Ponds, lakes and streams within the Huntsville city limits are home to multiple species, from large-mouth bass and cranes to snapping turtles and venomous snakes.
Lately, there’s been an uptick in alligator sightings in the southern and western portions of the City. Though alligators have been in the Tennessee Valley for more than a century, a sighting can often stoke fear and fascination.
Some residents have tried to get a closer look, but City officials and wildlife experts are warning the public to stay back and observe wildlife from a safe distance.
Jennie Robinson, Huntsville’s District 3 City Council Representative and Council President, said it’s not just alligators the public should be aware of. Other wildlife, including deer, beavers and coyotes, are becoming common in urban areas.
“We are sharing our homes with each other and should recognize that they were there first,” she said. “We need to respect the alligators in their habitat as a protected species and use caution.”
Like Robinson, District 5 Council Member John Meredith wants people to recognize the dangers of wildlife encounters. He said even if an animal appears harmless, its behavior when approached is unpredictable.
“I would caution citizens to resist any temptation to play with, feed or otherwise interact with alligators when they are encountered,” Meredith said. “No one wants to see anyone hurt or killed, especially children, as a result of human-alligator interactions.”
Huntsville Animal Services (HAS) Director Dr. Karen Sheppard said she’s seen a few recent social media posts about citizen-alligator encounters, including a group of youngsters on a pool float attempting to get a closer look.
“One individual made a really good point that people move to Huntsville from all over the U.S. and wouldn’t have any idea we have alligators,” she said.
A social media commenter asked about the possibility of having a sign placed on the greenway near Haysland Road in southwest Huntsville, the site of the most recent alligator sightings. City officials are now actively working on plans to make that happen.
Alligators in North Alabama are not a new phenomenon. In addition to the Haysland Road sightings, they’ve been spotted off Zierdt Road and in Morgan and Lauderdale counties.
We are sharing our homes with each other and should recognize that they were there first. We need to respect the alligators in their habitat as a protected species and use caution.
An Associated Press report from 2019 said alligator reports in the Tennessee River date back to 1894. The North Alabama alligator population received a boost in the 1970s when about 50 alligators were released into the Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge, which spans 35,000 acres between Huntsville and Decatur.
Sheppard, who enjoys kayaking, said she’s seen more than a few alligators in the wild, but added she doesn’t fear them or venomous snakes. She said residents have nothing to be afraid of if they follow simple guidance.
“Just leave them alone,” she said. “We should respect them from a distance.”
Though American alligators can grow to 19 feet long and weigh up to 900 pounds, Huntsville’s horn-plated visitors are not as big. They tend to feed on small mammals as well as birds, ducks, turtles, fish and snakes. Sheppard said dogs or cats running at large near an alligator’s habitat could be potential food.
They are often more visible after large amounts of rain. They breed in April and May; females can lay between 30-70 eggs, which hatch after nine weeks.
While humans are fascinated by alligators, alligators don’t particularly care for humans. If there’s a lot of human activity in an area, the alligator will eventually go elsewhere.
Alligator attacks on humans are rare. Florida averages about seven unprovoked alligator attacks per year. In 2020, a woman in South Carolina was killed after approaching – and reportedly attempting to touch – an alligator off Kiawah Island.
There has never been a documented alligator attack in Alabama.
Alligators are a federally protected species, and it is illegal to indiscriminately kill one in Alabama. If an alligator poses a threat, residents should call Huntsville Police, which will coordinate removal with state wildlife officials.
For non-emergency requests, please call HPD at 256-722-7100.