After months without students, Eckerd’s campus has become a little wilder. Now as students begin to return, they are greeted by a new critter who has quite the smile: an alligator.
Fondly called Zator, Rona or Gerald by students, the estimated six-foot alligator swims about Zeta pond, offering an exciting sight but also some safety concerns.
“My main concern is just people pestering her because, I mean, she's a wild animal and animals were here first,” sophomore Maice Clanton said.
Clanton first saw the alligator while doing a community building activity on Kappa Field with fellow peer mentors on Saturday, Aug. 22.
“I was like ‘This is such a surreal moment,’” Clanton said. “I was in awe.”
She called Campus Safety, who called the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation (FWC) Statewide Nuisance Alligator Program (SNAP). This program helps remove alligators that may be considered a threat to “people, pets or property.”
“While it's cool having one on campus, it's definitely not the best environment for them because there's limited resources and she's kind of in danger of the human population doing something to her. So I know it will be best when she does eventually get [removed],” Clanton said.
Director of Campus Safety Tonya Womack said that steps are being taken to remove the animal to keep Eckerd safe.
“It's making sure that the community, our students and our little pets that we have are safe on campus,” Womack said.
Because the alligator is close to a dormitory and a popular sidewalk, Campus Safety does feel it is best to remove it. Though the alligator may seem slow and calm when it peers from the water, they can be dangerous. It is illegal in the state of Florida to harass or kill alligators.
“What happens is you start taking a picture, and then you'll want to start feeding it and then you'll want to get more and [the gator] kind of gets acclimated to being near humans and that fear decreases,” Womack said.
Campus Safety will continue to watch and wait for the alligator to make its way onto land where it will be easier to capture. SNAP normally does not remove an alligator that is over four feet in length.
“We generally don't relocate alligators over four foot,” a call center operator for the SNAP hotline, said. “Just because biologists state that they tend to be a problem at their relocation site, or they tend to try to come back from where they were relocated from, or they get injured or become a problem on their trip back.”
Womack says that the local trapper on the case plans to relocate the alligator to a farm somewhere else in the state of Florida.
“There's always the rumors that if they catch a gator, that it might be killed,” Womack said. “This trapper understands our community and understands the concerns of faculty and staff and students. And they were like, ‘We want to try to catch it so we can relocate it to another area in the state.’ So that is their number one goal.”
The trapper could not be reached for comment. The permit issued by SNAP expires 45-days after the initial call. Since the call was made on Aug. 24 according to SNAP, the trapper has until Oct. 8 to remove the alligator.
“We're just waiting and continuing to monitor,” Womack said.