Florida daytime alligator hunt upsets Everglades tour operator

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Earlier this year, state wildlife managers agreed to allow daytime alligator hunting for the first time in decades, but not everyone is happy with the extended hours.

Some tour guides in the Collier County area say no daytime hunting should be allowed on public waterways like Lake Trafford.

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“Thousands and thousands of people come to the lake to see wildlife in their natural habitat,” said Pete Corradino, owner of Everglades Day Safari. “If they hunt during the day, I think that will reduce sightings to virtually none.”

Corradino guides airboat tours on the lake, and he said tourists don’t want to interact with hunters in any way.

“We’re going to go around the lake and we’ll see and hear people hunting on the lake, and that’s not good,” Corradino said. “(Sometimes) we end up seeing dead alligators floating belly down in the lake.”

Alligator hunting season runs from mid-August through November 1 and is managed by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, which is responsible for protecting and managing the state’s wildlife.

Each year, about 10,000 promising hunters apply for about 7,000 tags, and the tags, or licenses, are granted to hunters through a lottery-like selection process.

Alligators were hunted to the brink of extinction decades ago, but their numbers have rebounded since the animal was placed on the endangered species list in 1973.

FWC estimates there are 1.3 million alligators in Florida.

Modern hunts resumed in 1988 and have been taking place ever since.

Prior to this year, alligator hunting was prohibited between 10 a.m. and 5 p.m.

FWC officials say adding daylight hours to what was traditionally a night hunt will make conditions safer for hunters, as it will allow them to operate in the daytime.

“We expect little interaction between the various user groups sharing Florida’s public water bodies,” said FWC spokeswoman Tammy Sapp. “Those involved in statewide alligator harvesting will look for areas where others don’t breed and that have swamp-like habitats where alligators are more likely to occur.”

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Hunters, even some who guide eco-tours themselves, say the impacts will be negligible and that alligator hunting has long been a Florida tradition.

“It’s part of the cultural landscape of Florida and you go on trips to other places and you see fishing boats working and people recreating,” Skunk Ape head office owner Jack Shealy told AFP. Ochopee. “On Lake Trafford they show them to tourists and I can understand, but they don’t operate on private land and public land is managed by FWC.”

Shealy said FWC hunts have proven to be a big part of the animal’s success. Without hunting, the alligators will be overpopulated and the food system will collapse because there won’t be enough for everyone.

“Twenty years from now, if they want to see alligators there, they still have to keep hunting them there,” he said.

Corradino said tourism draws more people to Florida than alligator hunting, and he thinks the change is downright dangerous.

“I bring over 4,000 guests to Lake Trafford each year, and having my guests go on airboat rides looking for alligators while hunters kill them is unwise,” Corradino said.

Connect with this reporter: @ChadEugene on Twitter.