Country World Archives 2001-2008

Alligators thrive in eastern Texas

From staff Reports


This 7-foot, 10-inch alligator was removed from a pond in northern Hopkins County earlier this month. A TPWD game warden cites the big reptiles are "active and prosperous" in the region, and as creeks dry up, they move on to reside in farm ponds.
-- Courtesy photo, Jimmy Clifton

June 23, 2005 - Alligators are not new to Texas, but the recent capture of a nearly eight-foot-long 'gator in Hopkins County caused people to wonder just how many of the reptiles are around.

The big gator captured near Sulphur Springs earlier this month surprised locals, but in fact, alligators are quite common in most of eastern Texas. While there are no statewide estimates of alligator populations, the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department credits 12O of the 254 Texas counties with alligator populations.

"It was a bit unusual to find that size of a gator here, but gators do travel around through the swamps of Hopkins County, so it is easy for an alligator to end up in a pond right outside of town," said Sean Reneau, game warden.

The 7-foot, 10-inch alligator weighing an estimated 150 to 170 pounds was captured June 6 in Jimmy Clifton's pond on Moonlight Mile Farm, north of Sulphur Springs. Trapper Mark McDonald of Lindale set seining traps around 12:30 p.m. June 6, and finally caught the reptile about 5:30 p.m. It took another half an hour to load the reptile into a vehicle for transport to an alligator farm in the area.

So what are a person's chances of coming across an alligator? According to Reneau, alligators are active and prosperous throughout the southern and eastern parts of Texas mid-March through mid-October.

"As the creeks and streams dry up, more alligators are relocating to ponds," the game warden said. "There are more alligators around this area than people realize."

If a person sees an alligator and would like it removed from their property, they can contact the game warden in the area. If one is easily captured by game wardens, without the help of trappers, then the wardens will relocate the alligator to a swamp or other appropriate area. If game wardens require assistance from a trapper, then the alligator will normally be sold to an alligator farmer within the county, according to Reneau.

If an alligator harms a person, it will be killed, he added.

According to TPWD data, the largest alligator in Texas was harvested in 1998 and was 14 feet and 4 inches long and was estimated to weigh 900 pounds.

The species of alligator native to Texas is the American Alligator. The average alligator in Texas is 7 feet long and weights approximately 160 pounds.

Alligators in Texas narrowly escaped extinction. Texas initiated protection of the reptile through state legislation in 1969. During the 1980s, the alligator was removed from the endangered list and beginning in 1984, controlled hunting was permitted.

Regulated hunting and conservation efforts have encouraged the alligator population to remain stable.

East Texas has ideal alligator habitat, especially areas near the Sabine River and its tributaries. The animal thrives in shallow waters including marshes, ponds and swamps, but they have been known to reside in canals, creeks, and shallow lakes. They prefer fresh-water.

In addition to the landscape, the ecosystems of East Texas have allowed the alligator a hearty food chain to dominate. According to TPWD, the large-jawed creatures eat insects, snails, birds, turtles, and small mammals - all common in eastern Texas.

And, since alligators only eats food it can swallow whole, one is unlikely to eat a human. Unlike other carnivores, alligators can not shred away the flesh of its food, and must rely on its stomach juices to break down its meal.

The scenario may sound intimidating, but alligators are known to be non-aggressive. According to TPWD, most alligators are shy around people, unless they have previously been fed by humans. In that case, the animals will approach humans, and wildlife authorities should be contacted. TPWD warns that alligators who have lost their fear of humans can be a potential threat.

In contrast, most alligators, when left alone, remain harmless. TPWD will relocate nuisance alligators. According to TPWD, the legal definition of a nuisance alligator is "an alligator that is depredating (killing livestock or pets) or a threat to human health or safety." Most alligators reported to TPWD do not meet those guidelines. Alligators that have been fed by humans in the past have a greater risk of becoming a nuisance.

As conservation efforts become more sophisticated, the alligator population in East Texas should remain steady. TPWD is attempting to educate the public about sharing space with alligators. Information can be obtained online at http://www.tpwd.state.tx.us/nature/wild/vertebrate/reptiles/americanAlligator/.

(Kari Kramer, Country World staff writer, and Cari Trock, Sulphur Springs News-Telegram writer, contributed to this story.)