Signs of alligator poachers at Lake Trafford

8:53 AM, Sep 17, 2013   |    comments
A 5-foot alligator lays in a pond with its snout in the water as a dragonfly rests on its head at Eastwood Golf Course in east Fort Myers. (Photo courtesy Fort Myers News-Press)
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Collier County, Florida (News-Press) -- Edward "Ski" Olesky says he see them every fall: dead, bloated alligators floating in Collier County's Lake Trafford.

Some are missing heads, legs and tails, he said. Others look as though they've been stabbed in the stomachs with butcher knives.

"I don't have to know when alligator season starts every year, I see it," Olesky said Monday while sitting inside Lake Trafford Marina, which he's owned, at least partially, since the 1970s. "I can understand that alligators fight and kill each other, but they're always dying, for some reason, in big numbers come August."

Olesky said he's seen multiple dead alligators this year, although none this week. He's fought for decades against alligator hunting on Lake Trafford, which is known for having some of the largest alligators in Florida. In a sport where size is everything, alligator hunting is mostly centered around taking the largest animal possible. Those desires, combined with Trafford's gator stock, is fueling the problem, Olesky said.

Alligator hunting is managed by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, which monitors alligator populations and establishes hunt quotas. Hunting season runs August through November and permits cost $272 for a Florida resident; hunters can kill two alligators.

"How do you catch an alligator, pull it close to you," Olesky said, "then you kill it and it gets away from you?"

Tony Young, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, said the dead alligators don't make sense to him, either. Young said he has not heard reports of illegal alligator takes or poachers working Lake Trafford, but he added that hunters following state laws should rarely lose an alligator.

"When you get one, you've got to finish the job," Young said.

Hunters can use harpoons, gigs, snatch hooks, spearguns and bows to secure the alligator. The animals must then be pulled boatside and killed with a bang stick, a small-caliber rifle that discharges when it touches a surface, according to FWC regulations. The state also allows hunters to use a 2-inch piece of wood covered in meat to entice the animals. Unlike in Louisiana, home to the TV show "Swamp People," it is illegal here to shoot alligators with a rifle, shotgun or pistol.

"You have to either be holding onto that or it has to be tied to the boat," Young said of the baiting method. "The alligator swallows it, and they can't regurgitate it. If you really pull, you may be able to yank it out its throat. But the alligator isn't injured and is not going to die. But if you hook one and then cut the line, you can kill them."

Penalties for poaching and illegal alligator takes vary depending on previous offenses, if any, and judges' discretion, Young said.

Oleksy said catching alligator hunters is difficult because they hunt at night in relatively remote areas. Still, he said, too many are being found dead on Lake Trafford.

"We've got too many floaters," Olesky said.

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