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For many years, down at Iamonia Lake, there was a huge gator who had staked out a territory near a stand of cypress trees where the lake forked. One of my father’s friends, Gene Richards, was driving his boat a little too fast in that stretch one day and got distracted by the behemoth sunning on the bank. As a result, he hit a cypress knee and flipped his boat.
He said the last thing he saw before going in was the gator sliding into the water.
Someone asked, “What did you do?” Gene said, “Let me put it like this: I got to the hill so fast that the money in my wallet wasn’t wet.”
* * *
No one that I know of ever measured that old gator, but most folks agreed he was as long as a boat. In those days, that meant about 12 to 14 feet long. And he was the biggest one I had ever heard of.
Until now, that is.
My friend, Lane Stephens, a Tallahassee lobbyist who also serves as a nuisance alligator trapper in Gadsden County, was called out on August 11 to get rid of a big gator on Lake Talquin. What he came back with is now, officially, the biggest one I’ve ever seen in my 47 years as a Floridian.
At 14 feet long, he is genuinely as big as most of the jon boats used to fish that lake. And at more than a thousand pounds, about twice as heavy. At that size, other alligators, deer, wild hogs, dogs and other animals become easy prey.
While most gators will shy away from contact, some get too familiar with us or grow so large that they lose their natural fear. That’s why hunters like Lane are frequently called to remove them.
When you see a gator, the best thing to do is admire him from a distance. Remember that it’s against the law to feed them, catch them or otherwise disturb them. If one is too close for comfort or has gotten too familiar, call the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission at (866) FWC-GATOR and report it to them.
They rely on licensed experts like Lane out there who know how to remove nuisance gators without getting hurt.
And if Gene Richards was still around, he’d be the first to tell you that swimming with a large gator is the last thing you want to do.
* * *
You’ll see viral videos on the Web that present large saltwater crocodiles as alligators. Some folks will tell you they’ve seen gators “twice that size.” And there are shows like Swamp People that use clever camera angles and photography to make the gators appear larger than they really are. Trust me: When the official measuring tape and scales come out, you’ll see very few that are actually this big.
For more information about Florida’s nuisance alligator program, click here.