Today, popular television shows like the History Channel’s “Swamp People” glamorize the idea of hunting alligators. And who could forget the late Steve Irwin and his gator-wrangling adventures as “The Crocodile Hunter” on Animal Planet?
On the Alabama Gulf Coast, citizens have seen their fair share of these behemoth reptiles. When the gators pose a threat to local residents, area conservation officers are called in to handle the situation.
As a child, Thad Holmes enjoyed spending time in the great outdoors and developed a love for wildlife at an early age. Now, he serves the Mobile and Baldwin County area as a Conservation Enforcement Officer (CEO). Among the dozens of animal species he has handled over the course of his career, alligators certainly rank among the most deadly.
Tell us about some of your earliest experiences with alligators.
My first encounter with an alligator was at Dead Lake, a river system in the panhandle of Florida. I was just a boy. One of the first calls I responded to as a CEO involved alligators on the Causeway. The gators have a mating season and often migrate back and forth across the Causeway. They get hit by cars and some are so big they stop traffic.
How do you train to become a CEO?
We go through internal training and usually accompany an experienced conservation officer on several calls before starting to work on our own. We are trained to be quick on our feet and often carry a heavy stick, rope and electrical tape when responding to calls.
What is the first thing someone should do if they find an alligator in their yard?
Put your children and your pets indoors immediately. Do not go near the alligator for any reason. If the alligator is traveling through your area, call our department right away. We will send an officer, even on the weekends.
How do CEOs determine if an alligator should be removed?
When an officer arrives on the scene, he has to assess the situation. If possible, we will remove the alligator and transfer it to another location without having to resort to killing it. The length and size of the alligator is part of determining replacement or removal. Gators ranging from 6 to 7 feet in length usually have to be removed.
What are some interesting facts about alligators that people may not know?
Every alligator’s brain is about the size of a walnut. This includes the larger gators as well as the 9- and 10-footers. However, their skulls are extremely thick and the brain is located right at the back of the skull. If you’re going to kill the gator, you have to hit this spot with accuracy and a lot of force. I’ve seen pistol bullets bounce right off their skulls. Alligators will eat just about anything that splashes nearby: fish, snakes and turtles. They will even eat each other. Larger gators eat smaller ones all the time. Any creature entering into their territory is fair game. And yes, this includes humans as well.
Joshua D. Givens