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The alligator is, in fact, prolific. After building a nest of mud and vegetation near water, the female will lay from 15 to 100-odd eggs. Both the sun and the decaying leaves and grass generate heat, and in an average of 66 days, depending on weather, the baby alligators, about nine inches long, emerge from their eggs. Their first instinct, even though they are voiceless, is to call for their mother, which they do by inhaling deeply and exhaling—a kind of snoring which in the male adult during mating season becomes a roar.
The mother protects her young for a year or two, while they feed on insects and fish but are constantly threatened by grown alligators, bobcats, raccoons and even large wading birds. In the end only a few survive. The survivors become the prey of poachers, almost free to operate without interference. Frye explained that his commission has only 125 officers in the state—"about half as many as we need."
What infuriates the officers is that when they have an iron-clad case, juries often will refuse to convict. One of the more ludicrous examples is that of a federal officer who saw a poacher enter Everglades National Park and kill 17 alligators. At 3 a.m. the officer turned on his floodlights and the poacher ran into the swamp. The officer waited and eventually the poacher came out, without the hides, and was arrested. In court he testified he had been bird watching and a Miami federal jury acquitted him. Bird watching at 3 a.m.?
Dr. Wayne King, curator of reptiles and amphibians at New York's Bronx Zoo, has been interested in the problem for the past several years, and recently as a gesture of protest shipped the zoo's four adult alligators and three American crocodiles (there are 3,000 of these in southern Florida) to Everglades National Park.
"Some have suggested brief open seasons for hunting alligators," he said, "but poachers have made it clear that they will not honor closed seasons. What is needed is federal legislation to control interstate traffic. State laws need toughening and there should be cooperation between the states."
One who agrees is Florida State Senator Warren S. Henderson. He has introduced bills which would:
1) Memorialize Congress to include the alligator in federal legislation providing for the protection of rare and endangered species. Further legislation would make out-of-state shipments of illegal alligator hides a federal offense.
2) Legalize payment of substantial rewards for information leading to the arrest and conviction of poachers.
3) Provide that if a suspected poacher, stopped in a place where alligators might be found, has a light and firearms or other weapons, possession of this equipment is considered prima facie evidence of his intent to violate the law.
4) Make imprisonment of poachers mandatory, along with confiscation of their boats, vehicles and weapons.