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Should We Kill Man-Eating Alligators?

Should we hunt down and kill man-eaters?

Photo: Montuschi

Your arm just got bitten off by an alligator. After the initial screams and shock, your next reaction might be to hunt down the beast who de-armed you and kill it. But is this necessary a fair punishment to impose on an animal that was simply following its instincts? Or is this outlandish act beyond the realm of excusable instincts?

Slate explores the topic:

Western culture has a strange way of looking at those rare animals that kill and eat human beings. Most of us don’t spend very much time out in nature or encounter wild animals in person, and our ideas about wildlife are often informed by a combination of cartoons and bad reality television. Our view of potentially dangerous animals is greatly influenced by the fact that most man-eating species either are or have been endangered, making them seem more like victims than aggressors.

As for the American alligator, it is one of the country’s great Endangered Species Act success stories, Slate writes. They’ve returned with a vengeance to the backwater swamps of the south, extending along the Gulf Coast and as far north as North Carolina.

When alligator numbers were low, there was a broad effort by environmentalists and the government to portray the animal in more sympathetic terms: misunderstood, harassed, posing no real danger to human beings. The myth-making may have been necessary to save the species. Past incidents of man-eating were brushed aside, and excuses were often found for blaming the victims.

While many alligator attacks are provoked or the result of stupid behavior, other human victims were only innocently strolling by a lake or bayou when ambushed by a gator.

Slate argues that animals—even endangered species—that attack or kill humans have to die, not just as an act of vengeance or as a necessity for ridding the community of a man-eater but also as protection for other members of its species.

There is a brief opportunity after an attack to capture or kill the responsible animal. If authorities hesitate to act in time, the locals tend to take matters into their own hands. Vigilante justice will be broad and indiscriminate.

In past instances when the animal was not disposed of—like when Steve Irwin was killed by a sting ray or people have been attacked by lions in Africa—local hunters took matters into their own hands, seeking out and destroying every stingray or lion they could get their harpoons or guns targeted on.

Finding and killing the actual animal culprit appeases the angry human masses and in turn protects other members of its species that have less of a penchant for man-blood, Slate concludes.

More from Smithsonian.com:

Fossil Fragments are Table Scraps of an Enormous Alligator 

Man-Eaters of Tsavo 

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