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Texas gator population bouncing back

Good news.

The storm surge from Hurricane Ike in 2008 severely damaged alligator habitat in coastal marshes along the upper Texas coast, resulting in the outright death of a considerable number of gators. It also delayed the mortality of others and, the following spring, produced the worst alligator nesting effort wildlife managers had documented. But two years later, the big reptiles are recovering quite nicely.

“They’re doing very good,” said Amos Cooper, who heads the alligator program for Texas Parks and Wildlife Department.

After being nearly exterminated by unregulated hunting that continued into the 1960s, Texas’ alligator population boomed when the wetland-dependant reptiles were given federal and state protection. By 1984, the population in Texas had recovered enough that the first hunting season since the ’60s was allowed. That closely regulated season has expanded over the past quarter century — as has the gator population.

So how many gators live in Texas? Rough estimates indicate perhaps 400,000 or more. But that’s just an educated guess.

[…]

During the 2008 alligator nesting season, TPWD aerial surveys found only 24 gator nests in those three southeast Texas counties. That was less than 10 percent of the number usually found.

But it’s arguable the alligator’s marsh habitat has recovered completely, including the nesting effort.

“It was up 75 percent over last year,” said Cooper of this year’s nest counts. “We’re slowly getting back to normal.”

Because alligators live long (they can age 60 years or more), one or two “off” years of nesting success won’t crater a population, so even with the loss of gators from Ike, the population remains strong.

“We are not in danger of running out of alligators. That’s for sure,” Cooper said.

Indeed, when we read last year about the devastating effect of Hurricane Ike on the gators’ habitat, the prediction was that they would rebound. I’m delighted to see that prediction has been borne out. Just keep your distance from them unless you really know what you’re doing, and all will be well.

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