Alligators are just a fact of life in North Alabama

Alligators have been seen throughout the Huntsville area, prompting the city to put up warning signs. (Jud Easterwood/ADCNR)

Lately, sightings of alligators in the Huntsville area have been widely reported and as a relative newcomer to the northern part of this state, I was surprised when I first caught wind of these gator sightings.

But according to wildlife experts, I should not be shocked to know that alligators are fairly common in these parts.

Expect to see alligators throughout Alabama

These creatures can be found anywhere in the state. (David Rainer/ADCNR)

According to the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, alligators should feel right at home regardless of where in Alabama they may reside.

David Rainer of the ADCNR recently addressed an alligator sighting in the last few weeks in Madison, and said he understands what the panic and confusion is about, but added that alligators have lived in north Alabama for at least 60 years.

ADCNR’s Chuck Sykes echoed those sentiments last week.

“I get it. People who are new moving into the area who are not used to it, I can see where they could be a little panicked the first time they see an alligator. But that is suitable habitat for alligators. There is not as much prime gator habitat as there is in the southern part of the state, but there is still quite a bit up north.”

Chuck Sykes, Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources’ Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries Division

The video above shows an American alligator in Lady Ann Lake in Madison. This is actually not a fluke occurrence.

Construction encroaching on gator habitat

The more developments happening in the Huntsville area, the more gators will be seen in residential areas. (David Rainer/ADCNR)

As we all know, the Huntsville area is growing rapidly and the number of apartments, developments and buildings have increased exponentially over the last few decades, and a significant amount of that construction is actually encroaching on alligator habitat.

“They are building subdivisions literally in swamps. They’re bringing in truckloads of dirt and topsoil to build these pads to put the houses on. They’re building right up against the Redstone Arsenal fence. They’re building these well-manicured ponds these houses are going to go around. That means fish and turtles, food sources of alligators, so everything is there for an alligator. It’s perfect for them.”

Jud Easterwood, WFF’s Supervising Wildlife Biologist

Easterwood said those people unfamiliar with alligators want the animals they see gone immediately, but WFF has a regulated protocol to determine if the animal is considered a nuisance alligator and merits removal.

Are alligators really a problem?

Feeding gators is illegal, and also can be dangerous. (Jud Easterwood/ADCNR)

Because the American alligator is still a federally protected species, Easterwood said he and the WFF staff try to educate the public about how to live with alligators in Alabama, rather than just assume they all need to be killed or trapped.

“The protocol we use to determine if the animal is considered a nuisance is written in our state regulations. We do assess each reported nuisance situation, which is initially done over the phone. This initial phone interview allows for us to better understand the situational complaint and determine what the next steps should be.”

Jud Easterwood, WFF’s Supervising Wildlife Biologist

Easterwood said if you do encounter an alligator, follow these instructions:

  • Leave gators alone
  • Don’t harass them
  • Never feed them
  • Don’t throw fish scraps in the water
  • Don’t let your pets swim in those areas, and keep pets on a leash
  • If you know alligators are in the area, you probably don’t want to swim there
  • Always keep safety in mind and observe and photograph alligators only from a distance

Alligators are an important part of Alabama’s landscape and play a valuable role in the ecology of Alabama’s wetlands. Alligators are also a top predator species and help keep other animal populations in balance. 

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Michael Seale
Michael Seale
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