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Alligator Alley owner Wes Moore believes a paid guest shot one of his older, larger alligators with a small caliber handgun sometime in late April.
Wes Moore has more than 450 alligators at his Alligator Alley ecotourism attraction in Summerdale, but Shifty stood out.
Along with several other specimens he now refers to as the “Hunter alligators,” Moore acquired Shifty more than 15 years ago from his mentor, Tony Hunter, a widely regarded alligator trapper from Florida who succumbed to lung cancer in 2007.
“I love all my gators, but some are special,” Moore said of Shifty, an alligator named for his personality, which seemed to change day to day. “He was one of the larger alligators we have and he was easy to distinguish from the others.”
Around Friday, April 26, Moore said he noticed Shifty start to act strangely, but initially thought little of it.
“It is the middle of breeding season and sometimes the males will fight and get some injuries,” he said. “But Shifty was throwing his head around, grunting, acting like he was choking. A week goes by and I get a text from one of my guys about a big, dead alligator and immediately I knew it was him.”
Moore, who also propagates alligators at the facility for the commercial market, said he investigates every animal that dies there.
“We also peel back the skin to preserve them or give them away, but with Shifty, I saw a giant bloody hematoma with a hole through it,” Moore said. “One small hole straight down. We opened him up and as soon as we did, it was evident. I have a friend in the medical profession so I sent him a photo and he immediately said, ‘Yes, that’s a gunshot.’”
Moore said a necropsy determined Shifty had been shot with a .22-caliber handgun, with the bullet piercing his right lung, “shattering it to pieces,” before embedding itself within the alligator’s liver. It would have been a very painful injury, Moore said.
“He suffocated to death,” he said. “I’m pissed someone shot him, but more pissed they shot him in a way that made him suffer.”
Moore called the police department, which took possession of the bullet fragment and began an investigation. He said if he had to guess, he believes one of the facility’s paying guests is likely to blame, although a review of video surveillance at the property failed to turn up any strong leads.
“The bullet wound was straight up and down, so I think he was shot off the boardwalk,” Moore said. “The sad thing is it may have been during the day when we’re open. We always have [staff] out there, but maybe somebody ran to the bathroom, got a snack or whatever and then maybe someone made a dare: ‘I bet that .22 can’t pierce that alligator’s skin,’ or something. This was a deliberate, direct, close-range shot and if it would’ve been a half-inch either way it would have hit a bony plate and we wouldn’t be having this conversation.”
Moore said visitors to the facility are generally very reserved and respectful of the rules, but occasionally one may become emboldened and lean a little too far over the railing, throw food to the animals or joke that they are going to enter the alligators’ habitat. But to his knowledge, this is the first time since the gates opened in 2004 an animal has been injured by a visitor.
“I’m stepping up security,” he said. “I always say we have to protect ourselves from someone’s own stupidity.”
In the meantime, Moore is offering a $2,000 reward for information leading to an arrest. The perpatrator could face charges including animal cruelty and destruction of property, and because Moore breeds the animals, criminal charges related to destruction of livestock.
“My alligators are livestock and [killing them] carries greater penalties,” Moore said. “We’re going to throw the book at them. And I told the police not to let me get close to him. I’m heartbroken. Alligators can recover from a lot of things, but when a lung is blown to pieces there’s not much you can do. When we do have a suspect I hope they prosecute them to the fullest extent of the law.”
Anyone with information about the incident is encouraged to call the Summerdale Police Department at 251-947-4010. Alligator Alley remains open during normal business hours. For more information, visit gatoralleyfarm.com.
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