Answering some emails about alligators, mountain lions and bears
I received a couple of interesting emails this week. One wasn’t so flattering.
Heather Hoedebeck, one of the Southeastern Oklahoma State University students who helped care for some baby alligators found abandoned at the Red Slough, wanted a piece of my hide for the article I wrote in the Aug. 2 Sunday Oklahoman.
The article, according to Hoedebeck, was “lazily written” and did not do the gators justice or adequately represent the work put into the care and maintenance of them.
“The conservation side of the article is non-existent,” she wrote. “All you have done is alert to people that there are native alligators. No one is concerned with the safety of these animals now. People are more concerned that they are out there.
“You have promoted a redneck frenzy of alligator hunts rather than persuading the people of Oklahoma to be interested in conservation and importance of our native creatures.”
Wow. Blame me when the mob of alligator hunters show up at the Red Slough with their pitchforks and torches.
Heather really has more of an issue with what I didn’t report than what I did.
“As a conservation issue, it should be mentioned that they are a keystone species that influence the community of species and the habitat of the Red Slough area,” she wrote.
I agree. It wasn’t my intent to create a “redneck frenzy of alligator hunts” but rather to tell a neat wildlife conservation story about how abandoned baby alligators were saved at the Red Slough, cared for by Southeastern biology students and then will be returned to their native habitat with transmitters so biologists can learn more about them.
It’s really not a case of lazy reporting but newspaper space limitations that kept me from reporting more on the gators.
With that mind, I asked Heather to provide me with the key points that she thinks I missed in my column.
“Oklahoma alligators have a hibernation cycle unlike those in Florida and taking them out of the wild could mess up their “biological clock.” Heather wrote.
“Since taking them out was unavoidable due to the chances of survival without a mother, the study is being conducted to see if raising them in captivity for one year or two years is optimal.
“They are wanting to get as much size on the gators as possible without messing up their biological clocks. They also want to see if they will be able to go back into hibernation cycles at all. If they cannot hibernate they will freeze to death.
“These are the most extremely adaptive alligators and are at the furthest point of their natural range. That is why they believe the gators will be able to continue their hibernation cycles even after being kept in captivity.
“The alligators are important to our entire ecosystem and are more afraid of humans than most humans are of them.
“To take these animals out of their natural setting at the top of the food chain in Oklahoma will negatively influence everything around it.
“If they are removed from this position, it will allow something else to move into its place, which, could potentially endanger all the native species in that area.”
I agree, Heather, and I think the majority of Oklahomans will, too.
Bob Hixon, a landowner in Le Flore County, emailed me with concerns about black bear and mountain lion hunting.
Hixon might be in the minority, but he opposes bear and mountain lion hunting.
“Their numbers are still very low, no one even knows anything about the mountain lion population and range,” Bob wrote.
“The bears are tourist attractions for the Ouachita mountain area and bring-in tourism dollars to this area and the state.
“Also, a few mountain lions might help with the soaring feral hog problem that is a much greater concern for other game and habitat destruction.
“The black bear and mountain lion are/were native to this area … they are part of the ecosystem and deserve a place in Oklahoma … their numbers are still very low … has anybody actually presented a carcass of a domestic animal that has been killed by a lion?
“I believe in a balance; hunting is fine but let’s all do the science first.”
I don’t think you have anything to worry about as far as mountain lions, Bob. It’s been legal to shoot a mountain lion on sight if it’s deemed a threat or nuisance (when would it not be?) for more than two years now in Oklahoma. No one has checked a lion into the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation yet.
The Oklahoma Department of Food, Forestry and Agriculture has confirmed only one case in the state of a mountain lion killing domestic animals. That happened a couple of years ago in the Panhandle when a mountain lion was killing goats and sheep, said Jack Carson, spokesman for the agency.
The state Agriculture department gets many reports of mountain lion kills, but often the report can’t be confirmed because the agency received it weeks after it happened and it was to late to investigate, Carson said. Also, investigators sometimes can’t determine from the scene the identity of the predator, he said.
Many times the reports of domestic animals being killed by mountain lions in Oklahoma are proven to be kills by bobcats instead, Carson said. Kills by wild dogs and coyotes are also commonly mistaken for mountain lion kills, he said.
As far as black bears, I was surprised there wasn’t more debate in the state Legislature about the bear hunting bill, but ODWC believes it has the science to support a bear hunt. State wildlife officials say there are at least 500 black bears in southeastern Oklahoma.
The total number of black bears that can be killed by hunters is 20, and the ODWC biologist who works closely with bears is on record that he doesn’t think 10 will be taken by hunters this season.
It’s expected they are going to be hard to hunt, especially with a bow. Only bowhunters and possibly muzzleloader hunters (if bow hunters don’t kill 20 by the time deer muzzleloader season begins) can legally hunt black bear in Oklahoma this fall.