See You Later, Sydney

Ten-month-old Sydney, a juvenile American Alligator, is fast becoming the most popular new animal ambassador at CROW, the Clinic for the Rehabilitation of Wildlife on Sanibel Island.

With her brand new, 300-gallon tank – which is filled with artificial plants, rocks, floating driftwood and a basking platform to simulate her natural environment – the young alligator spends her days swimming around her enclosure. The water – aerated and filtered – is maintained at a steady temperature of between 75 and 82 degrees, and daylightbalanced lighting reflects 24-hour activities alligators experience in the wild.

A keystone species in the state, alligators are an important part of Florida’s landscape and play a valuable role in the ecology of our state’s wetlands. Alligators are predators and help keep other aquatic animal populations in balance.

“Alligators are one of conservation’s success stories,” said CROW Education Coordinator Rachel Rainbolt. “Back in the 1950s, people thought that alligator populations would not be able to recover after being hunted and experiencing habitat loss. But by 1987, due to educational efforts, the species was pronounced fully recovered.”

According to the Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission, alligators are a fundamental part of Florida’s wetlands, swamps, rivers and lakes, and they are found in all 67 counties. As Florida continues to experience human population growth, many new residents to the state seek waterfront homes, resulting in increased interactions between people and alligators.

The FWC offers a number a safety tips to help humans peacefully co-exist with alligators. They include:

• Be aware of the possibility of alligators when you are in or near fresh or brackish water. Bites may occur when people do not pay close enough attention to their surroundings when working or recreating near water.

• Do not swim outside of posted swimming areas or in waters that might be inhabited by large alligators.

• Alligators are most active between dusk and dawn. Therefore, avoid swimming at night.

• Dogs and cats are similar in size to the natural prey of alligators. Don’t allow pets to swim, exercise or drink in or near waters that may contain alligators. Dogs often attract an alligator’s interest, so do not swim with your dog.

• Leave alligators alone. State law prohibits killing, harassing or possessing alligators. Handling even small alligators can result in injury.

• Never feed alligators – it’s dangerous and illegal. When fed, alligators can overcome their natural wariness and learn to associate people with food. When this happens, some of these alligators have to be removed and killed.

• Dispose of fish scraps in garbage cans at boat ramps and fish camps. Do not throw them into the water. Although you are not intentionally feeding alligators when you do this, the result can be the same.

• Seek immediate medical attention if you are bitten by an alligator. Alligator bites can result in serious infections.

CROW’s Visitor Education Center, located at 3883 Sanibel-Captiva Road, is open Monday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Daily presentations are held at 11 a.m. and Wildlife Walk Hospital Tours are offered on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday each week following the 11 a.m. presentation. Space is limited for hospital tours so register in advance. For more information, visit www.crowclinic.org or call 1-239-472-3644“> 1-239-472-3644.