SOUTH PADRE ISLAND, Texas (ValleyCentral) — A 7 1/2-foot wild alligator found itself in unfamiliar, salty waters recently, surprising tourists and visitors on a popular stretch of beach on South Padre Island.
Rescuers told ValleyCentral that beachgoers had started to post photos and video of the alligator to social media, alerting Texas Parks and Wildlife Department officials to the possible danger. The alligator was struggling in the constant waves, rescuers said, and needed to be relocated to safety.
“[Because] there were a lot of Facebook videos surfacing, we were anticipating getting a call,” said Jacob Reinbolt, a herpetologist at the alligator sanctuary the SPI Birding and Nature Center. “Once we saw the video surfacing of this gator on the beach, we know they don’t belong there. When they have to fight the surf like that, that’s exhausting for them.”
The alligator was captured and relocated to a wildlife refuge Thursday under the watch of the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department with the help of alligator handlers from the alligator sanctuary.
Although there are wild alligators around South Padre Island, they rarely wander into the surfside areas, where beachgoers swim and enjoy the coast. Gators prefer freshwater, Reinbolt said, and venture into saltwater only long enough to find food.
“So if you asked me, the most likely scenario here is he went out looking for food and kind of got swept into the surf,” Reinbolt said, explaining the gator was in need of rescue by the time they caught and relocated it to safety.
“He had been fighting the waves for who knows how long before someone even spotted him. By the time we got him he was exhausted,” Reinbolt said. “So it was definitely a rescue, we returned them deep into Laguna Atascosa, where he has access to fresh water. He’s gonna be much better off.”
The Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge is on the mainland of Cameron County and is about 10 miles to the northwest of the island beach where the gator was captured.
The alligator sanctuary only keeps nuisance animals, as an alternative to euthanizing alligators who have been fed by humans and now pose a danger to the public. The alligator that was released at the wildlife refuge–instead of placed at the alligator sanctuary–was determined not to be a nuisance animal.
“A nuisance alligator is going to approach a human being,” Reinbolt said. “Wild alligators don’t want anything to do with humans. They see us as predators, not prey. So 90% of the time, they see a person, they’re running away as fast as they can. In this case, he was doing his best to avoid people trying to stay away.”
How does anyone catch an alligator?
“Quick hands,” Reinbolt said, before explaining they used a lasso threaded through a PVC pole and teamwork to bring the alligator out of the surf.