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Archive for Saturday, May 4, 2002

Amorous alligators causing anxiety

May 4, 2002

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Suddenly, the big reptiles are everywhere, wallowing in golf course ponds, lurking on suburban lawns, snapping in schoolyards.

Ah, springtime in Florida, when an alligator's thoughts turn to love.

And to food like frogs, fish and family pets.

And to wet holes safely away from other hormonally juiced, cannibalistic, bigger gators.

But mainly, to love.

Gators have been smitten with their annual case of the hots, and reports of close encounters of the reptilian kind, which hit a record of nearly 17,000 last year, are again pouring in statewide.

In the last two weeks, a six-footer snapped at a custodian at Pembroke Pines Charter School, a seven-footer crunched tooth marks into the bumper of a woman's car in Port Charlotte, and a nine-footer killed a dog near Tampa. Another wayward gator, struck while crossing a highway west of Cocoa, caused a pickup truck to flip, killing the driver.

Just a few days ago, five police cars rushed to a quiet Cutler Ridge neighborhood, lights flashing, after a 911 call from the Romero family, whose barking dog apparently seemed like good prey to a burly gator. Surrounded, the menacing hulk grinned and refused to budge, at least until officers bounced rocks off its hide.

By the time trapper Todd Hardwick arrived, the beast had escaped from the back yard, ambling past befuddled police into a thicket, leaving the Romeros with an exciting videotaped gator tale but mom Sonia jittery.

"I'm worried because all the kids like to play in that back yard," she said.

For Hardwick, contracted by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission to capture gators in Miami-Dade and Monroe counties, it just added another gator to his list. He has 30 potentially problematic gators targeted already, most in South Miami-Dade, and he figures that easily will double by Memorial Day.

"I'm running crazy with gators the last couple of weeks," said Hardwick, who owns the Pesky Critters trapping company in Miami-Dade.

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