It’s May in Galveston County, and with heavy rainfalls filling up area waterways, alligators are on the move.
Recent social media postings have shown alligators on West End beaches, which shouldn’t be surprising at this time of year, said Fred Ruiz, a game warden with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Department.
“They’re everywhere right now,” Ruiz said. “You put together the rain events we’ve seen over the past couple of months with the fact that it’s nesting season, and they’re moving around.”
Across the county, alligators typically reside in low water areas like creeks and bayous. But with the freshwater influx caused by heavy rains, some of the alligators are flushed into the Galveston Bay system and show up in unexpected places — like neighborhood canals and adjacent backyards.
“Don’t feed them, and protect your pets and livestock,” Ruiz said. That means bring your cats and dogs inside if you think one’s around.
If alligators are spotted in places where they might present a danger to the public, Fish and Wildlife Department personnel might go after them, Ruiz said. But his department is equally as concerned with making sure alligators, which are native up and down the Gulf Coast, are not run off their habitat unnecessarily by humans.
“We want to make sure proximity of gators to people is not dangerous, but we don’t want to remove them from their habitat,” he said.
When an alligator intrudes on private property and owners insist it needs to be moved, the department often calls a nuisance hunter who’ll go out to remove a gator from where it’s not wanted.
“There’s a fee associated with that and often people won’t pay the fee to have them removed,” Ruiz said.
One of those nuisance hunters is Hal Newsom, proprietor of Animal Control Wildlife Inc. A licensed nuisance alligator trapper, Newsom is well acquainted with the tough-skinned reptiles, having worked back in the 1970s as an alligator wrestler and handler at Galveston’s now defunct Sea-Arama Marine World.
“Last week, I took a picture on my phone of a 9-footer eating a 5-footer,” Newsom said.
With more access to move around because of recent rains and rising waters, big male alligators also are in the middle of breeding season and can get aggressive and territorial with one another, Newsom said.
In general, they pose little danger to humans, he said.
“What makes an alligator dangerous is people throwing them food, pieces of fish, a hotdog, whatever,” he said. “If they realize there’s a food source, they’re gonna come looking for it. Otherwise, they’re never gonna come near people.”
It’s illegal to feed alligators and it’s stupid, Newsom said.
To catch one, he uses a noose to close its jaws, then tapes its legs and eyes.
“They’re very strong, very agile,” he said.
When he catches one, he generally takes it to an alligator farm near Anahuac, where the animal can be used for breeding or commercial purposes, he said.
“If it’s been aggressive, it can’t be released into the wild again,” Newsom said.
The thing to do if an alligator crosses your path or you cross its path, is to leave it alone, Newsom and Ruiz agreed. If it’s hurt or in a place from where it needs to be removed, call the Fish and Wildlife Department and personnel there will decide whether a nuisance hunter needs to be called.
“Each alligator has to have a complaint number before it can be touched,” Newsom said.
“If it’s in a canal or on the beach, a gator catcher can’t do a thing unless he has authorization or a complaint number.”