One alligator has been trapped and wardens remain vigilant at a waterway in Sugar Land, Texas after animals bit two boats in recent weeks – for the first time ever, residents say.
Everything started when an elderly rower accidentally hit a gator with an oar, says Dee Connors, president of the Greater Houston Rowing Club.
“On the second day, the alligator chomped the end of his boat and his boat started sinking, but he made it to shore,” Ms Connors told KHOU.
But that wasn’t the only attack; another followed last week, she said.
“Another one of the rowers was just rowing out behind me and another one of the alligators chomped the end of his boat, he didn’t get it as hard as the first one so he was able to row it to shore,” Connors told the station.
The incidents keep happening along Oyster Creek, which is bordered by homes along many stretches.
“I’ve been rowing over 20 years in this body of water and we’ve never had an alligator attack,” Ms Connors told KHOU.
The swampy conditions in southeast Texas make the region a perfect home for thousands of alligators; authorities estimate that up to half a million gators live across the state.
Jonathan Warner, alligator programme leader for Texas Parks and Wildlife, tells The Independent the incidents were likely “mistaken” efforts to find food by the gators.
“The boats that were bitten, it seems that the gators bit them and immediately released the boat,” he says. “This time of year, we’re going into fall, we’re at the end of the warmer months; mating season and nesting season is over – and so most alligator movement is related to feeding behaviour, this time of year, as we go into winter months and they’re bulking up.”
He says he believes the gators “thought this was a prey item, took a chance, did it and realised, this isn’t food.
“The situation is under control; we are monitoring it,” he says. “We’ve already removed one alligator from there. There’s signage up warning people.”
While they might be bulking up for winter, alligators don’t actually hibernate; they and similar cold-blooded animals enter a state called brumation.
“It’s basically similar to mammalian hibernation,” Mr Warner tells The Independent. “It’s a state of torpor that reptiles and alligators” enter.
He says the reports of gators biting boats are “very random” and “it’s not usual that we get something like that.“
“But, again, it’s not something I’m shocked by, given the time of year.”
Local reports indicated that some vegetation had been removed from near the banks of Oyster Creek, perhaps making the alligators feel more threatened – but Mr Warner, in his expertise, that’s an unlikely motivation.
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“Alligator nesting season is basically over right now, so most hatchlings have already emerged from the nest,” he tells The Independent. “It would surprise me for it to be an aggressive female this late in the year.
“This type of incident, open water, that to me does not seem like that there’s disturbance [of] nesting,” he says.
Incidentally, even attacks by protective females are extremely rare, he says – you’d essentially have to walk into a nest. But he still urges cautious behaviour near any alligator habitats.
“Another dynamic – and I’m not sure this is going on at Sugar Land, but as a general trend – what we’ve seen in Texas this year is that we went through a drought most of the spring and summer,” he says. “So water levels across a lot of alligator habitats have been lower this year.
“And so we’ve seen gators concentrated in areas of freshwater where maybe there wouldn’t have normally been that many – they would have been spaced out because there’s more water on the ground.”
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The resilient animals – which are not true reptiles and are closer to birds and dinosaurs – “just adapt … to their surroundings,” he says.
“If there are three ponds, and two of them are dried up, they’re going to be in the pond that still has water.”
Still, however, he’s sticking to the theory that the alligator – or gators – simply wanted some pre-brumation snacks.
“He just got the wrong meal,” he says. [The Independent]