- Associated Press - Sunday, July 19, 2015

TEXARKANA, Ark. (AP) - Mike Harris takes job safety seriously, because he might get snapped at, slapped at, snipped or hissed at while relocating alligators for Arkansas Game and Fish Commission.

As a wildlife management alligator coordinator for the commission, Harris moves alligators which have been displaced for a variety of reasons, from looking for a mate to being annoyed by floodwaters, the Texarkana Gazette (https://bit.ly/1Ob9d0e ) reported.

This year, it’s mainly because of flooding in the region. Harris has received 32 complaints about alligators found in new locations and has relocated 20 alligators.

“After looking at the reports, it’s not a whole lot different than other years. It maybe up a little, but we’re not through the summer,” Harris said.

“Anytime we have a high-water event, it opens travel corridors in a river or creek, and they can move easier to new locations,” he said.

Alligators he has moved range from 2 feet to about 9 feet long in the seven-county region that includes Sevier, Little River, Miller, Pike, Howard, Lafayette and Hempstead counties.

“We have to be extremely cautious, and we have a protocol we go by that dictates techniques we use to catch the alligators. We don’t cowboy them like the reality TV shows,” said Harris, who has been rounding up alligators for about 25 years.

“We don’t make it more dramatic. . We want to relocate the alligator as safely as possible and not hurt the alligator or us. We go in cleanly and quickly as possible,” he said.

“The best-case scenario is catch them in the water, and we usually use a cable snare with a breakaway pole. We get them in the water and make them work or wear them down quickly. Then we get to the bank, and most of the time, they will be docile, especially the larger alligators. The smaller ones are quicker,” Harris said.

“The first thing we do is get a cable snare over their jaws and secure it with big-size rubber bands and (electrical) tape,” he said. A long rope is also used to tie the legs.

The electrical tape works better than duct tape, which tears too easily, he said.

Harris is assisted usually by three or four wildlife officers trained in capturing alligators. Gators are taken to a new location safe from people.

“The release of the alligator is more difficult,” he said. The release can be more hazardous because the alligators have recovered and become energized_with an attitude.

After removing the tape, the officers untie the legs, and as soon as the legs hit the ground, the officers are running away from the alligator and the water.

“The tail is a big muscle and used as a defense. They can recoil pretty abruptly with the tail,” Harris said.

“They get their feelings back in their legs and start moving on their own instead of us pushing them into the water,” he said.

An alligator recently bit a Little River County man’s hand, but the injury was not life-threatening.

“I would stress it is illegal to try and move, handle, possess or harass these animals, as they are protected under state and federal law,” said Capt. Jackie Runion, who works with Harris.

Runion said most times, alligators aren’t a threat to people, and “folks should give them plenty of room. . People should respect these animals, as they have one of the strongest recorded bite forces in the animal kingdom.”

The animals can become aggressive when they feel threatened or people invade their habitats, he said, recommending that anyone who comes across a displaced alligator contact local law enforcement or the AGFC.

“Usually, the problem is a human problem and not the alligator. The gator is doing what the gator does. The problem is human activity and encroaching on them,” Harris said.

“It can be an adrenaline rush more so than some other jobs. Anytime you can catch an animal alive and release them, it’s exciting,” Harris said.

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Information from: Texarkana Gazette, https://www.texarkanagazette.com


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