Large alligator menacing Florida paddleboarder in viral video is killed

IMG_5116
It wasn't clear why government officials took more than five months to act.

Florida wildlife officials have now killed a nearly 12-foot alligator that swam within inches of a frightened paddleboarder in a popular state park during an encounter in September recorded on video that went viral.

The male alligator — 11 feet, 10 inches long — was shot in the head one evening near dusk last month by a trapper contracted by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, according to agency records and a witness.

The alligator had been a popular curiosity among kayakers and paddleboarders in Silver Springs State Park near Ocala, where it was often seen lounging in the sun along the banks of the Silver River. The park — home to alligators, large turtles, manatees and even a colony of monkeys — enforces a no-swimming rule.

Agency spokesperson Tammy Sapp confirmed that the alligator killed Feb. 22 was the same one seen in startling videos and photographs in the fall swimming near a paddleboarder who pushed it away with her paddle. In the videos, it hissed loudly at the paddleboarder and opened its mouth, baring its large teeth and a powerful jaw.

Wildlife experts said the alligator’s behavior suggested other people had been illegally feeding the animal, and it probably began associating paddlers with food.

“There was only one alligator of this size in the area,” Sapp wrote in an email.

A paddler, Brady Toensing, 54, of Reddick,  said in an interview that he saw a fishing boat pass him on the river the evening of Feb. 22 and heard a single gunshot. He later photographed the dead alligator in the boat at a nearby county boat ramp.

The state’s permit authorizing the kill was issued to Will Parker. Sapp, the wildlife agency spokesperson, confirmed Wednesday that Parker assigned the job to a colleague, Al Roberts, another licensed trapper. The meat and hide were sent to a local processing company.

Toensing, a nationally renowned Republican lawyer and activist, said a young boy asked the trapper on the boat ramp why the alligator couldn’t be saved.

“He said it’s a shame and asked why they couldn’t have just captured it and relocated it,” Toensing said. “The guy said, ‘Would you wanna ride in the boat with this monster?’”

Toensing said he also believed the alligator was doomed by people illegally feeding it.

“It is an amazing animal,” he said. “It was sad, but these guys are just doing their jobs. This alligator’s fate was set when people decided to start feeding it.”

The paddleboarder the alligator approached in September also declined to discuss the animal’s death. Vicki Baker, 60, of Ocala said after her videos went viral, she was harassed online relentlessly by people who mistakenly believed she had fed it. She said during an interview in September she did not want the alligator destroyed, despite its menacing behavior.

It wasn’t clear why government officials took more than five months to act. The permit authorizing the kill, obtained under Florida’s public records law, said a state park ranger, Brooke Doran, filed a formal complaint on Jan. 11 about the alligator and indicated it was a threat to people, pets and property.

Doran, who said on the complaint it was unknown whether anyone had been feeding the alligator, estimated its length at roughly 8 feet. That was consistent with the estimate from Baker, who said it was nearly as long as her 10-foot paddleboard. The animal turned out to be even larger. An alligator nearly 12 feet in size could be 40 years old.

The death came as temperatures in north-central Florida began climbing and just ahead of the mating season when male alligators become far more active. Alligators begin breeding in early April, and females become more defensive of their environment to protect their eggs while they hatch.

After the paddleboard encounter in September, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection and wildlife conservation commission launched formal investigations of the alligator. Since then, state officials said at least five times — including once as recently as Jan. 19, after the park ranger’s formal complaint — there were no updates in the case.

Last week, after Toensing provided photographs of the dead alligator to a reporter, the state turned over the permit authorizing the kill.

There is no specific threshold of complaints that must be filed before an alligator is killed, said Chad Weber, a spokesperson for the wildlife agency in Marion County. The state hires a trapper under the Statewide Nuisance Alligator Program when it determines an alligator poses a threat to the public.

“There is no three-strikes-and-you’re-out system,” Weber said. “In this case specifically, there was nothing out of the ordinary that caused the alligator to be harvested.” He added: “The behavior it exhibited was becoming dangerous.”

Toensing, who saw the alligator on the boat ramp, is the son of Victoria Toensing, a former senior Justice Department official who worked with Rudy Giuliani in support of former President Donald Trump‘s efforts to overturn the 2020 presidential election results.

Video via Fresh Take Florida.
___

Elise Elder reporting; produced by Fresh Take Florida, a news service of the University of Florida College of Journalism and Communications. The reporter can be reached at [email protected].

Fresh Take Florida


2 comments

  • Luis Antonio Sanchez

    March 9, 2022 at 5:22 pm

    Poor alligator should not have been killed just for that incidental approach to paddleboarders. Why not had the animal referred for relocation to a remote protected swamp into wilderness far away from people activities. Why killing is considered as the solution. Relocation is the best solution. The alligator wasn’t invading the paddleboarders’ space. Actually the alligators’ habitat was invaded by the paddleboarder. If that person wasn’t posted that video with the words spoken on it, instead if the spoken words weren’t meant against the alligator approach, perhaps the decision to kill the curious reptile would have never been instructed. If the alligator was looking to taste a bite of the paddleboarders, I believe the reptile would have bitten the paddleboarder’s leg or the paddle used to push it away. The alligator wasn’t just curious, that is what I see in the video. It’s approaching behavior might have been conditionated by previous experiences with prior paddleboarder visitors whom might have fed the alligator and the reptile just learned to approaching the people in search of food the easy way.
    Please, let stop killing the wildlife and reducing their deserved habitats due to our ignorant selfishness. Haven’t we, the so called humans (the only rationalizing soulful creatures), caused, still causing enough damage to own environments and to other creatures ecosystems by invading and destroying their habitats in the name of expanding human domain? Can’t we learn to not affect the nature course adversely? If we learn to let nature be continuing its course, it will find its balance by itself. If stop intervening its path, we will be able to learn that there is no need from killing creatures nor altering their ecosystem to set controls in the biomass. We humans are the true actual part of the whole world problems, let us start being part of the solutions.

  • R. Lincoln

    March 9, 2022 at 10:22 pm

    Anyone that closely observed the “staged” video of this incident, saw that this animal was taunted and harassed. The park was more concerned with their popular reputation than the welfare of the animals they so proudly claim to protect. Reminds me of the monkeys who were also treated in like fashion. For shame. Appalling. You are supposed to be the protecters of the wildlife.

Comments are closed.


#FlaPol

Florida Politics is a statewide, new media platform covering campaigns, elections, government, policy, and lobbying in Florida. This platform and all of its content are owned by Extensive Enterprises Media.

Publisher: Peter Schorsch @PeterSchorschFL

Contributors & reporters: Phil Ammann, Jason Delgado, Renzo Downey, Daniel Figueroa, A.G. Gancarski, Anne Geggis, Kelly Hayes, Joe Henderson, Ryan Nicol, Jacob Ogles, Scott Powers, Gray Rohrer, Jesse Scheckner, Christine Sexton, Andrew Wilson, Mike Wright, and Tristan Wood.

Email: [email protected]
Twitter: @PeterSchorschFL
Phone: (727) 642-3162
Address: 204 37th Avenue North #182
St. Petersburg, Florida 33704




Sign up for Sunburn


Categories