On the rise: State’s alligators, ‘gator man thriving

Fannye A. Cook, an early Mississippi naturalist whose work led to the foundation of the Mississippi Museum of Natural Science, mapped the range of the American Alligator here in 1942. (Courtesy MDWFP)

Fannye A. Cook, an early Mississippi naturalist whose work led to the foundation of the Mississippi Museum of Natural Science, mapped the range of the American Alligator here in 1942. (Courtesy MDWFP)

After being nearly wiped out, alligators have rebounded to reclaim and expand beyond their historic range. (Courtesy MDWFP)

After being nearly wiped out, alligators have rebounded to reclaim and expand beyond their historic range, as evidenced by the above map, which shows numbers from 2006. (Courtesy MDWFP)

By Kevin Tate

Outdoors Writer

Falling into a situation filled with prehistoric reptiles may seem like an unwelcome transition but, for Ricky Flynt, alligator program coordinator for the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks, it’s been ideal.

An employee of the department since 1993, he took over the program in his tenth year on the job and hasn’t looked back since. In that time the state’s alligators have thrived, and so has he.

“It has absolutely become the program that I have enjoyed the most of all the things I have done,” Flynt said.

The MDWFP alligator program coordinator job came to be in 1989, two years after the American alligator species was removed from the endangered list and regulatory authority was handed over to the agency from the legislature.

Chomping grounds

Under Flynt’s oversight, alligators have continued to do well in their historic ranges along the coast, and they’ve expanded to reclaim their historic habitats in a big way throughout much of the rest of the state also.

Though no longer endangered, alligators continue to receive special legal protection throughout their life cycle, first as eggs in a nest, then from hatchling to maturity and extending well beyond.

Products made from legally-harvested alligators require special documentation to accompany their transfer, a process that protects other similar still-endangered species like the American crocodile and the Chinese alligator, and holds a check on commerce related to the American alligator in question to boot.

The monitoring program Flynt directs has captured and tagged more than 700 alligators in state waters for study. Many have been fitted with radio tracking devices and their travel habitats and home ranges have become much better understood as a result.

A sincere passion

“I have a sincere passion for what I do,” he said. “It’s very enjoyable. I think a lot of that comes from the fact that it’s a species that’s extraordinarily interesting to me. They’re a very unique animal. When you take a lot of interest in trying to learn more about a subject, to the point it becomes part of your passion, it feels bad to say it’s a job. It’s something I completely enjoy.

“When we’re out there doing the information-gathering work, it’s challenging to be sure. You’re using technology and procedures to your interest to obtain the best data that you can.”

Video evidence

Flynt’s work has included setting motion-activated video cameras up on nest sites, which have documented hatchlings being moved by their mother from land to water. These and other alligator videos can be seen at mdwfp.com/alligator.

The attention to detail Flynt demonstrates shows an undeniable dedication, and the resulting increase in both the alligator population here and our understanding of it has made a viable alligator hunting season a reality.

“Working toward having an alligator season was one of my first assignments,” Flynt said. “It has, no doubt, taken on some popularity.”

In 2005 the state opened a limited draw for 50 hunting permits. Since then the number of permits allowed, and the areas of the state in which they are issued, have both greatly increased.

Now they have more than 7,100 applicants each year pursuing more than 900 tags.

Last year’s draw-based hunt on public waters was held from Aug. 30 through Sept. 9. Details for the 2014 season will be announced online soon at mdwfp.com.