to an officer. The officer would catch and relocate the small alligator to a more suitable habitat away from people. Small alligators are more likely to return to their natural feeding instinct instead of being fed by people.
In the law enforcement training academy, officers are trained on the capture of all sizes of alligators as we would occasionally have to assist a licensed trapper or catch a large alligator by ourselves in the case of an emergency such as on a busy highway or a school. As a result, we had a safe system to catch any size alligator. Problems can and will happen when you deviate from your training and assigned gear. This was one of those times.
I was on land patrol with my volunteer Reserve Officer, Duane Shaw along the Harris Chain of Lakes in Central Florida. We arrived at a popular bank fishing location on Big Lake Harris and were met by a father and son who had been fishing. The father complained to us about a small 3’ alligator approaching them while they were bank fishing. The father and son attempted to move up and down the bank and each time, the small alligator followed them and approached them waiting for a handout. It was clear that the alligator was being fed by other people. Normally alligators are scared and swim away from bank fishermen.
I gathered up my gator catching equipment- I kept a couple things in the truck. Equipment included, a spare flipping stick with a treble hook attached to braided line and a catch pole with a metal cable for easily cinching tight around a small alligator. There was only one problem, I was all out of electric tape! I normally use electrical tape to tape the mouth of an alligator shut. I also used the electric tape to tape the alligators’ legs behind its’ back to prevent it from crawling around during transport. I searched all through my patrol truck for electric tape and was out of luck. I came up with the “nifty idea” of using the only tape that I could find, medical tape from my first aid kit. I asked Duane if he thought the medical tape would work and he said we should give it a try.
We walked down to the water and immediately a small 3’ long alligator swam right up to our feet. I decided he was so close I would try to loop the cable of the catch pole around the gator. Within seconds, I cinched the cable tight on the catch pole and pulled the feisty gator up on land. I jumped on the alligator and quickly taped up the alligators’ mouth and feet with the medical tape. Duane suggested I use extra tape because we weren’t sure how strong the medical tape was.
Reserve Officer Duane and I put the alligator in the back of my patrol truck and off we went driving to a remote release site. We had only drove a few miles down the highway and then stopped at a red light. At the light, a man in a car pulled up next to us and he beeped his horn. The man motioned to us to roll down our window. The man said, “Hey Officer, the craziest thing just happened. An alligator jumped out of the back of your truck!” Our worst fear was realized, the medical tape didn’t work! It wasn’t strong enough to secure the alligator. The man gave us direction of escaped alligator and we turned around to search for the small gator.
About 2 miles back down the road, there the little gator was in the middle of the road. We stopped traffic and recaptured our escapee. Duane held on to the alligator for the duration of our trip and we finally released him at a remote location.
We learned a valuable lesson on that day. Don’t use medical tape on captured alligators! After, Duane bought me a case of electric tape out of his own money, and we never had that problem again!
By Steve Wayne
About the Author:
Steve Wayne has spent 30 years as a Fish and Wildlife Officer in the state of Florida. Steve has worked in various roles and locations throughout the state and has promoted to the level of Area Captain supervising 30 officers in 3 counties. During his career, Steve was selected as the State Wildlife Officer of the Year and 16 years later was selected as the Statewide Investigator of the Year by both his agency and from the State Law Enforcement Chief’s Association. In 2019, Steve was part of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Port Investigations team which received national honors as Team of the Year.