National Geographic : 1967 Jan
Extra hazard confronts a golfer playing the Hole in the Wall course at Naples, Florida. Most club members cheerfully accepted the loss when "Aunt Helen" lumbered over to gobble a ball on the lakeside fairway. To obtain "gizzard stones" needed to grind food into digestible form, alligators eat hard objects; one gulped the photographer's can of insect repellent, even though it exploded when he bit into it. Poachers have since killed Aunt Helen, together with most of the gator population in the area. Some conservationists feel that the answer is Federal legislation. They seek to amend the Lacey Act-which forbids taking certain il legally caught game across state lines-to in clude a ban on transporting alligator hides. Rangers Help Dig Lifesaving Pools When the works of man interfere with the natural rise and fall of water levels, real dis aster can result. This has happened often in the Everglades in recent years. At times the water level fell so low that many of the gator holes disappeared, and the alligators that crowded together in those that remained started eating each other. Last year, in contrast, heavy flooding plagued the Everglades. I spent a morning with Ranger Erwin Winte on an airboat cruise of the Shark River Valley, seeing for myself the effects of the sudden return of water to dried-out glade land. Ranger Winte located the gator holes for us. In fact, he showed us two kinds of holes. One kind was made by proper alligators. Park rangers had made the other kind the year before, when the water was so low that holes had to be dynamited down to the water table in order to keep the 148 alligators and other swamp creatures alive. Now the trouble was too much water. The alligators in the area had nested a month or six weeks before, when the level was still low. We found that the crest of the flood was just high enough to have swamped the smaller nests, made by the younger alligators, killing their eggs. Nests of the bigger females stood safely above the water. If normal water levels can be maintained, and the poachers kept out, Everglades Na tional Park is one place where the alligator seems sure to live on. But the alligator popu lation need not be reduced to the point where it can survive only in pens and preserves. We have no reason to fear these animals, yet we are mindlessly pushing them toward oblivion, simply because they are big and muddy and fit awkwardly into our world. It may not be all easy, living on into the future with the alligator. But by protecting him, we will show that we have the sense and soul to cherish a wild creature that was here before any warm-blooded animal walked the earth, and that, given only a little room, would live on with us and help keep up the fading color of our land.