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Junkyard 05-25-2006 05:59 PM

Florida's Gator Frenzy
 
Florida's Gator Frenzy
On patrol with a leading trapper at crunch time

By Catharine Skipp and Arian Campo-Flores
Newsweek

May 29, 2006 issue - The 10½-foot alligator poised on the banks of a canal near Miami last Thursday had set off a frenzy. Traffic on the nearby freeway was shut down, nearly 100 onlookers snapped photos and a news helicopter circled overhead. When Todd Hardwick—alligator trapper extraordinaire—arrived at the scene with a police escort, he leapt out of his truck and raced toward the beast. Wielding a heavy-duty fishing rod, he cast a line bearing a three-pronged hook that caught on the gator's hide. The animal quickly ensnared itself. As it thrashed about, Hardwick nabbed it with another line, then stuck it with a harpoon and lassoed it with a lariat. With the help of a half-dozen cops, he hauled the 400-pound bull up the hill, jumped on top of it and cinched its jaws shut with electrical tape.


Hardwick and the 37 other licensed trappers in Florida are in high demand. In one especially bloody week this month, three women died of alligator attacks in the state. One was apparently slain while jogging along a canal, another was found dead in a waterway with her right arm ripped off and the third was struck while snorkeling with friends. With only 17 other fatal gator attacks on record since 1948 in Florida, wildlife officials stress that the recent carnage is an aberration. Nevertheless, gator mania has seized the state. While Hardwick typically averages 15 requests for alligator captures per week in peak season—May and June—he has averaged 17 per day since the recent killings. The result: he's fielding an incessant stream of calls from rattled residents, overwhelmed wildlife officials and frothing news outlets.

Short, lean and sinewy, Hardwick would seem no match for a gator. But ever since he caught his first one at the age of 14, he's become one of Florida's leading trappers. "There's nothing better," says Hardwick, 43, "than standing on the side of a canal with 350 pounds of prehistoric animal on the end of a line." The work isn't all that profitable; he nets only $16 per foot for an alligator, while he can earn a much easier $110 for a raccoon or an opossum. And the gator fever can generate some annoying calls. Earlier that Thursday, Hardwick was summoned by Opa-Locka police to trap an alligator reported to be lurking ominously near a school. When he arrived, the culprit was a five-pounder shorter than a yardstick. "This guy couldn't eat a poodle," said Hardwick.

Still, gators promise to eat up more of Hardwick's time. The current hysteria aside, alligator complaints have been rising steadily in recent years as housing developments continue to encroach on the reptiles' natural habitat. Though the animals normally shun humans, they can sometimes mistake a bobbing head or passing limb for prey. The danger increases during this time of year, when gators emerge hungry from a winter of lying dormant and bulls become feisty in anticipation of mating season. Hardwick can't wait for things to slow down. As the sun set on that exhausting day last week, he drove to the edge of the Everglades to set loose the five-pounder he'd caught. Meanwhile, the 400-pounder writhed in the bed of his pickup, a short-lived media darling now destined to become handbags, belts or shoes. All in a day's work.


Newsweek-Florida's Gator Frenzy

Skunky 05-25-2006 09:38 PM

Such terrible use of words "slain" "carnage" ... talk about media exaggeration.


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