LIVE VIDEO: Live Newscast RIGHT NOW    Watch
 

It's no crock, gator hugs nearing reality in Naples

7:41 AM, Oct 3, 2011   |    comments
Mike Sturgill, aka “Gatorman Mike” holds his pet alligator, Baby Bobby. People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals is urging the Naples City Council to reconsider its vote allowing Sturgill to open an exhibit in the city to allow people to hug Bobby and have their pictures taken with him. / Special to news-press.com
  • Share
  • Print
  • - A A A +

CHOMP! Florida Alligator stories

  • PHOTOS: Gator wrangling roundup
  • WATCH: Alligator bites patrol car, holds on
  • Chomp Chomp....a gator takes on a patrol car
  • Woman finds 7-foot gator on her lawn
  • Alligator finds its way into woman's bathroom
  • Man finds 10-foot alligator swimming in his pool
  • Alligator Roundups
  • Aggressive gator closes walking trail
  • Spring breakers arrested for taunting gator
  • Facebook boast about gator leads to arrest
  • Pot growers use alligator to protect stash
  • Firefighters Find Alligator Behind Couch
  • Officials: Gator isn't naturally orange
  • Venice neighborhood surprised by "orange" gator
  • Cat takes on gators... and wins!
  • Record alligator captured in Florida
  • Nurse makes record-breaking alligator catch
  • Tampa man shoots at alligator attacking his dog
  • Big gator wrangled in New Tampa subdivision
  • WATCH: Gator captured on man's front porch
  • Alligator still on loose after 50 lb. dog eaten
  • Alligator attacks, kills Sarasota family's dog
  • GIANT GATOR: Panhandle teen baits record gator
  • 12-foot gator caught in St. Petersburg
  • 7-foot gator scares kids heading to school in Oldsmar
  • One-armed trapper bitten by alligator
  • Deputies wrangle gator near Pinellas school
  • Charlotte Co. deputy captures gator near school
  • Swampmaster plans first show since gator nearly rips his arm off
  • PHOTOS: Man survives attack by 500-pound gator
  • VIDEO: Cops cuff 8-foot gator
  • WATCH: Neighbors tie up alligator roaming on subdivision sidewalk
  • Alligator attacks man swimming in lake
  • VIDEO: Man attacked by 8-foot gator as horrified crowd watches
  • 8-foot gator greets homeowner
  • The clock is ticking.

    If no city council member requests a revote by Monday morning a controversial alligator exhibit will open in a few weeks at a popular Naples tourist destination.

    All the fuss is over Mike Sturgill and his unique way of handling alligators, one of Southwest Florida's most fearsome critters: He hugs them.

    "This guy loves hugs," said Sturgill, 57, as he held 4-foot, 4-year-old "Baby Bobby" in his arms. He raised the alligator from a hatchling.

    Sturgill wants Naples tourists to share the experience of hugging Bobby, for $5 each, and his city-approved attraction has animal lovers in an uproar in Southwest Florida and around the globe.

    This is the city that once declared war on Muscovy ducks for invading swimming pools, tackled the crucial issue of banning Frisbees on the beach and ticketed girls for running a lemonade stand.

    "It's part of the annual silliness from the long, hot summer," local resident Nancy Payton said.

    The ruckus began after Sept. 21, when the City Council gave Sturgill, also known as "Gatorman Mike," permission to bring Baby Bobby to Tin City, a popular shopping and dining center on Naples Bay. Visitors will be allowed to hug the gator and have their picture taken with him as they have for the past three years at Alligator Adventures, on the fringe of the Everglades. Bobby wears a padded velcro muzzle to ensure tourists' safety while they hold him and listen to lectures about alligators and their habitat.

    The international animal rights group People For The Ethical Treatment of Animals soon posted an "action alert" on its web page, urging people to demand a revote by reminding city leaders "that cruelty is not culture and should not be tolerated."

    Mayor Bill Barnett and council members have received emails from all over the U.S., Canada and Europe. "It is just CRUEL," Naples native Amanda Barton wrote.
    "I don't know that I've ever gotten so many emails about anything before," said Councilman Gary Price, who voted for Sturgill.

    Only a member of the voting majority can ask for a revote. "I don't see that happening," Barnett said.

    "We represent the city, not the United Kingdom, Poland or God knows where else." he said. The issue was given a hearing, he said. before the council voted to let Sturgill open at Tin City.

    Such exhibitions, PETA said, are harmful. "Muzzling them, having cameras flashing and transporting them in crates. It's frightening and compromising their quality of life," spokeswoman Kristin Simon said.

    But Sturgill said his alligators are tame because they were bred on alligator farms. He said they aren't as fierce of the alligator that recently bit off the leg of his neighbor, Margaret Webb, 90, who was released Friday from the hospital.

    "When you raise them from hatchlings, they bond with you," Sturgill said. If he hadn't bought Bobby, he said, Bobby could be a designer belt, boots or handbag by now.

    Sturgill said Bobby isn't crated, but rides in the back of his minivan on a quilt and gator-green pillows. "If it were up to him, he'd ride in the front seat and look out the window."

    In a year or two, Bobby will be too big to be held and he'll join three other retirees at Alligator Adventures, Sturgill said. "Then Tiny Turbo will take over for Bobby."

    The state allows such exhibitions and Sturgill has a state license but will have to get another permit for his Naples exhibit, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission spokeswoman Gabriella Ferraro said.

    However, local Audubon Society spokesman Brad Cornell agrees with PETA that such exhibits aren't good. "It sends the wrong message: getting too close to an animal with lots of teeth."

    On the other hand, Franklin Adams, a Florida Wildlife Federation board member, said: "I don't see that he's really hurting anything. I just don't think it's that big of an issue."

    You may also like:

    Roundup: 60 hookers, pimps and johns busted in prostitution sting

    Bikinis, mud, trucks: Redneck Yacht Club Memorial Day 2011 pics

    No swinger sex:  No sex allowed at swingers club

    God bless trouble: Teachers discipline students for saying God Bless you

    Cheaters beware: Cheating on your lover? This website will out you

    Flashed: Playboy Bunnies at the Venue

    Casey Anthony: New jailhouse video of Casey just released

    Wrestler DUI: WWE arrested in South Tampa for DUI

    Outrageous mug shot galleries...

    Strange: Most notorious or unusual mug shots we've seen

    Teachers: Teacher arrest mugshots

    Jaw droppers:Open mouth mug shots

    Smilers: Happy mug shots

    Laughers: What's so funny mug shots

    Prostitutes: Prostitute mug shots

    Athletes: Professional athlete mug shots 

    Porn arrests: Child porn arrest mug shots 

    Local Mugs: Hillsborough County Mug shots

    More unusual mug shots and galleries: 10 News slideshows and galleries 

    Most Watched Videos