Alligators, Coyotes Top Wildlife Concerns For FWC Officials

The Wellington Municipal Complex.

Wellington shares its territory with more animals than just pampered pooches, coddled kitties and its famed horses. There is a pack of up to six urban, pet-grabbing coyotes for each overlapping three-mile range; lethal alligators possibly in every fresh water pond or canal; diseased, biting iguanas you shouldn’t touch; Burmese pythons that grow up to 20 feet in length; Argentine tegu lizards that can be aggressive; and even meat-eating monitor lizards headed this way.

Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission South Region Public Information Director Carol Lyn Parrish told Wellington’s Public Safety Committee on Wednesday, Jan. 22 that these aggressive monitor lizards are currently found as far east as about Seminole Pratt Whitney Road at Southern Blvd. “The C-51 Canal is a major [transportation] conduit,” she said

Parrish said the FWC receives thousands of calls each year, many from visitors and new residents who aren’t used to seeing an alligator in their yard.

“If it is over four feet, in your pond, your pool or pushing against your front door, we will trap it for free,” she explained calmly, while holding a skull of one such alligator that had been more than four feet and well fed. “Many of the interactions [with the public] call for education. There is a wide variety of things in our ecosystem. If you have an alligator that doesn’t flee when it sees you, it could have hatchlings or have been harassed.”

Parrish said that harassment is defined as anything that changes an animal’s normal behavior and includes feeding or throwing rocks at it. Harassment is illegal and ranges from a misdemeanor to a felony.

Alligators are protected and only licensed trappers can interfere with them. A nuisance alligator is removed and relocated or euthanized.

Animals that are invasive, native to somewhere else and do not have a natural place in this ecosystem with predators to keep their numbers in control cannot be relocated by law. Animals such as those are trapped and euthanized, although in the case of coyotes, the offspring of the neighboring pack will fill the vacancies in a generation.

Trappers are available for all of these animals, or residents can be trained to capture and humanely dispatch them. Parrish recommended the uninitiated use a trapper for quick success and to avoid problems or legal issues.

Parrish added that modifying human behavior can help a lot. She said that people should not play in water at night or let their dogs swim in ponds and lakes where alligators have been sighted. Keep vegetation trimmed short at the shoreline, do not let pets roam free, plant waxy shrubs instead of flowering plants favored by iguanas, and secure trash to prevent attracting opportunistic scavengers, vermin and animals that are their predators.

Committee Chair Michael Weil thanked Parrish for her report. “This was amazingly informative and slightly scary,” he said.

In other business:

• Deemed a “wonderful success” by Weil, winners were selected for the first annual “Texting Your Life Away” essay contest. The winners from Wellington High School were Karinne Mitchell (first place) and Danette Fisher (runner-up). From Palm Beach Central High School, there was only a first-place winner in Sarah Sondermann.

• The annual reports from the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office District 8 and Palm Beach County Fire-Rescue will be presented at a future meeting.

In the meantime, it was reported that crime for the fourth quarter of 2019 was low enough to begin with, that high percentage changes amounted to only a handful of incidents. For example, from 2018 to 2019, robberies dropped by approximately 50 percent. The raw numbers were 17 robberies to 8. Percent increases were equally misleading.

PBCFR response times were down a few seconds, to just over six-and-a-half minutes, with future decreases expected due to new equipment.

• The next meeting of the Public Safety Committee will be held as a joint meeting with the Education Committee on Tuesday, March 3.