Eastover lakes attract alligators annually, pose no threat
Everyone’s trying to get into Eastover, even the alligators.
Each summer, a handful of the reptiles make their way into the exclusive neighborhood and take up roost at the twin lakes.
In most cases, the gators stay for a few days and move along on their own. In others, the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks (MWFP) is brought in to evict them.
Rarely do the gators pose a threat to humans, but occasionally, the critters do get too close for comfort.
In late May or early June, for instance, a neighbor was fishing off the pier behind Phil Burnett’s home when a 3.5 to four-footer bit the line.
“He was in the marsh grass below where we were fishing. As he drew the line past him, he was trying to catch it,” said Phil Burnett.
“(The gator) was probably a juvenile, three-and-a-half to four feet long, with a real skinny body. If you picked him up, he probably wouldn’t have weighed 15 pounds.”
Eastover’s lakes are a popular destination for gators during the summer, mainly because of its proximity to the Pearl River, said Ricky Flynt, alligator program coordinator for fish and wildlife.
Eastover runs from north of Meadowbrook Road to Lakeland Drive. It is bordered by Ridgewood Road to the west and the Pearl and adjoining swampland to the east.
“Basically (the swampland surrounds the neighborhood from the east to the northeast,” he said. “All that area from Lakeland Drive up to the (reservoir) spillway is a huge swamp area.”
That swampland is the traditional habitat for alligators, who live in freshwater, and look for sufficient amounts of “prey, mud and vegetation when choosing a place to live” according to Florida State University’s online habitat tracker.
“The alligators do move around a bit, especially the juveniles,” Flynt said. “As they move around, they do come into the ponds in Eastover and in other neighborhoods in the metro area.”
Gators can travel multiple miles by land, and typically relocate if they’re food supply in an area dwindles, said Beth Poff, executive director of the Jackson Zoological Park.
“If they’re normal food supply has dwindled, or a lake or creek has dried up, they will travel to look for something else,” she said.
Even so, Flynt urges residents not to feed or harass the gators if they see them. “Don’t throw food items out there - feeding and harassing a gator is illegal,” he said.
The twin lakes are located along Twin Lakes Circle and Eastover Drive, and the mouth of the lower lake is approximately 3,700 feet from the Pearl River shoreline.
The lakes were built in the 1950s after a creek there was dammed up by developers, according to former Twin Lakes Association president John Henegan.
The first time the attorney noticed an alligator in there was after Hurricane Katrina.
He said the two to three-foot juvenile was seen in the lower lake, and was there for just a couple of days before moving on.
Henegan didn’t report that gator, but later contacted fish and wildlife after spotting a five-footer in the area.
Flynt said his office receives four or five calls each summer, but said some of them are likely from different residents reporting the same animal.
“They will take up residence for a while, and we will get complaints about them,” Flynt said. “We come in a couple of times each summer to remove them.”
Alligator behavior and size dictates department policy.
If the gators have just been noticed and are not causing problems, wildlife officers might not respond for a week. If calls are deemed emergencies, or if the animals are seen in a person’s yard or pool, or trapped behind a fence, officers will respond immediately.
“The vast majority of calls are not emergencies. Probably less than five percent … have to be dealt with immediately,” he said.
Between 1999 to 2014, nine people in the United States died from alligator or crocodile attacks, according to results of a study published at CNN.com.
By comparison, during that same period, 921 people were killed after being stung by hornets, wasps and bees. Another 1,600 people were killed by dogs or other mammal attacks, and 78 people died from attacks by other reptiles excluding alligators, the article reports.
Gators less than six feet are relocated, those that are six feet or longer are euthanized.
“There are some dangers and risks involved with the officers handling them,” said Flynt. “Transporting them is also difficult.”
Research being conducted by the agency shows relocating the larger beasts is inefficient.
“Most of them, unless we carry them 15 miles away or more, will return back to the same location,” he said.
Once captured, the animals are usually taken to a wildlife management area on the upper portion of the Ross Barnett Reservoir.
Officers, along with trappers contracted by wildlife, do the work.
Attorney Johnny Wade and his family have lived on the lower lake for a decade. In that time, he’s probably seen five or six gators, including one that he reported to fish and wildlife.
“It was a little startling to see the first one. Now, you don’t get so worked up about it,” he said. “You can spot them pretty easily when cruising the water.”