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Alligators in Del Valle aren’t as rare as you might think

Wednesday, January 12, 2022 by Willow Higgins

While some people think states like Louisiana and Florida have cornered the market on alligator territory, Texas has what Texas Parks and Wildlife Department’s Jonathan Warner called a “healthy” population of about half a million gators. While most live in the state’s southeast region, Warner, who serves as TPWD’s alligator coordinator, says some gators, both recently and historically, have called Travis County home.

At least one alligator has been spotted living in a retention pond adjacent to Berdoll Farms, a residential area in Del Valle. While the possibility of an alligator as a neighbor has understandably drummed up curiosity and fear among some residents, there has been a history of naturally occurring alligators in the Del Valle area dating back to 2005.

District 2 Council Member Vanessa Fuentes first heard of the alligator via rumors that it had attacked and killed a dog. While specialists were unable to confirm this account, TPWD – which coincidentally is headquartered in District 2 – is working on removing the alligator in the interest of public safety. (As the city of Austin does not have an alligator policy, Fuentes is working with state partners like Warner to handle the situation.)

“There is a history in the area of the residents feeling like they are often ignored or dismissed by their representatives,” Fuentes said. “That’s why it was important for me to ensure that we were able to open that line of communication.”

“Alligators in their normal disposition are skittish, they don’t like being around people, they spook easily, and they are water’s-edge predators,” Warner said. “If there is a sizable adult (in the pond), just because of the level of human activity and really because of the interest that spun off from the media reports, we don’t want folks trying to take the situation into their own hands.”

However, the gator removal process has been stalled since about mid-December. When the weather gets cold, alligators enter a state of inactivity and aren’t always easy to spot. 

“Both literally and figuratively, (winter) is the worst time of year to try and capture alligators just because they don’t feed normally in the winter months,” Warner said. “So it’s difficult to bait them and to trap them and to go about our normal procedure.”

One specialist has made several visits to the area and hasn’t seen any alligators – which isn’t to say an alligator isn’t there. But it’s also possible that the gator has relocated to greener pastures.

“This is a wild animal, and wild animals move. But again, if it’s still on-site, it’s not surprising that there hasn’t been a sighting, given the time of year,” Warner said.

There is some uncertainty about how many alligators (if any) are living in the pond and how they got there. Some claim there are three of them, while others say it’s a mother with babies, but the game warden has only observed a single adult. And while there is a possibility somebody released an exotic pet into the wild, it’s more likely that the alligator intentionally sought out this place to live. After all, the Austin area sits at the western edge of the alligator’s natural habitat.

“In some people’s minds, (alligators) are cold-blooded and they’re slow and live in the same place their whole lives,” Warner said. “But these are highly mobile animals when they want to be, and they actually can travel significant distances over land to find water or other resource needs.”

They are also territorial and have an incredible homing instinct, Warner explained, which can make relocation tricky. While Texas Parks and Wildlife has various locations available to rehome the alligator, that doesn’t necessarily guarantee that the alligator will stay away. Another gator could be waiting to take its place, or the original alligator could make its way back.

“We don’t want an alligator crossing I-35 and getting hit by a car because it’s been removed and is just trying to get back to where it’s originally from,” Warner said.

With that in mind, Austinites might try getting used to seeing different types of creatures living in the wild. Alligator sightings may become less of a rarity – not because the alligator population is expanding, but because the human population is expanding into alligator habitat. Del Valle is a perfect example of that, Warner said.

“There is a broader lesson here,” Warner said. “As our state continues to grow, coexistence with alligators or bears or snakes or really any other species that some folks may see as undesirable” will become more common and more necessary. 

“It’s incumbent on us as citizens to learn what the right things and wrong things to do are around wildlife, and to certainly be cognizant of the reality that these encounters probably will continue to increase, not only in Travis County but across the state as we grow.”

Photo made available through a Creative Commons license.

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