An alligator recently popped up in a Luzerne County pond, sending ripples of disagreement across the community about where wild animals belong and how they should be treated.
Anglers spotted the gator, which measured about 3 feet long, at a popular Sweet Valley fishing spot – well out of its usual swampy habitat in the Southeastern United States. An officer with the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission subsequently shot and killed it.
Authorities had little choice, since the creature posed a threat to people, said one commissioner with the state waterways agency. The cold-blooded animal, he noted, would have died during a Pennsylvania freeze.
Some observers said that’s a croc … er, crock.
They accuse the Fish and Boat Commission’s workers of being callous.
Readers of the Times Leader’s article about the alligator’s discovery and demise had a robust online exchange. “Always the fish and game commission answer to everything, ‘kill it,’” one commenter wrote.
Another replied: “Yes, let the alligator suffer a horrid death being frozen in the water. That sounds more humane. Oh, wait, let it get fishing hooks in its mouth and gut and die a horrid, painful death that way. Since it is not native to Pennsylvania, what do you want them to do? Oh, take more of my taxpayer money and send it on a vacation to Florida?”
Yet a third reader countered: “The gator could have been donated to a zoo or preserve. It didn’t need to be killed. I am no granola-crunching hippie, but this is no way to treat a living creature that was not a threat to humans, livestock or wildlife. And FYI, gators are capable of hibernating in colder weather just like bears.”
The real culprit in this case, of course, is the doofus who presumably raised the toothy reptile, then dumped it outdoors this summer because it had become too big and ungainly. That’s just cruel. (If you have information about the perpetrator, call the commission’s Northeast Region Office at 570-477-5717.)
However, Pennsylvanians should be prepared in the decades ahead for “unusual” wildlife encounters in local waterways and elsewhere, driven in part by climate change. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration reported that July was the warmest month on record, continuing a recent trend.
That’s not to say the Keystone State will become suitable for American alligators. Yet its rivers and other water bodies – and certain creatures that depend on them – will undergo changes. Warmer temperatures, for instance, might impact not only precipitation levels, but also some reptiles’ food supplies and reproductive timing, according to the U.S. Forest Service’s Climate Change Resource Center. Turtles, snakes and other animals will need to shift their ranges, adapt or die.
Our mindsets and management practices will need to change, too. Otherwise, we’re likely one day to find ourselves in hot water.