Alligators are fierce and terrifying carnivores. They’re also fascinating animals that have been around since prehistoric times, playing a distinct and important role in the swampy ecosystems where they live.
Wildlife supporters and biologists want to keep alligators protected, which they have been as long as they’ve been on national wildlife refuges. But recently, the Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge became the first refuge in the national system to allow recreational alligator hunting. Hunters are celebrating, but animal lovers are up in arms.
In fact, a Care2 member has started a petition drive to pressure the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which manages our federal refuges, to stop the alligator hunt. You can get more information here.
Objections to the hunt focus primarily on the cruelty of it. Hunters can stalk the gators from the safety of boats and armed with something called a “bangstick.” That’s a pole that shoots a shotgun pellet or bullet into the animal’s brain. Though the shot might immobilize the creature, it may not kill it instantly, subjecting it to inhumane pain and torture until it dies. Advocates of hunting claim that the alligator population needs to be controlled. Plus, many hunters view the dead animals as trophies, and either stuff them from head to toe, or cut off their head to mount for display.
However, animal welfare supporters note that alligators are an “umbrella” or “keystone” species in the refuge. In other words, they are at the top of the food chain and provide an important biological link, not just in Loxahatchee, but in 150,000 acres of the northern Everglades ecosystem. Plus, thousands of people come to the refuge and the Everglades every year to get a glimpse of these remarkable gators. I’ve been there myself, and I can tell you, it is truly exciting to see an alligator in the wild.
Alligators are already widely hunted outside refuges, not only to make trophies, but also for their skin, which is turned into leather for purses, shoes, belts, and boots, and meat. The animals are also being negatively affected by climate change as a substantial percentage of the freshwater habitat they depend on becomes increasingly contaminated by salt or brackish water brought on by sea level rise. Warming waters also are starting to affect the ability of alligators to reproduce. Like many other reptiles, the eggs alligators lay are very susceptible to the temperature of the water they’re laid in. As water heats up, the eggs are more likely to turn into males than females, upsetting the balance of nature that could lead to a decline in alligator populations.
The Care2 petition is hoping to collect 1,000 signatures on a petition urging the US. Fish and Wildlife Service to reverse its decision to allow alligator hunting in Loxahatchee or elsewhere. Sign the petition and share it on Facebook and Twitter to spread the word.
Want to make a change in your community? Start a petition by clicking here.