State’s alligator numbers allow hunting for 10th year

>
> By Jessica Tegt
> Assistant Extension Professor
> Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Aquaculture
> Mississippi State University
>
>
> STARKVILLE, Miss. — To keep the population of the official state reptile in check, the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks will allow alligator hunting for the 10th year.
>
> Protection and recovery efforts through effective management and education have allowed alligator populations to rebound, which prompted the Commission on Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks to approve the first alligator hunting season in 2005.
>
> For 2015, permits for public water hunting were sold on a first-come, first-served basis to 920 Mississippians. The public water season will begin at noon on Aug. 28 and extend through noon on Sept. 7.
>
> A private land alligator hunting season is available to eligible landowners in 28 open counties. Private land alligator hunting permit applications must be submitted before July 1 each year, and properties must contain at least 20 acres of privately owned permanent surface water to be eligible.
>
> Ricky Flynt, Alligator Program Coordinator for the Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks, said he anticipates a successful hunting season in 2015 and continued seasons in coming years.
>
> The Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks has surveyed alligator populations across Mississippi for more than 40 years. Wildlife biologists use night-light surveys to count alligator eyeballs, which shine bright orange in the light. Based on these studies, they are able to estimate how many and where alligators live in Mississippi.
>
> An alligator population census conducted in 2000 estimated around 40,000 adult alligators living among 408,000 acres of suitable habitat throughout the state. Jackson County, the most southeastern county in the state, has the most alligator habitat and, not surprisingly, the most alligators — almost 25 percent of the population. Together, Hancock and Rankin counties host an additional 20 percent of the state’s alligator population. Surveys indicate the Pearl River area around Rankin and Madison counties has the highest density of alligators in the state. Most of these alligators are concentrated around the Ross Barnett Reservoir and in the Pearl River from Highway 43 to Lowhead Dam.
>
> Though a population of 40,000 alligators seems like a lot, in comparison, Louisiana and Florida each harvested nearly that many alligators last year. That helps put Mississippi’s alligator population in perspective.
>
> Residents should be aware of alligators, especially in areas where human development and recreation have encroached on alligator habitats. An alligator basking in the sun, crossing the road for refuge or swimming in public waters is not a nuisance animal.
>
> However, biologists do consider alligators that exhibit aggressive behavior, loiter for handouts or are found in private swimming pools, yards or driveways to be nuisance alligators and subject to removal. Any alligator that attacks or attempts to prey upon humans, livestock or pets will be removed by the MDWFP and will not be relocated.
>
> Since Mississippi is home to some of the largest alligators in the country, many residents fear their large size means added danger. However, this is simply not true. Alligators exhibit a natural avoidance of humans and human activity. There has never been a documented alligator attack in Mississippi.
>
> Following a few simple rules to remain “gator safe” can ensure that alligators of any size can safely coexist with people. Never feed alligators. Feeding alligators is not only unsafe, but also illegal. It results in alligators associating human activity as a source of food, which can result in the potential for serious danger.
>
> More often than not, an alligator that has lost its natural wariness for humans will need to be captured and disposed of. Never approach or harass an alligator, especially a female defending its nest. Also, keep an eye on pets, especially in areas around marshes, swamps and lakes. According to the Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks, alligators see dogs as a source of prey, so keep Fido away from known alligator habitats.
>
> Mississippi residents and visitors are responsible for observing alligators from a safe distance to avoid any type of conflict.
>
> Gators are a natural and important part of the aquatic ecosystems across the state. They control populations of prey species, create peat through nesting activities and benefit other aquatic species with their burrows.
>
> For more information on the alligator management program in Mississippi, contact Ricky Flynt at rickyf@mdwfp.state.ms.us. For more information about alligators in general, go to http://www.mdwfp.com/alligator.