TWS member makes splash with gargantuan gator encounter

By Joshua Rapp Learn

TWS member Brent Howze stands behind a 13-foot, 4-inch alligator in southwest Georgia. The image captured the attention of national news media. ©Brent Howze

When Brent Howze received a call about a big alligator (Alligator mississippiensis) wallowing around in a farmer’s irrigation ditch on a Monday morning in southwest Georgia, he thought it would be just another day on the job.

The senior wildlife biologist at the Georgia Department of Natural Resources rolled up in a pickup truck with a colleague to evict the reptilian land squatter, just as he had for dozens of other alligators that year. Big alligators were nothing new to Howze. As a wildlife biologist, he was involved in a mark and recapture study and occasionally captured alligators reaching 10 feet in length.

What he wasn’t prepared for was a 13-foot, 4-inch giant with a gunshot wound on its head and a 57-inch chest girth. It was big enough, the TWS member thought, to comfortably fit Howze inside twice over.

“The ballgame changed pretty quick,”he said.

After observation, Howze determined the gator was extremely old. This was good news for the DNR staff, as it wouldn’t be as feisty as a younger, healthy animal. Still, they called a third technician and brought a trailer. The back of the Ford F-150 wasn’t going to cut it. When they lowered a rope snare down the steep, 10-foot bank, the 700-pound animal broke the rope as they started pulling him up.

A farmer called the Georgia Department of Natural Resources when he discovered the massive alligator in an irrigation ditch on his property. ©Graham Rhone

“He didn’t seem to have as bad of an attitude as many gators,” Howze said. “It still wasn’t easy just because of how powerful he was.”

Fashioning a new snare out of winch cable, they pulled the gator out using the pickup truck. As they got a closer look, they noticed it had been shot at some point through the jaw, a few inches from one of its eyes. The other eye was missing, and a bunch of old scars, possibly from fights with other gators, slashed across its body.

“You could tell this thing had been through a lot,” Howze said.

The alligator also had plenty of loose skin, indicating at some point it may have been even bigger, and may now be struggling to find enough to eat.

Howze and his colleagues determined that due to its condition and age, euthanizing it was the best way to deal with the situation.

“We think he came there to the irrigation ditch because he was at the end of his life,” Howze said.

Its fame outlived it. A photo of Howze with the alligator became a viral hit, prompting stories in a variety of news outlets, including USA Today, CBS News and Fox News.

Even after it was dead, the technicians had to use an excavator to put the carcass in the trailer. The skull measured close to 24 inches from snout to back.

For Howze, the very existence of such a massive alligator proves the wildlife management of these animals is working in the area. “It is a testament to the alligator management plan that they can get this old,” he said.

Joshua LearnJoshua Rapp Learn is a science writer at The Wildlife Society. Contact him at jlearn@wildlife.org with any questions or comments about his article.

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