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(US FL) Feeding gators bad for them and for people July 31, 2005 7:39 AM A bloody price continues to be paid for our ignorance of alligators, and our refusal to respect them. We need to kick up the penalties for feeding gators and step up the education about the dangers of these creatures. A Punta Gorda couple was arrested recently and charged with feeding alligators in a lake northeast of Port Charlotte, just a few miles from where a man was fatally attacked by a gator July 15 when he went for a cooling swim. He was the third person killed by an alligator in Southwest Florida in the past year. The alligators fed by the couple had to be destroyed, of course. State wildlife officers had to assume they had lost their wariness of humans and would understandably associate them with food. More wasted life. Too few people understand and respect gators. It's not just tourists, although tourists are a big reason we want big gators around in the right places. Free-spending visitors expect to see them. But as Gary Morse of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission says, "A lot of people aren't familiar with alligator behavior, even if they've lived next to alligators all their lives." The people arrested for gator feeding and the man killed were locals, experienced in the outdoors. The pair charged, James Jones and Jackie L. O'Neal, both 35, face very mild punishments if convicted, a mere 60 days in jail and/or a $500 fine. We wonder if the 12-footer that killed Kevin Albert Murray on July 15 had been fed. A gator that size might naturally prey on something man-sized, but it's more likely it was fed. People who feed gators are creating a mortal danger and deserve much tougher penalties. We have too many big gators close to where people live. The state and local governments are being more aggressive about removing and killing nuisance gators, as they should be. But big gators are always going to be here, so long as we preserve wetlands, which we must do to preserve critical natural resources. We have to accept that we live in gator country, and that as human-gator contacts increase, so will attacks. Follow the rules, including the principle that if you're not sure an area is gator-free for swimming, wading or whatever, assume they're there.  [ send green star]
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