Alligators were once near extinction due to habitat destruction and hunting for their hides, but the protection from the Endangered Species Act has helped replenish the population.
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People began to hunt alligators due to the popularity of their hides used in the leather industry.
The American alligator was placed on the endangered species list in 1967, which resulted in their recovery. Now, they're being taken off the list.
Jim Armstrong, a professor and coordinator in extension forestry, wildlife and natural resources at Auburn University, said he believes alligators play a critical role in their environment by wallowing out “gator holes” that provide aquatic wildlife shelter in extended dry weather.
“Alligators are efficient predators and, given the availability of suitable habitat and protection, their recovery was only a matter of time,” Armstrong said. “The goal of the Endangered Species Act is not to keep animals on the list, rather, it is to help species recover so that they can be removed from the list. The alligator is the perfect example.”
According to the Alabama Cooperative Extension Systems website, the American alligator can reach up to 6 feet in length and one thousand pounds in weight.
In Alabama, alligators are mostly found in costal or near-coastal inland waters because they prefer water that is around 80-93 degrees, but lately there have spottings as far north as the Tennessee border.
According to Craig Guyer, a herpetologist at Auburn University, alligators are essentially garbage cans: They’ll eat anything they can swallow from snails to deer.
“Female alligators produce 20 to 50 eggs, which are placed into a nest made of mud and decaying vegetation,” Guyer said. “The females then attend the nest, driving away predators that approach too closely. When the offspring start to hatch, they vocalize, which causes the female to dig up the nest, help the offspring to emerge from the eggs and carry them to water where they stay with the female for several months.”
Once the hunting pressures were removed, alligators had plenty of food available to allow recovery and the recovery was rapid because the nests were protected, according to Guyer.
“Alligators are very smart creatures,” Guyer said. “They learn to recognize their reflection, a test of self recognition, exhibit play behavior and learn to recognize individual humans, avoiding those that might be hunting them and those that might be feeding them.”
The ACES website warns people not to feed alligators because, although they’re naturally leery of humans, they will often overcome their shyness if food is being offered.
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