Federal protection and conservation have helped East Texas alligator populations reach healthy numbers. But those numbers can quickly become dangerous. Just this week in Florida, a jogger died when she was mauled and dragged into the water by a gator. No such cases have ever been reported in Texas, and one East Texan is working to keep it that way. Wildlife Biologist, Mark McDonald is an alligator hunter and has captured and relocated over 80 of the massive reptiles in the last 10 years.
"I feel like I'm doing the state a favor by removing them, and protecting the landowner at the same time," says McDonald.
With no natural enemies, alligator numbers are soaring, and that's a problem as they spread to smaller ponds and lakes, near people.
"The habitat has been multiplied by the building and creation of lakes and ponds, some kids had been swimming with this 6 foot one and feeding it out of their hands for 2 years, and just 60 feet away I caught a 300 pound, 10 and a half foot one that could have eaten one of these kids," he says.
The real concern is big males, at maturity they can reach lengths of 12 to 14 feet and be over 600 pounds. McDonald says with their size, comes unpredictability, leading them to see anything as potential food.
"With small alligators there's no danger, but a big male in breeding season is real aggressive one that big could potentially kill somebody, and has in several states," says Mark.
The Hawkins native says there is an easy way to control gator populations.
"When you allow hunting it keeps the population in check," he says.
He snares the gators and removes them often, either relocating them or selling them. The largest alligator on record was caught in Louisiana 21 feet long, weighing over one thousand pounds.
Twenty-two East Texas counties will hold hunting season on alligators next Spring.