The Heat Is Online

Florida Drought Drives Alligators Into Streets

Drought prompts alligator hotline in Florida, March 19, 2001

South Florida's drought is having an alarming effect - snapping, biting, slithering, scaly critters are seeking nourishment in neighborhoods because their natural homes are drying out . Now, residents who find unwelcome visitors, such as alligators, in their yards and streets can call for help.

The Seminole Indian Tribe's Okalee Village in Hollywood set up a 24-hour "Alligator, snake and critter" hotline to help South Florida residents who want to rid themselves of the predators. The reservation established the free service in response to increased reports of alligator sightings by worried residents, many of whom are new to South Florida.

"Our goal is for the alligators to remain in their natural environment," said Seminole spokesman Chuck Malkus, IV. "These are in fact part of Florida history, part of he Florida Everglades and part of our environment."

Sightings are expected to increase over the next several weeks because it is mating season. A lack of rain has caused much of the gators' natural habitat to dry up. Thus, the animals are searching for water holes in urban areas that have encroached upon swamps.

Malkus advised people not to feed the alligators because the creatures don't know the difference between the food and a person's hand.

Alligator handlers are working to spread other important information about the animals during this time. They will travel to homes and give educational seminars, while trappers will relocate any nuisance raccoons, opossums, snakes and alligators to the village's zoo.

"The myth unfortunately is that the alligator is an aggressive animal that will eat people and attack children," Malkus said. "Quite to the contrary, the alligator is not aggressive and fears people."

The village's services are catching on. The hotline received more than 150 calls in its first 24 hours, most reporting alligator sightings, according to Malkus.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.