A vehicle accident in the early morning hours recently prompted a multi-agency search for the truck in the Paynes Prairie Preserve State Park.
According to Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) Law Enforcement Officer John Duncan, Alachua County, the driver lost control of his vehicle on Highway 441 and the truck sank into the canal.
The Florida Highway Patrol (FHP)investigated the accident and called upon the Alachua County Sheriff's Office Dive Team and FWC to help recover the vehicle.
FWC officials also performed another function at the site: alligator control.
"When we arrived on the scene, there was an extremely aggressive alligator that definitely showed all the signs of having been fed by people," Duncan said. "The gator showed none of the natural fear of people that a gator should exhibit and actually tracked us as we walked back and forth on the retaining wall."
A nuisance alligator trapper was called and the 11-foot alligator was captured.
"Unfortunately, because it was so aggressive, we had to put the gator down for the safety of the divers in the water," said Duncan.
"This is the result of people feeding the gators. If you feed one, you are effectively signing the creature's death warrant," he explained. "Another problem was we couldn't just corral the gator until the divers were out of the water. Obviously, this gator was equating people with food. If we had let him go, there was a distinct possibility that he could have hurt someone or a pet in the future."
Duncan used his airboat to get out on the water and search for the submerged truck using a pole. All this was done within 100 feet of a large sign stating that it is illegal to feed the alligators and is punishable by a $500 fine and/or 60 days in jail.
FHP is continuing the investigation into the accident.
"I really wish I could get the message across to people that if these animals are fed, they are going to become a danger to public safety and will eventually end up in the back of a trapper's truck," Duncan said. "I hate killing these creatures because someone broke the law."
FWC officers arrested a Charlotte County couple July 22 for deliberately feeding an alligator; an offense that the agency's alligator experts say is often associated with fatal attacks against humans.
"When fed, alligators quickly lose their natural fear of people and begin to associate human presence with a feeding opportunity. This altered behavior creates a significant danger that jeopardizes the safety of anyone who may come into contact with that animal," said Harry Dutton, head of the FWC alligator management section.
FWC officers operated on a tip from an anonymous source who had witnessed a man, a woman and two children feeding an alligator from a boat on the Peace River. When they received another call from the anonymous source that the couple had returned, officers staked out the area and were able to video and photograph the feeding. FWC trappers were dispatched immediately and removed two aggressive alligators, 8 foot 9 inches and 5 foot 11 inches in length, from the area.
The complete news release regarding this arrest can be viewed at: http://myfwc.com/whatsnew/05/statewide/alligatorfeeding.html.
These arrests come in the wake of an unrelated fatal alligator attack that occurred in Port Charlotte a week earlier. On the evening of July 15, Kevin Albert Murray, 41, of North Port, was swimming in a canal off the Myakka River when a 12-foot-2-inch alligator attacked and killed him. Residents of the area claimed that alligator had been fed.
It is illegal to feed alligators and the FWC strongly recommends not feeding other wildlife where alligators might be present. Feeding ducks, turtles or throwing fish scraps in the water where alligators can associate humans with a feeding opportunity, is tantamount to feeding an alligator. Information on how to prevent problems with alligators is listed in the FWC's "Living with Alligators" brochure found online at MyFWC.com/gators