Ready for work in his camouflage pants and a “Louisiana Yard Dog” T-shirt, St. Charles Parish’s longtime “nuisance hunter” Kenny Schmill said the Nebraska parents who recently lost their son to an alligator attack while staying at a Disney World resort should have had warning signs to stay away from the water.
“There should have been signs there ‘Alligators: Do not Swim’ there,” Schmill said. “These people were from Nebraska, and they would not have allowed their 2-year-old swimming in the water at night when the gators move around.”
Schmill agreed the best defense against alligators is to stay away from them and especially not to feed them.
With 42 years experience in capturing “nuisance alligators” in St. Charles Parish, Schmill knows firsthand the threat these reptiles can pose to the public in Louisiana.
Most people here use swimming pools, which lowers the threat to swimmers, he said. But there are places in the parish where alligators pose a serious threat to unwary visitors and their pets, which requires he “terminate” them.
“We eat them before they eat us,” Schmill said. “We never had a fatality yet in this state.”
Chris Brantley, Bonnet Carre’ Spillway operations manager, said a regulated hunting season is held each year with several trappers who hunt them in the fall and help keep control of the larger alligators at the spillway. When they observe nuisance alligators around areas like boat launches or areas used for crabbing or fishing, Brantley said they call Schmill to trap or remove them.
The spillway has no official swimming areas even though people are allowed there for boating, water skiing, crabbing and fishing, he said. Visitors are “asked to pay attention and watch their surroundings as much as possible because there are alligators here.”
Alligators up to four feet are not considered a nuisance or threat to the welfare of pets, livestock or humans.In case of an alligator sighting, the St. Charles Parish Animal Shelter advises calling the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries at (337) 373-0032 or (225) 765-2811, and after 4 p.m. or on weekends – (800) 765-2811.
A nuisance alligator complaint number will be assigned along with the contact information of the nuisance alligator hunter will be provided. The hunter will return the call within 24 hours unless there’s an emergency. A resident could be charged up to $30 per complaint to remove an alligator of up to six feet long.
Schmill recalled some of his calls.
In Willowdale, he encountered an eight-foot alligator trying to get into a cage with beagles because the neighbors, who typically fed it, were on vacation. In the same area last year, Schmill removed an equally large alligator that people had been feeding marshmallows and started menacing them for more food.
“People think that’s a pet,” he said of an animal capable of applying 3,500 pounds of bone-crushing pressure in a bite.
“Definitely don’t feed them. Keep your pets away, especially those small dogs where even a five-footer will grab him.”But the Florida incident has made more people leery about alligators.
Schmill said his nuisance calls increased after the attack, which he says typically happens when an attack is reported in the media.
Some Ormond residents have built an alligator fence to keep them off their property, but he maintained the better defense is not feeding them.
Of the 80 alligator nuisance calls he averages a year, none have involved a death in the parish that he can recall. The cases typically involve alligators around 6-1/2 feet long, and least three to four of those calls requires removing an alligator from a swimming pool.
In an area with so much water, nuisance calls come from throughout the parish, but especially heavy water areas like Paradis, Bayou Gauche, St. Rose and Montz, he said. Calls tend to increase in rainy months when smaller alligators move around on land more fearful of thunder and lightening.
Southeast Louisiana has an estimated three to four million alligators in the wild, but Schmill said they are spread over more territory than Florida and that invites fewer attacks.
In 1972, Schmill started working as a deputy who handled animal complaints, typically five to six of them a year. By 1979, Louisiana opened the alligator hunting season and he was appointed the parish’s alligator nuisance control officer with the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries’ nuisance program.
He started putting notches in their tails to determine their movement and it showed they can migrate for miles over water and land, and return to their home waters.
An estimated 20 percent of them are farm raised and released into the wild, which is significant because they are more likely to approach people for food. They are also more likely to attack for food than wild alligators.
Schmill has killed alligators as long as 12 feet in the Bonnet Carre’ Spillway and seen dogs bitten in half by them when their owners failed to heed warnings about the danger.
The biggest one he’s killed was a 14-footer in the early 1980s in Lac Des Allemands.
Schmill said take them seriously because “You’re not going to see the big one,” he said of them grabbing people and animals from under the water.