Life is not the same without alligators

California has an amazing amount of wildlife. Within blocks of my home, I have encountered coyotes, otters, skunks, possums, rabbits, squirrels, ducks, geese, herons, frogs, snakes and fish. A bit more distantly, people have found mountain lions in their backyards, bears strolling through the campus arboretum and deer eating their gardens.

I delight in sightings of all of these creatures. Still, there is something missing from my life in California. Something large and reptilian lurking beneath the tea-colored water that might suddenly and without warning leap out of a pile of swampy brush and snap off your hand.

I miss alligators.

Photo of an alligator eye up close.
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

I realize that loving alligators may not be a popular position. Plenty of other, more lovable creatures populate the state of Florida. While I lived there, I swam with manatees in crystal clear blue waters. I watched dolphins frolic and sea turtles pitch and dive in the calm waves of the Gulf of Mexico off of Cedar Key. These creatures also earned a special place in my heart.

But to me, alligators represent that untamed aspect of nature that humans will never conquer. As a species, we have wiped out large predators around the globe. We have permanently altered most ecosystems. Our actions have spurred global climate change, leading to devastating wildfires and record hurricane seasons.

And yet, alligators remain completely unmoved by our attempts to conquer them. Evolutionarily, they have remained unchanged for about 8 million years. Despite the dangers that they pose to humans, they have resisted attempts to hunt them to extinction.

As alpha predators at the top of the food chain, alligators can easily put humans in danger, which means they deserve a lot of respect. A large alligator might not challenge a full-grown human on purpose, but it will take out a small dog or a child. And they can damage adults, too – in 2002, a man in Gainesville, Florida, lost his arm to a gator while working at Kanapaha Botanical Gardens. 

Photo of a small gator in swampy water.
Photo by Henning Roettger on Pexels.com

While recognizing the potential danger, I have safely seen hundreds of alligators in the wild. They inspire awe. I have heard a bull gator call for a mate, the deep, alien, throaty sound causing every hair on my arms to tingle in alarm. I’ve seen one female protect her nest, bulging mound of dirt piled up below the trail just above the water line, and I watched another defend her six-inch-long progeny from another hungry rival with lots of open-mouthed croaking. Getting to see these things up close and personal while keeping a respectful distance has taught me a lot about nature and the human role within it.

In alligator country, it is humans who must accommodate the animals. At Paynes Prairie outside of Gainesville, if an alligator decides to sun itself in the middle of the narrow trail just above the swampy, snake-filled water, you have to wait until it decides to slip back into the slough before heading back to your car. You also have to remain vigilant. Did that log just move? What’s that noise? THOSE EYES JUST DISAPPEARED. WHERE DID THEY GO? It’s behind me, isn’t it?

Alligators serve as a reminder that we are not above this world, but a part of it. This is something I never take for granted. And it is the reason why I continue to love alligators.

Published by thelamppost2017

Writer, dancer, hiker, outdoorswoman, baker, gardener, traveler, knitter, shell collector, cheese enthusiast.

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