Conservation officers with the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries, and Parks on Tuesday were forced to capture and kill an alligator that had been at the city's Hiller Park for several years because it had lost its fear of humans after being repeatedly fed by park-goers.
The 11-foot animal was killed after it walked across Atkinson Road and taken up refuge in the pond at Hiller Park, where Canada geese, nutria and people can be found regularly.
"Think about it," said MSgt. Barry Delcambre, a conservation officer with the state. "You always have Canada geese there, and I've never see a place like Hiller Park where you have a nutria come out of the water in broad daylight and you almost have to kick it out of the way. If you were an alligator what better place would you want to be?"
The problem is, Delcambre said, park-goers had begun feeding the alligator, a violation of state law that can see offenders fined from $1,000 to $5,000 with a mandatory five days in jail.
"This alligator began to associate people with food," said Delcambre, who on Tuesday was able to walk up to the alligator and tape its snout closed without incident. "Usually when people are around, alligators try to get out of the way. This one had gotten to the point where he was waiting for people to feed him, and, of course, if they didn't have any food he might lunge or leap at them.
"It upset me to kill that alligator," Delcambre said. "It had been out there near the park for eight years. The city had put up signs that alligators might be present, and we'd arrested as many as five people for feeding alligators in the area off Atkinson Road. But the bottom line is that we live on the water. The water is their habitat. You should avoid alligators, and you should definitely never feed them."
Delcambre said the alligator weighed as much as 600 pounds and could have been as much as 50 years old.
"I think there are probably three of four alligators in that area of the bay," said Delcambre. "We usually remove one from that area every other year or so. We're asking people not to feed the alligators and avoid contact with them."
Ricky Flynt, MDWFP Alligator Program Coordinator explains, "Alligators will naturally avoid humans and human activity, unless they are fed. When alligators begin to associate humans with a regular source of food, it can become a very dangerous and potentially deadly situation for an unsuspecting person who comes near the location of a hand-fed alligator."
The MDWFP takes these violations very seriously, Flynt said, and nyone who has information about anyone feeding alligators should call the MDWFP 24-hour hotline, 1-800-BE-SMART.
Photos: To see photographs of the alligator at Hiller Park, click here.