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East County residents wrestle with alligator issues

Alligator advocacy group created in response to debate on removal of alligators.


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  • | 12:50 p.m. May 5, 2021
  • East County
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When some people see an alligator, they see a stoic creature who won’t harm anyone if left unprovoked.

Others see a dangerous animal that poses a threat to children and pets and doesn’t belong in an increasingly populated area.

This debate erupted onto social media in April when some East County residents complained on social media about the removal of two alligators from a pond in Summerfield. The vast majority of the hundreds of comments came from people who opposed the removal of alligators, but a handful of residents said removal of alligators in areas with high population density is necessary.

Heritage Harbour residents Lisa Kleeberg, who is also a lifelong Floridian, and Kaye Fonte vehemently disagree with the removal of alligators from East County, with the exception of a small number of alligators that show aggressive behavior. In the wake of the social media debate, they started a Nextdoor group called “Alligator Advocates,” which had 63 members about a week after its creation.

The main purpose of the group is to tell people the vast majority of alligators will not hurt humans if they are left alone. Kleeberg and Fonte said it’s important to assume every pond has an alligator in it, adding adults should not let their children or pets near the edge of a pond, especially unattended.

Heritage Harbour residents Kaye Fonte and Lisa Kleeberg started a Nextdoor group called
Heritage Harbour residents Kaye Fonte and Lisa Kleeberg started a Nextdoor group called "Alligator Advocates" in response to fierce debate about the removal of alligators from ponds in East County communities.

Another mission of the group is to inform people about the dangers of feeding animals, which Kleeberg and Fonte said is the type of behavior that causes an alligator to become more aggressive.

One idea borne from the group is the possibility of providing brochures to the Heritage Harbour Community Association to educate people about alligators and how to coexist with them, which they could also provide to realtors.

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission often kills the alligators it is called to remove from developed areas. Alligators can’t be relocated because they are territorial animals that often try to return to their capture site, creating “problems for people or other alligators along the way,” according to the commission’s website.

The commission also said captured alligators would need to be relocated on remote lands, areas that have typically been claimed by other alligators already, a situation that would likely cause fighting and the death of an alligator. The commission added that Florida’s alligator population is “healthy and stable.”

Some people don't agree with the Alligator Advocates. Greenbrook resident Rosemarie Farrell said alligators are “beautiful creatures” who lived in East County long before people did. However, she also said they are unpredictable, and children and pets who wander too close to the wrong pond can be attacked and dragged into the water. Farrell said it is unnatural for alligators to live in an area with so many people.

An alligator rests at the edge of a pond in Heritage Harbour, where two residents started a Nextdoor group to advocate against the removal of alligators from ponds in East County communities. Courtesy photo.
An alligator rests at the edge of a pond in Heritage Harbour, where two residents started a Nextdoor group to advocate against the removal of alligators from ponds in East County communities. Courtesy photo.

“The area in Lakewood Ranch now becoming so overpopulated has taken away the areas that the alligators can go to,” Farrell said. “We have a preserve in the back where we had alligators and other animals before all the development went on. We loved seeing them walk by and everything, but the overpopulation has caused a lot of these animals to be displaced.”

Racimo Ranches resident Frank Kovach said alligators are a natural part of the ecosystem but added it’s naive to think they should be living in densely populated communities. Kovach has lived in Florida all his life, and he said some people who move here think alligators are “cute little things, like soft-shell turtles.”

Lakewood Ranch Inter-District Authority Executive Director Anne Ross said this mating season has brought a similar amount of alligator sightings as any other year.

Ross also said no alligator attack has been reported on any human in Lakewood Ranch. In her six years with the Lakewood Ranch IDA, there has been one report of an attack on a dog.