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The Sunshine State’s Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission recorded at least 154 alligator-related violations last year.
Alligator parts were said to be visible inside 18-year-old Raymond Fettig’s 2005 Chevrolet pickup truck when authorities pulled him over on a Friday evening late last month.
Fettig and a passenger, Jonathan Poche, 17, were travelling in Florida’s J.W. Corbett Wildlife Management Area, a 60,348 acre expanse of woodlands, marshes and cypress swamp, located northwest of West Palm Beach, near Lake Okeechobee.
Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission law enforcement officers, Casey Schroer and Luis Merizio, stopped the teenagers around 7:35 p.m. on April 22.
The officers wanted to see if Fettig and Poche had the $6 day-use permit required for the area, according to a report summarizing the incident. But, as Merizio talked to the young men, he says he noticed an alligator tail hide on the dashboard of the truck, with what looked like dried blood under it, and a gator foot sticking out of an open compartment near the vehicle’s radio.
Killing an alligator in Florida without a state permit is illegal and is punishable as a felony.
The state issues about 5,000 permits for an alligator hunt that typically takes place between Aug. 15 and Nov. 1. Roughly 10,000 people apply annually for the permits. For state residents they cost $272, for visitors $1,022. Some of the legal hunting methods include bows, harpoons, spear-guns, and gigs—a pronged, fork-like device mounted on the end of a pole.
According to the conservation group Defenders of Wildlife, an estimated five million American alligators live in the southeastern U.S., with upwards of one million in Florida. Males can grow up to 18-feet and weigh up to 600 pounds. In the wild, the reptiles tend to live 35 to 50 years.
The American alligator resembles the American crocodile, which is considered threatened in Florida under the federal Endangered Species Act. The alligator was removed from the endangered species list in the late 1980s, after about two decades of conservation efforts.
Data for last year from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission shows at least 154 recorded violations in the state that had to do with alligators.
These ranged in scope.
For instance, some are for not returning unused hunting tags within two weeks of their expiration date. Others concern the “feeding or enticement of crocodilians,” or rules that call for gators caught with handheld snares and “snatch hooks” to be killed or released immediately. Although the exact circumstances surrounding every violation are unclear, there are no fewer than 28 that appear to have involved illegal killing, capturing, hunting, or possession of the reptiles.
When first questioned about the gator parts in his pickup, Fettig said he had caught the alligator they came from a few years prior with his uncle. That’s according to the incident report, which Merizio wrote.
The rest of the information about the incident is described here as told in that report.
As he stood near Fettig’s vehicle, Merizio smelled something dead or decaying. Poche suggested the odor was from chicken livers he and Fettig had used while fishing. When Merizio looked in the bed of the truck, however, he saw another whole gator foot.
The officer asked the young men if they had any weapons in the truck. Fettig replied that there was a shotgun under the backseat. Merizio then requested that the pair get out of the vehicle.
After being read his Miranda rights, Fettig said that he’d lied. He then offered a new story.
A few nights prior, a kid he met at a camp in the wildlife management area, he said, had found the gator in the water and shot it with a shotgun. Fettig said he helped cut the animal apart, and admitted that he had meat from it in his home freezer. But he didn’t provide a name for the kid he said shot the reptile. All the alligator parts in the truck, he said, were from the one animal—except for a replica gator head on the driver’s side dashboard.
A photo on Poche’s cellphone, included in the incident report, showed what was said to be the alligator that was killed lying in the back of a pickup truck, next to a fishing rod.
It looks to be less than full-sized, not much longer than the width of the truck’s tailgate.
Fettig later took the officers to his house and turned over the gator meat. He received a "notice to appear" for a second degree misdemeanor. The animal’s carcass was left in the camp where it was killed, he said. But, according to the incident report, it could not be located.
Bill Lucia is a Reporter at Government Executive's Route Fifty.
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