When a 12-foot-long, 400-pound ambush predator decides to move into your pond or swimming pool, it takes a special kind of professional to fish it out.
Through May 16, the Georgia Department of Natural Resources will be accepting applications for a nuisance alligator agent trapper for the metro area. It is looking for a brave soul with a special appreciation for this once-endangered crocodilian, its place in our ecosystem and the skills to live capture the elusive beasts when even their presence becomes a threat.
“When we get a complaint, unless it is a bona fide emergency where the alligator needs to be removed immediately, people call in to the game management office in the county where they are located,” said DNR’s Greg Waters. “Rather than the DNR personnel spending the time and the energy to catch the alligator and relocate it, we now issue a collection permit to the alligator agent trapper. They spend their own time going out and catching the alligator. We don’t pay them any money but anything they can make for selling the alligator live to a licensed alligator farm or zoo or killing the alligator, skinning it and selling the hide or meat if it is processed in an approved facility, that’s their monetary reward for handling that alligator complaint.”
According to senior wildlife biologist I.B. Parnell, the agent trapper will be under contract with DNR to remove nuisance alligators in response to complaints in Richmond, Columbia, Burke, Glascock, Jefferson, Jenkins, McDuffie, Screven and Warren counties. The applicants should reside in one of these counties.
Waters said an alligator has to be at least 4 feet long to qualify as a nuisance.
“After that, it is basically any
alligator that is in an unnatural place or that is acting aggressive,” Waters said. “If someone sees an alligator in a creek down from their house that isn’t doing anything other than existing as an alligator, then that isn’t a nuisance. However, if someone has a farm pond and they go down to it and there is a 6-foot alligator that has climbed in there and the landowner doesn’t want it there, then we would contact our agent trapper.”
For the past five years the area’s agent trapper has been John Gillis, the manager of a cattle ranch near Thomson. The demands of his day job recently increased and have forced him to resign from the trapper position.
On average, he says, DNR issues between 15 and 20 tags for nuisance gators in the nine-county area every year. He also responded to calls where individuals paid him directly to relocate smaller alligators that did not qualify as official nuisances.
Gillis guessed that on average, the gators he wrangled were about 7½ feet. Some approached 13 feet and at least a couple weighed more than 500 pounds.
“By the time they get this big, they don’t have any natural predators,” Gillis said. “So they can get pretty confident.”
Gillis said that he feels the gators get a bad rap.
“I don’t relish having to kill them,” he said. “I actually like them and like being around them. That’s the only reason I really did it. Between gas money and equipment it probably cost me $1,500 a year to do it.”
Gillis said that he has thoroughly enjoyed not only handling the animals, but also being a spokesman for them.
“You get to meet some fairly nice people and it’s part of the job, too, being engaging and helping people understand that alligators aren’t evil,” Gillis said. “I think whoever does this really has to appreciate the animal and respect it. It’s not the state giving you a license to kill alligators will-nilly.”
Waters said that while DNR prefers people who have experience catching alligators, they have hired people without it because they seemed to be the best qualified candidate at the time.
“DNR wants someone who is going to be a good spokesman for wildlife and who will represent them well,” Gillis said. “You have to be a little bit of an environmentalist, a little bit of a biologist as well as a hunter or a fisherman. You have to have a willingness to be outdoors and sweat a little bit. Quite often you’re likely to be wading in shorts and flip flops in a stagnant pond or swamp full of water snakes and moccasins and ticks and everything else you find outside in Georgia in the summer time.”