Dan Rattiner's Stories

Alligators Ho!

Strange things are happening with creatures coming to the Hamptons. Three days after Superstorm Sandy, my wife and I were down at the beach and we saw that among the seagulls flying around, there was a pelican flying over the shoreline. I had never seen a pelican here before. But my wife, who is familiar with pelicans, said that indeed that is was what it was, perhaps swept up in the warm, wet tropical vortex of the storm as it came charging up the coast.

Then, two weeks ago, a woman living on Hampton Street in Southampton called the Suffolk County Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals to say that there was an alligator in a window well at her house. The Save the Animals Rescue Foundation came, confirmed this was the case, got it and took it to their facility in Middle Island. At last report it was doing just fine, basking happily beneath a sunlamp at that shelter, according to one report in Newsday.

This is not the first alligator to have been found on eastern Long Island recently. There have been nine of them found in just the last few weeks, the first in Mastic Beach, alligators two through eight in other locations on Long Island, and alligator nine here in Southampton.

With the discovery of that first alligator and with the discovery of each alligator after that, including this ninth one, the authorities have declared that this is probably the work of some local person who has bought an alligator as a pet, perhaps for his or her child, gotten tired of having the alligator, perhaps because it had grown so fast and was developing a very nasty personality, and so has simply gone out and dumped the alligator off in the brush somewhere.

The explanation continues that this is a dastardly act indeed. There are laws making it illegal to own an alligator without a permit in New York. There are other laws that make it illegal to harm an alligator, and surely dumping them out of the car or truck or whatever qualifies as such dastardly behavior. It is particularly dastardly, they say, because this is a very poor lesson to be giving to a small child about what to do with pets. They hope they can catch this perpetrator.

That this is a single perpetrator doing all this is a big stretch, however. Such a person would have to get one alligator after another and dump them, or get a whole congregation of alligators all at once and then drive them around like Johnny Appleseed, casting off one of them here and one there and one elsewhere. This is really unlikely. It’s also very unlikely that there is a club of alligator owners that, in recent years, decided to disband, or that there are nine separate alligator owners who all answered the same ad on the same website.

What could it be?

I recently read a report about the major invasion of a very nasty kind of fish that has taken over much of the Mississippi River. The fish is an Asian Carp, not native to America. Like our alligator encounters, many authorities originally came up with this crazy story that maybe it was some local resident who collected exotic fish and had a big fish tank, and so brought in Asian Carp. But then, when they saw the carp attacking all the other fish with their very sharp teeth and having them for dinner, the owners, hysterical, netted the Asian Carp in his or her now empty fish tank—the carp hurl themselves at things chattering their teeth and slapping themselves around—and got them over to the Mississippi in Louisiana and dumped them in, probably at night. Bad people, whoever did that.

At this point, 40 years later, Asian Carp have pretty much cleaned all the local species of fish out of the Mississippi River, beginning down in Louisiana and heading on up that body of water past Arkansas, Nebraska, Iowa and Illinois in certain areas, now aiming to attack Chicago and the Great Lakes. I recall that last year, anxious officials were talking about building these electric barriers across the Mississippi that only fish who were not carp would be allowed through up to Chicago. But the latest news is that the carp, having gotten around these barriers, have now gotten really close to Chicago, and in this heightened state of hysteria there has been this Indiana Jones type who persuaded the authorities to let him get rid of the carp by baiting a trap for them in the river and then setting off an underground explosion to kill them. He’s now done that, but what floated to the surface were about 200,000 pounds of dead fish, none of which were carp. So now they are looking for this guy.

My belief is that what we have here is the same thing as with the Asian Carp, except that here it’s alligators. Trust me on this. We’ve found the first nine. This is just the beginning. I expect that by January we will be up to our ankles in alligators and this will be a very serious situation.

And frankly, I have no idea what to do about that. We can’t harm them. We can’t leave them out in the cold. We can’t blow them up. We can’t take them in and put them in cages. We can’t kidnap them from their “habitat.” And certainly we can’t dump them by the side of the road, because that is where they are being found to begin with.

It’s just too damn bad, I say.


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