Woman may face charges for 'rescuing' 'gator from trapper

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JUNE 19, 2002

Woman takes gator into her own hands

Wildlife agency can file charges for helping critter have a future

Sean Smith, PensacolaNewsJournal.com

Rita Gilbert has never hunted alligators, but she's seen it done on Animal Planet.

So when she found out the 5- foot gator in her backyard pond was destined for boots and barbecues, she and her cousin caught the gator and whisked it to an undisturbed bayou off Gulf Beach Highway in a 1982 Honda Civic.

But Gilbert's good deed could resultin misdemeanor charges against her if state officials pursue them. It is illegal to possess an alligator without a permit, said Lt. Gary Applewhite, supervisor with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. The offense carries a maximum fine of $1,000 and up to one year in Escambia County Jail, Applewhite said.

Moving the animal counts as possession by Gilbert, said Applewhite. Wildlife officials might investigate and want to talk to Gilbert.

Applewhite said displaced alligators face an unfortunate, one-way road. If a gator fits the criteria for being a nuisance, contracted trappers are issued a permit. Trappers gain compensation by selling meat and hide.

That didn't sit right with Gilbert, 41.

"My 9-year-old daughter started crying, and it didn't feel right for me either," Gilbert said.

Gilbert said development around Blue Angel Parkway and Sorrento Road has pushed wildlife out of its natural habitats and into closer contact with humans.

Gilbert and her 23-year-old cousin, Lee Elmore, fashioned a snare using an outdoor television antenna pole with a noose attached. Elmore looped the noose around the gator's head and tied up its snout, while Gilbert grabbed the estimated 50-pound animal by its tail.

Gilbert and her cousin put the gator in the car and drove to a relative's property near Soldier's Creek. The place is isolated and teeming with alligators, she said.

"When we let him go, he got up on all fours. We were worried," she said. "But he just looked back at us once and went straight into the water."
 

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