Gators in Smith Lake could mean trouble for fishermen and residents

Rex Chambers Fishing Facebook

This photo posted on Facebook appears to show a juvenile American alligator.

SMITH LAKE – Residents and sport fishers around Smith Lake appear to be coming into increasing contact with alligators in the lake.  This could create problems for those folks, and not just from gator bites.  They could be breaking the law.

On April 16, fishing guide Rex Chambers posted a photo on his Facebook page showing what was claimed to be a young alligator caught by another angler near Duncan Bridge on Smith Lake.  Chambers did not take the picture, but said he was at the event and saw the creature.  A short time later, a Winston County resident posted another photo, also reported to be a young Smith Lake alligator.

At first, there was debate over whether the animal was an American alligator or a South American caiman, a smaller relative of the alligator.  The Tribune spoke to Game Warden/Conservation Enforcement Agent Jonathan Butler, who previously examined the photos.

Butler concluded, “This animal does appear to be a young alligator.  There’s not a good breeding population of alligators in this area, so if it’s confirmed to have come out of Smith Lake, it will be the first confirmed incident of an alligator in Smith Lake.”

Butler explained that alligators are very unlikely to find their way into Smith Lake by natural means, and that no alligators have been placed in the lake area by the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources.  A small population of alligators was introduced into the Wheeler National Wildlife Preserve some time ago, but the geography separating Smith Lake and the preserve would not allow animals to follow any waterway south to the lake. 

“Any alligators in this area will be released pets,” said Butler.  “Sometimes people get alligators as pets to put in a pond on their property, and when they start to get big they have to get rid of them.”

Butler also stated that possession of alligators in Alabama is a Class C felony.  Section 9-12-211 of the Code of Alabama states in part: “No person shall take or possess the eggs of alligators, alligators, or their parts or skins in any county of this state except as provided for in this article.”  The article mentioned provides for licensed alligator breeding farms and licensed dealers in products of those farms.  In Alabama, a class C felony carries a prison term from “one year plus one day” up to 10 years, and a fine of up to $15,000.

Butler explained that the ban on possession of alligators not only applies to those who keep them as pets, but even to people who take possession only temporarily.  He would not say if the fisherman showing off the duct-taped gator to his friends was in trouble, but he did say that it is “illegal to possess an alligator, even for a short time,” and that the incident is “still under investigation.”

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