By Stuart Marcus and Laurie Gonzales, Trinity River National Wildlife Refuge
Ask anyone for the gator capital of Texas is and they will tell you Anahuac, where the number of gators outnumber the number of people. However, Anahuac isn’t the only place you will find gators. You can find them in most backwater areas in southeast Texas, especially at Champion Lake at Trinity River National Wildlife Refuge, 10 miles south of Dayton, TX.
The Refuge which sprawls north and south in Liberty County, TX, had a big problem, a very big problem. A 13’ 8” problem. “We were aware of the problem but did not feel the need to do anything about it until it became a little too ‘friendly’. We were receiving comments and video of alligators approaching the shoreline when people walked up to crab, fish, or take photos. While the animal had not aggressively attacked anyone yet, it was considered a little too close for comfort. People may not even have been aware of what was in the water lurking, waiting for a free meal”, commented Refuge Manager Stuart Marcus.
Alligators approaching humans is not normal behavior and should be regarded with extreme caution. Due to being fed by visitors or stealing chicken parts off crab lines, he lost his fear of humans. That made him dangerous. Options were limited. Habituated gators cannot be relocated as they don’t always stay in their new home, may find people who might give him a free meal, and could become a problem somewhere else.
Being a National Wildlife Refuge, staff decided to contact Texas Parks and Wildlife Department for assistance in moving the alligator to an education facility dedicated to rescuing alligators, Gator County near Beaumont, TX. They agreed to catch it and move it to their facility outside of Beaumont. A large piece of chicken did the trick as the gator nearly came onshore to eat it. It took four gators handlers to get this giant totally onshore and tied up.
Turns out that the 13’ 8” gator was the largest live caught gator in Texas. He will now live the remainder of his life at Gator Country.
Since it against the law to feed gators, we thought it might be prudent to stop crabbing as that seems to be the biggest attractant for the gators. We still might do that one day if the problem keeps reoccurring. Crabbers and fisherman, please remember to take your lines and bait with you. Alligators easily become habituated to humans because of leftover bait, especially chicken.
Feeding alligators or harassing them is an offense in which you can be fined. If a gator approaches you as you are crabbing or fishing, move elsewhere. You never know how large the animal really is until it is on land. All alligators are protected by federal law on Trinity River National Wildlife Refuge and by state law in the rest of the state.
If you have questions regarding Champion Lake or Trinity River National Wildlife Refuge, please contact the Refuge Office at 936/336-9786. If you need assistance removing a nuisance gator, please contact Texas Parks and Wildlife Department at 281/842-8100.
Photos By Stuart Marcus, Trinity River National Wildlife Refuge