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Posted by W von Papinešu on May 01, 2003 at 09:51:24:
In Reply to: TX Press: Katy resident outraged at treatment of alligator posted by W von Papinešu on April 29, 2003 at 08:40:23:
AUSTIN AMERICAN-STATESMAN (Texas) 01 April 03 Dragging and death of gator caught on tape draws outcry (Mike Leggett)
Beware the video camera, for it can turn a day's work into a nightmare.
In the middle of a nightmare is where the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department finds itself after Fort Bend County warden Mike Weiss killed a nine-foot alligator that had wandered up to a school bus stop in a residential area where children were present.
Before he shot the alligator, Weiss roped it and dragged it behind his pickup so he could shoot it away from the crowd that had gathered near the big reptile. Weiss was following department procedure on nuisance alligators, the department said Wednesday.
But a resident of the Houston-area neighborhood happened to be filming the incident, and that video made it onto national television and the Internet this week. The negative reaction has been swift.
"We've had over 300 e-mails so far," said Col. Jim Stinebaugh, chief of law enforcement for Texas Parks and Wildlife. "Some of them have been supportive but some of them have suggested that we need to hook game wardens up to trucks and drag them."
Stinebaugh said game wardens answer hundreds of nuisance alligator calls in Fort Bend County each year. The coastal area is home to a large alligator population and alligator hunting by permit. Texas alligators once were completely protected, but population increases, especially in coastal counties, brought numbers to huntable levels in the 1980s.
"If an alligator is more than five feet long, we normally kill it," Stinebaugh said. "If it's near a lake or river and we can shoo it back into the water, we will. But this was a big gator in a dangerous situation. I saw one kid ride up and actually bump the gator in the nose with his bicycle. In terms of procedure, (Weiss) did nothing out of the ordinary. He tried to handle it alone and he couldn't. I'm not sure what else he could have done."
Nancy Chambers, who lives in Pearland and owns land in Liberty County, was one of the people who saw the videotape and called Stinebaugh to complain. She believes the situation could have been handled much differently and without such a bad outcome.
"I was upset, especially in Texas where alligator sightings are not a rarity, that it couldn't have been handled differently," she said. "A game warden who works around alligators should have been more trained on how to deal with them.
"My father was a rancher and a rice farmer, so I grew up around alligators and we moved some ourselves that were larger than five feet," Chambers said. "If their policy is to shoot them over five feet, then I think that needs to be looked at."
Chambers said she was particularly disturbed by the pictures of the alligator being dragged down the street.
Stinebaugh agreed that the video was disturbing, but defended the warden's action from a public safety standpoint.
"There really was nothing good that was going to happen once he threw the rope around that gator," Stinebaugh said. "But we still think the warden made the right decision at the time."
Stinebaugh said game warden officers have begun meeting to review department procedure on dealing with nuisance animals, alligators in particular. There have been some suggestions, he said, that the department form a response team to deal with those situations. The department would still be open to criticism if it failed to respond quickly enough and someone was injured by a wild animal.
Animals often wander into areas where they come into contact with humans. They may have been displaced or be looking for food or a mate. But be they alligator or white-tailed deer, they will defend themselves if necessary and can easily hurt a human in just trying to get away.
I'm reminded of a friend's comment on an alligator that was soaking up the spring sun in the parking lot at Aransas National Wildlife Refuge one day. A tour bus stopped and people began getting out near the big gator, which acted like a gator and didn't move a muscle.
"Is that real?" an elderly woman asked when she spied the creature. "This ain't Wally World, lady," my friend replied.
HOUSTON CHRONICLE (Texas) 30 April 03 Options for gators weighed - Killing of animal draws uproar (Terry Kliewer)
Texas Parks and Wildlife Department officials are rethinking how to handle nuisance alligators after a Fort Bend County game warden was videotaped dragging and killing one lying near a school bus stop.
The tape, shown on Houston TV stations, sparked an outcry from viewers concerned that the warden treated the thrashing alligator inhumanely when he used his truck to pull the animal away from onlookers, many of them children, to a nearby spot to be shot.
The incident raises questions about public safety and increasing human contact with wildlife as neighborhoods spill out into formerly unsettled tracts of land along the coastal plains of Texas.
"We want to stress to people who live near alligator habitat that they not take these creatures lightly," said Col. Jim Stinebaugh, director of law enforcement at the Austin agency. "Any alligator encounter is a potentially dangerous situation."
He said officials will be looking into options that might not require outright destruction of dangerous alligators in public settings. One idea being explored is using nets to contain the animals and perhaps wrecker trucks to transport them to remote sites for release.
"The problem with that is, where do we take them? Most of the places that would take alligators are full up," Stinebaugh said.
He added that delivering captured animals to alligator farms is not under consideration because the commercial connection runs contrary to the agency's public mission.
He said the agency hopes to finish its review of the Fort Bend County case and its procedures for nuisance-alligator management by early next week.
The Fort Bend County alligator was a 9-foot-long, 400- to 500-pound specimen that had suffered an eye injury, possibly after being hit by a car as he lay in a residential street in a Cinco Ranch subdivision last Thursday morning.
The gator was resting near a school bus stop, and children prepared to board school buses were among the onlookers when Fort Bend County deputies and two state game wardens arrived to the scene.
The team's initial attempt to rope the gator and tug him away from the bus stop area failed, said Stinebaugh.
Judging that the reptile posed a risk to officers and bystanders alike, one of the wardens tied the rope to his truck and towed the alligator at 2 to 3 mph to the end of the street, where he shot it in the head. The dead gator was then hauled away.
The drama was captured on amateur video and was aired on several TV newscasts Tuesday.
The TV reports created an uproar that Stinebaugh said continued all day Wednesday. Callers peppered the agency with questions about animal cruelty and urged more humane practices, he said.
"But all the helpful people who called had no ideas about what else we should do," he said.