Don’t approach alligators, bears on base

  • Published
  • By Phillip Pruitt
  • 1st SOCES
With spring here and summer approaching, two of Hurlburt Field's largest and most interesting species of wildlife will be more active and will be encountered more frequently on base.

Black bears and alligators are not uncommon in our area, even on main base. Most ponds and many of the larger ditches on Hurlburt contain a resident alligator. A series of ditches and canals interconnect most of the wetlands on base with the swamp to our north, providing a network of pathways for alligators to travel.

Floridians have learned to co-exist well with alligators, however, the potential for conflict always exists. Alligators are large predatory animals but under natural conditions avoid contact with humans. Most human fatalities can be attributed to alligators that have been fed by people. Feeding alligators may seem harmless, but the practice can be deadly for humans and alligators alike.

When alligators receive handouts from humans, they overcome their natural shyness and start to associate people with food. Alligators are reptiles with small brains and don't have the cognitive ability to distinguish between the person tossing them the food item and the item itself - they simply become attracted to the human form as a source of food.

This is an extremely dangerous situation, not to mention it is a second-degree misdemeanor. Feeding, capturing, attempting to capture or otherwise harassing alligators is punishable by six months in jail and a $500 fine. Alligators that are identified as exhibiting characteristics associated with humans feeding them are required to be destroyed - they cannot be relocated.

If you see an alligator, enjoy the experience from a safe distance and Use ordinary common care and inform others that feeding alligators is dangerous and a violation of state law. If you witness someone feeding an alligator on base, get a license plate number or other positive identification and contact the 1st Special Operations Civil Engineer Squadron environmental flight at 884-7921.

The Florida black bear is another large and powerful animal that shares our natural environment. Black bears are not normally aggressive towards people and there has never been a documented attack on a person by a bear in Florida.

Most bear sightings consist of a fleeting glimpse of a bear as it crosses a road in front of motorist. Bears are very susceptible to being hit by automobiles and are killed each year in collisions while attempting to cross the road.

The number of bears venturing onto Hurlburt has continued to increase in recent years. These bears do not represent a safety concern for the Hurlburt public as long as some common sense rules are followed:

· Don't approach a bear.
· Don't try to attract a bear by offering it food.
· If you're uncomfortable with your proximity to a bear make some noise. Whistle or clap but don't try to scare the bear.
· Restrain pets from approaching a bear.

Facility managers should make sure everyone in their organization knows to keep dumpster lids and doors securely closed. During the past two years, Hurlburt has had several bears who have become regular nighttime visitors to Pine Shadows and Live Oak housing areas, where they rummage through trash cans to find food.

Bears are opportunistic and will take advantage of any easy food source. Keep trash cans inside a storeroom until trash day if possible If not, avoid putting meat scraps, fish or other items that smell strongly in the cans until trash day. These items can be stored in the refrigerator or frozen in plastic bags until time for trash day.

When bears are attracted to urban areas by food, they often lose their natural weariness and become much more likely to get into trouble or be killed crossing a busy street. If you see a bear don't be alarmed but afford it the respect it deserves.

We're fortunate to live in an area that still has wild lands and wild creatures, but with this comes a responsibility. When encountering a bear or alligator, resist the temptation to approach too close and never feed them.

Remember wild animals need to remain wild.