Gators on the prowl

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SARASOTA COUNTY - A certain large reptile is getting a lot of attention across Florida. More alligators have been showing up in backyards and even on some doorsteps.  It includes close encounters in other parts of the state and even right here on the Suncoast.

Wildlife experts say there are a few reasons why we are seeing more human-alligator interactions this time of year.

In recent weeks we've seen a three legged gator. We've also seen a little boy escape from the jaws of one. Another was caught in a neighborhood in Port St. Lucie. Last week one was wrangled in Venice. On Mother's Day, one even came hissing on the front porch in a Parkland Florida neighborhood.

"The reaction is it's just a lost alligator." Chris Becker is a biologist with the Florida Park Service. He says it's simple. "The reason for increased activity in alligators is the warmer temperatures. They are cold blooded animals. When they heat up they can move around better."

Severe drought conditions and now some rain also has them on the move. Added on is the fact some are looking for love. "It's also breeding season. During this time of year the bull makes are very territorial."

Kevin Barton with the Wildlife Center of Venice says one was brought to them just last week. "It was a healthy animal. It had no reason to be moved or molested in any way. That is usually the case with most alligator calls in the state of Florida, I would say."

If deemed to be a nuisance in Florida, trappers can relocate any gator four feet or smaller. However, anything above can not be moved and is destroyed. Trappers get $30 from the state and can then sell the meat and hide.

"A lot of them are getting killed or removed for no good reason. Most ponds in Florida should have alligators in them," says Barton.

There are of course risks but the numbers indicate it's highly unlikely. According to the Florida Wildlife Commission in the past 65 years there have been 228 reported cases of alligators biting humans which resulted in medial care. 22 fatalities. The last death in our areas was in a North Port canal in 2005.

Officials like Becker say the best way to avoid a situation is to know your surroundings and for everyone to take a few precautions. "Don't feed them. You don't want them to associate people and food. Any water body in the state could have alligators. Be careful with pets."