FGCU students track gators living on school’s campus

LEE COUNTY, Fla. — Students at Florida Gulf Coast University (FGCU) have been tracking Florida’s apex predator for months.

“Our goal is to figure out how to make sure that alligators and humans can share the landscape,” FGCU professor Win Everham said.

“I’ve lived in Florida my whole life and seen them around and I’ve always loved them,” FGCU senior Nicky Kemp said. “Win loves them too, so we were like, ‘let’s do this.’”

Kemp’s senior project involves placing GPS trackers on alligators that live on FGCU’s campus. There’s no guarantee the students will find a gator on each excursion, much less one that hasn’t been tagged. It’s a gamble every night that students are willing to take.

“It turns out that if you ask a lot of environmental scientists and biologists, ‘would you like to go out at night and catch alligators,’” Everham said, “turns out a lot of them do!”

The students use flashlights to search the campus for alligators. The light reflects off the gators’ eyes in the ponds and culverts that surround the campus.

If they find one on campus that isn’t already tagged, the team uses state-approved methods to catch them.

“Usually, our go-to is we start with an alarm call of a baby,” Everham said. “That sometimes brings them in. We’ll splash the water a little bit, we might use one of those baited hooks, a plug to see if we can bring them in close.”

Once the group has the gator safely on shore, they have 20 minutes to measure the animal and check for tags or add new ones. One tag goes in the plates on the alligator’s tail, the other between their webbed toes using topical anesthesia. Once that’s all complete, the alligator goes back to its natural habitat.

“The species that we share the landscape with are here for a reason,” Everham said. “And we might not understand it but that doesn’t mean it’s not important.”

This research could impact all of Southwest Florida. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) gets hundreds of gator nuisance calls every year.

So far this year, they’ve received 22 alligator bite reports. They have also relocated 29 alligators in Lee County to safer spots this year.

Officials said it’s important to know how to safely coexist with gators.

“Tons of people walk by every day and don’t realize there are gators in basically most of the ponds on the main campus,” Kemp said. “There’s not a lot of research on alligators in these urban areas, especially a campus with almost 20,000 people. So it’s very important to understand their behavior, how they move, especially with all the traffic of cars and people around.”

“Sometimes we’re attracted to this landscape because it’s cool and different,” Everham said, “but then there’s really an obligation to understand the difference so that we’re interacting in a safe way.”

The FWC also provides the following safety advice and informational tools:

Video PSA

Infographics

Other Resources

Webpages

News releases 

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