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SPECIAL REPORT
2005: Year in Review

Latest tally notes gator upswing

By JON WILSON
Published December 28, 2005


ST. PETERSBURG - The city followed up its spring alligator count on Lake Maggiore with another later in the year that resulted in an estimated population considerably greater than the first census produced.

Biologist Stephen Shea reported in August that 185 to 235 alligators likely live in the lake, compared to his April estimate of 115 to 145, said Clarence Scott, parks director.

"It's a very healthy environment for them," Scott said, noting that the presence of tilapia offers a steady food source.

Gator-counting is an art and a science. An actual physical nose (or eye) count takes place. The number, the water temperature and other data are fed into a computer to estimate results.

The question is whether nearly two alligators per every 3 acres - at most - is a problem in a 385-acre urban lake.

The answer: probably not.

Parks officials have not rushed to arrange "selected harvests," Scott said, instead preferring to let nuisance calls control the population. City crews also have reduced the lake's cattail density, thereby reducing habitat.

In a couple of harvesting attempts, a trapper did not find any gators big enough to warrant hauling away, Scott said.

In fact, the August count produced a greater number of young alligators, hatchlings included. The first study produced a lot of gators 7 feet or longer, but virtually none in the younger age group.

So where did the big guys go?

Perhaps into surrounding neighborhoods.

Nuisance complaints emerged in Lake Maggiore's general neighborhood, Scott said. There are other bodies of water nearby. Salt Creek, for example, flows into Bartlett Lake. A few months ago, an alligator 10 to 12 feet long was picked up near Grandview Park at Sixth Street S and 39th Avenue, a few blocks from the lake.

Meanwhile, the city is continuing its education programs about living with alligators, which people have done here for centuries.

More information can be found on the city's Web site, at www.stpete.org/fun/parks/alligators.htm

[Last modified December 28, 2005, 00:37:18]


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