As we all know by now, alligators are among the most-recognizable animals of the Everglades. Native Floridians are undoubtedly accustomed to seeing these distinguished reptiles during Orlando airboat rides, on camping trips, and even occasionally just resting along the side of the road! Their trademark scaly plate armor and toothy pointed snouts have made them poster children for the River of Grass–and for Florida as a whole. However, ecologists who focus their attention on the region have noticed that the Everglades alligator population seems to be declining in numbers, and in overall health.
Wildlife ecologists from the University of Florida, led by Frank Mazotti, have discovered that a vast majority of the alligators currently populating the Everglades are startlingly malnourished. Whereas full-grown alligators tend to reach 6 feet in length or greater by the time they are ten years old, a large number of the gators in the Everglades are only reaching 4 or 5 feet at their peak growth. What’s more, many of the alligators that have been tagged and measured by the team weigh at least 20% less than they should on average. The gator population has been described as emaciated, skeletal in appearance and not much more than skin and bones.
What is it that’s leading the region’s trademark animal to grow and weigh much less than it should? The UF research team believes the main culprit is the drainage project that began in the region during the 1950s. A product of human expansion, this project redirected a large amount of Everglades water into the ocean to reveal more developable land for commercial and residential properties. As the water drains, it collects harmful chemicals from human waste, garbage, sewage, and fertilizer, depositing them in the soil it runs across. There are plans in place to help restore the Everglades ecosystem, but at the current moment, there is no telling when these plans will come to fruition–or whether they will provide the region with the restoration it needs to help revive the alligator population.
The health of the alligators is a distinctive mark as to the health of the Everglades as a whole. If you want to learn more about the beautiful, unique wildlife that calls the Everglades home, contact Wild Florida today and book your Orlando airboat ride. Call us at (866) 532-7167 or browse through our website to learn more.