The true encroacher, human or alligator?

August 08, 2001

COLLEGE STATION - On a summer day, nothing sounds more refreshing than a cool dip in a neighborhood swimming pool, whether you happen to be a hot human or a disoriented alligator.

While arguments abound as to who is the true encroacher in this situation, the answer depends on which side of the pool one is on - as in "gene" pool.

Timothy P. Scott, a crocodilian biologist at Texas A&M University, can tell about the true encroacher. He has been studying crocodilians for more than 10 years and is concerned about their prospects for survival.

American alligators range on the Gulf Coast from Texas through Florida and up to the Carolinas on the Atlantic side. They may extend as far north as Oklahoma and Arkansas. College Station is within the natural range of the alligator. So, many times, Scott gets called to help remove alligators from stock ponds and creeks.

"In some ways, I think it is unfortunate because they are supposed to be here and we are encroaching on their habitat," Scott said. "By and large, they leave people alone unless they are accustomed to persons feeding them. They have more fear of us than we do of them.

"I hate to see the continued removal of these wonderful animals until we permanently alter their range," Scott said. "They perhaps tie us more to our prehistoric past than any other living animal."

Alligators can have a tremendous economic impact, Scott said. In Louisiana and Florida, for example, crocodilians bring financial benefits not only in tourism, but also in the leather and meat markets.

"Some staunch environmentalists and animal rights activists should be aware that the only way we have been able to protect and save crocodilians around the world is to use them as a renewable natural resource," Scott said.

In 1969, alligators were listed as an endangered species. Over the past decades, scientists have learned more about alligators' reproduction and devised better hunting policies. By understanding their natural history, hunting was moved to a time of year that does not affect breeding.

After alligator populations increased across the southeast, monitored hunting seasons were allowed. These hunting seasons have not harmed robust population levels. A portion of the proceeds from the hunting permits fund scientific research on this animal. As hunting grew in popularity and as leather and meat market prices increased, many saw a potential business. The development of alligator farming was the result.

Scott's group has recently carried out a nutritional study related to farming alligators. His group has explored what diet will allow alligators to grow out to maximum length and produce the most leather and meat.

Scott found that Vitamin E and Vitamin B1 (thiamine) had distinct effects on alligators' growth. In fact, some diseases are attributed to a lack of these vitamins, and death can occur if those vitamins are absent.

"It appears that alligators may actually stop growth permanently if they have no access to these elements early in life," Scott said. "Even if supplements are added after the fact, they may not respond to it at all.

"Alligators have been here for almost 200 million years," Scott said. "Their range overlaps with human beings. I hope we can learn to live with them."
-end-
Contact: Timothy P. Scott, 979-845-7361, tims@mail.bio.tamu.edu Ping Wang, 979-862-2694, pw@univrel.tamu.edu

Texas A&M University

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