Sunday, July 8, 2012

American Alligator

I sighted this American Alligator at Huntington Beach State Park, SC a few weeks ago. He was only 20 feet from me as I centered my binoculars on his eye. It was a stunning moment staring into the eye of an apex predator. His eye, wholly reptilian, was alien to me but compelling. I sensed the intelligence behind it.

I felt no fear but rather a deep admiration for a species that's endured for 200 million years but nearly lost it's track record when it met Homo Sapiens. In 1967 it was listed as endangered due to hunting and habitat loss. The good news is because of the Endangered Species Act that was enacted in 1972, the American Alligator population has rebounded. Part of the reason, though, is because of alligator farms where they are culled for their hides and meat.

The American Alligator is a native of the Southeastern states from North Carolina through Texas and one of only two alligators in the world, the other being the Chinese alligator, which is endangered.

Later in the day I spotted another alligator. But this time standing on the shoreline between me and the alligator was an Anhinga, a large aquatic bird that was drying its feathers, seemingly oblivious to the proximity of the alligator.

 The Anhiga was twelve feet from the alligator. The alligator was in ambush position with head and eyes above the surface of the water. He waited and watched. I waited and watched.

I was not quite sure if the bird was aware of the alligator but it did step up the bank a few feet as it continued to preen.

While observing, I was interrupted by a man with his son who had come along to see what I was watching. When I looked back the alligator was gone. I had not heard a thing while chatting. The alligator had stealthy moved below the surface. I knew the three of us had blown it for him.

I see why horror movies use reptilian characteristics in building "monsters" but that is a disservice and a misrepresentation. This alligator was no monster and I understood why the species has endured for so long. Strip us of our weapons and it's clear who would win.

In deep, dark space, Earth from 3.7 billion miles.
That evening, while stargazing I contemplated the vastness of the universe and our home, truly it seems, a mote of dust in that vastness.  I thought of alien life on other worlds. My mind then wandered to the alligators I had experieced that day. No, I thought, to me you are not alien, nor are you a hide for belts, for boots for bags nor are you meat. You are far more magnificent then something for human vanity and taste. You are a success story of evolution and survival unique to planet Earth and deserving of protection and respect.

No comments:

Post a Comment