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Humans, gators clash as populations grow

By JJ VELASQUEZ
June 23, 2010 at 1:23 a.m.
Updated June 27, 2010 at 1:27 a.m.

An alligator waits to get fed by Larry Janik, an alligator farmer from El Campo.

DID YOU KNOW?

Alligators are found in or near water. The American alligator is common in swamps, rivers, bayous and marshes of the southern United States, including the eastern third of Texas.

While typically found in fresh water, they can tolerate brackish water, as well.

Formerly an endangered species, the alligator is now a protected game animal in Texas. Special permits are required to hunt, raise or possess alligators.

SOURCE: www.tpwd.state.tx.us

Doris Witte grew up in her LaSalle Road home near Inez, but in her 75 years she had never seen the likes of the huge reptile that came to visit her neighborhood.

In March, a woman hit and killed the four-legged visitor. Its remains were left to rot on the side of the road for almost a week, according to nearby residents.

"It was just something unusual," she said, recalling that the lightly treaded road received an uncommon amount of traffic from sightseers that week. "We don't have that out here."

Someone even took it upon himself to decapitate the lifeless reptile.

As residential neighborhoods expand near the rivers and creeks of South Texas and the American alligator population recovers from endangerment, humans and alligators seem to be butting heads more frequently.

The American alligator was removed from the state endangered list in 1985, after 16 years of complete protection under state law, according to the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department's website.

Since then, Rex Mayes, district captain of the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, said his staff has received a growing number of calls as people encroach on alligators' habitat.

"We're seeing a huge number of alligators in public areas," Mayes said.

That's why people like Larry Janik, who has an alligator farm in El Campo, have the sometimes Herculean task of hunting so-called nuisance alligators.

Janik, who is contracted by the state, handles calls on the lower Texas coastline, from Galveston to points south. The alligators he handles are either moved to his alligator farm in El Campo or killed for their meat, hide or both.

The reptiles are deemed a nuisance when they endanger people, pets or livestock, Janik said.

Janik and his son are especially busy around this time of the year. Alligators breed and nest during the spring and summer months, and their quest to find a mate can drive them farther inland than usual.

April through July are the peak months for nuisance alligator encounters, Monique Slaughter, a Texas Parks and Wildlife Department biologist, said in a May news release.

"They're everywhere during breeding season," Janik said. He has dealt with alligators hanging out in people's garages and swimming pools.

His incentive for capturing the wild reptiles is that he can harvest them for commercial use.

The Janiks also harvest alligator eggs and incubate them to sell the hatched gators to other farms. They have a facility where they harvest the alligators, processing the meat and skinning them for their valuable hide. They also have a taxidermy service for mounting heads of the alligators.

Amos Cooper, the alligator program leader for the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, monitors the amount of nuisance alligators in Texas that are relocated or harvested.

Calhoun County had the most instances over the last five years with 93 from 2005 to 2009. Victoria County had 13 in that same span.

Cooper said June is when alligators build their nests. If provoked, they can get aggressive, he said.

"This happens every year at this time," he said. "If people just use common sense around them, they won't have a problem."

Although the alligator that Witte saw in her neighborhood was dead by the time she encountered it, she hopes, for the safety of her family, that none end up there again.

"I don't ever have to see one like that again," she said.

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