Wednesday, June 17, 2009
MICHAEL MALONE: Sweet Home Alabama
The bloggo is beginning to do the job that I originally intended: it is spreading the word of the CFZ's singular take on cryptozoology, animal welfare, natural history and the other stuff we do, and making contact with like minded folks across the globe. As a result, the CFZ family is expanding rapidly. Yesterday I received an e-mail from a bloke called Michael Malone: were we interested in a series of reports about the cryptozoology of Alabama and his hunt for out-of-place alligators? Well, of course we are and I told him so. Last night I came back from the pub after a convivial evening with our Texas contingent and I found this waiting for me.
I know that Michael is preparing a series of reports for us, but this initial one was too good to ignore....
I've been exploring the Flint River in Madison County, Alabama for years. It's home to several endangered species but nothing remarkable (Alabama Snail Darter; a tiny fish, for one). In the past, Big Foot sightings along the river were common but with population growth along the river, I doubt anything like a Big Foot could still be in the area.
The Alligators are all in Wheeler Lake, created by damming the Tennessee River as it passes through North Alabama. I've just started exploring the swamps in the area.
Supposedly the Alligators all come from a misguided effort to protect the species in the 70's. About 50 young 'gators were released into Wheeler Lake in an effort to control beaver populations. They were released by a well-meaning politician who didn't go through the correct channels. At least that's the story; I can not find out who released them or why. If true, and it is generally accepted as such, then the expectation was they would survive a year or two, reduce the beaver population and be captured and returned to the south or die in a harsh winter.
That didn't happen. They attempted to capture them in the 80s but didn't get them all. Best guess by the people who run the wildlife refuge is that 50+ of them may still live on the lake with another 20+ moved off the lake to other areas. None are expected to be more than four feet long.
The problem with that is there is a known Alligator, known as stumpy (see photograph), living off the refuge on a nearby army base. It's take to calling a large water impound its home and the water is artificially warmed by outflow from the base. Stumpy is nearly 10 feet long and is so named because he's missing a good portion of his tail. He crawls out onto a test range every so often and the army photographers snap his pictures. It's assumed that this large 'gator is a released pet that found a niche in which to live and is protected by the security on the base.
What haven't been found are nests or successful breeding populations. The rumors persist; far too many to just be released pets. We've had some mighty cold winters since the initial releases. What I hope to do is find and mark via GPS a few locations where the 'gators live this summer, try and find nesting areas now that the babies should have hatched and the mommies aren't going to be aggressively protecting them, then return in the fall to known sites and see how they are preparing for winter. Lots of theories but no proof.
Along the way, I'm going to keep my eyes open for other strangeness. The Flint River Big Foot supposedly migrated to Wheeler Lake and have been 'seen' swimming the Tennessee River in the recent past. I have my doubts about that; the river is quite wide and quickly flowing in the area. But hey, I'm going into places Fishermen don't go, so who knows?
Besides, on my first trip into the backwaters I'm fairly sure I saw a small (>1foot) 'gator jump off a log into the water (okay, fall off the log; 'gators aren't great jumpers) but not before I could get close enough to photograph or even confirm what I think I saw. And more importantly and fun, I got attacked by an angry mallard mama that didn't like me interrupting her evening swim with her ducklings. I didn't know ducks could swim underwater! Cool experience to learn!
Pictures are forthcoming and I'll write up my first trip soon. Thanks for your interest!