21.9.04

Gators' last place



Twenty years ago residents of a small barrier island off the west coast of Florida named Sanibel chose to co-exist with one of nature's deadliest predators. Hanging in the balance, survival of the species and human territorial dominance.

Sanibel Island on Florida's Sun Coast is a privileged community of affluent, mostly retired residents devoted to the good life and preservation of their place in the sun. They are remarkable for their communal determination to preserve the natural flora and fauna that attracts so many to Florida each year, a fauna that sustains, among other exotic biotic, the alligator. In 1985 Sanibel residents voted to end the wholesale eradication of Florida's alligators by licensed hunters and elected to become the only community in Florida that endeavored to tolerate and preserves America's single primal resident.

In Florida, human communities have become increasingly conflicted with native animal species over land and resources. The Alligator known for it territoriality and seasonal aggressiveness has become not only the primary focus of resident's lore but a perennial attractor for tourism, Sanibel challenged that stereotype.

Under Florida law any alligator over 4 foot in length which presents a threat to communities including those of home owners and businesses may be trapped and processed for its' meat and hide.

The result of this community stand has erupted in a controversy over the last few years as human/alligator confrontations have increased. From June 2002 to May 2003, Sanibel police received 102 calls reporting nuisance alligators. For the same time during 2003-4 there were 163 calls, and then the inconceivable happened. On July 21st landscaper Janie Melsek was attacked and severely mauled by an 11 foot, 9 inch alligator, she died two days later.

The consequent inquiry and public concern have resulted in an amendment to Sanibel resident's position regarding native species; alligators have killed 14 people in Florida in the last 33 years, Sanibel residents are lifting the prohibition regarding alligator tolerance. Rather than capturing threat alligators and removing them to sanctuary in nearby J.N. "Ding" Darling National Wildlife Refuge the larger and perceived more aggressive alligators will be, going forward on Sanibel Island, culled by licensed hunters.
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