Go Gators!

Gators Collage

American alligators are a rare success story in the history of nature conservation.  By the 1950’s their numbers were at all-time lows due to loss of habitat and hunting caused by you-know-who.  Alligators were placed on the endangered species list in 1967 and the populations quickly increased due to state and federal protections, habitat preservation efforts, and reduced demand for alligator products.   By 1987 alligators were taken off the endangered list and today there are more than a million alligators and their numbers continue to increase.

If age results in wisdom, we can learn a lot from alligators.  Scientists estimate that they have existed on earth for 150 to 200 million years.  They lived with the dinosaurs and managed to avoid extinction when the dinosaurs died off 65 million years ago.  Homo sapiens, on the other hand, only arrived a few hundred thousand years ago.  At the rate we are going, we suspect that alligators will still be around long after we are gone (assuming alligator shoes don’t become really popular again).

Take a look at the following photo of a mature alligator—it’s a great view of life at the top of the food chain.

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If you are at the top, you relax and enjoy life like this–you don’t fight traffic and work eight to five, five days a week.

One benefit of the resurgence of alligators in Florida is that we get to kayak with them all the time.  In general, they are afraid of people and swim away if you get too close.  There are a few really old and big alligators that aren’t afraid so we make sure we avoid them.  Our biggest concern is that we surprise or scare an alligator–Ed once went around a bend in a river very close to the shore and scared an alligator that jumped into the water, almost on top of his kayak.  Of course we could always run into an alligator that is a little unstable, or not too bright, and he could do something rash, but this is probably less likely than running into an unstable human with a weapon, especially in Florida.

Last week we stayed at Myakka River State Park, which is southwest of Tampa.  It has the greatest concentration of alligators that we have found in any Florida park.  It is a very nice park with a large lake and river and hiking and biking trails.  It does get crowded with boat tours on the lake and tram tours of the park but it’s easy to avoid the crowds, especially if you have a kayak.  Here are some photos.

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Kayaking on the Myakka River

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More kayaking on the Myakka—where are the alligators?

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An alligator on the Myakka River—the weather was a little cool which is probably why we did not see a lot more alligators.

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Birds on the Myakka–again, we are not birders but we believe the above birds are, starting at the lower left and going clockwise: Great Blue Heron, Black-crowned Night Heron, young Black-crowned Night Heron, and Wood Stork.

We also went hiking at Myakka and here are some photos.

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Scenes from our hike at Myakka, starting at lower left and going clockwise: Patty on the suspended bridge that goes through the tree canopy, a view from the trail, the tops of palm trees as seen from the observation tower, afternoon sun through saw palmettos.

Ed decided to kayak downstream on the Myakka River in search of alligators and Patty took the day off.  Here are some photos.

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Ed immediately discovered many more alligators heading downstream, probably due to less people and warmer weather.  Kayaking alone, he was actually a little nervous.  Not that Patty would save him from a rogue alligator but having someone with you at least gives you a fifty-fifty chance of not being gator bait.

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Heading downstream, Ed discovered he was entering a wilderness area that required a permit.  But as Ed said: “I don’t need no stinkin’ permit!”

[Editor’s note: Most people know the line “We don’t need no stinkin’ badges!” from the movie Blazing Saddles, but it actually originated in a 1927 novel and the 1948 movie of the same name, The Treasure of the Sierra Madre.]

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Kayaking on Lower Myakka Lake—can it get any bluer?

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Ed found the place where all the alligators hang out—Deep Hole.  He entered through the inlet on the right and about 20 alligators immediately dove into the water—a little disconcerting.

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Alligators hanging out at Deep Hole

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An alligator near Deep Hole, keeping his snacks near by

We later hiked to Deep Hole, after getting a wilderness permit.  It turns out they only let 30 people into the wilderness area each day—if you don’t return your permit, they send in a search party.  We made it out and here are some photos.

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Patty hiking to Deep Hole

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Patty at Deep Hole

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Alligators and their constant companions, Black Vultures—apparently, alligators aren’t the neatest eaters so the vultures hang around for leftovers.

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The end of another great day at Myakka River—sunset as seen from our campsite.


7 thoughts on “Go Gators!

  1. as Frank Romano would say…HOLY CRAP!!…I would not be so sanguine about them not wanting to eat humans bearing bright-colored kayaks!


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