Michigan sanctuary trains officers how to catch alligators

Two alligators in the swamp at Gatorland (Landon McReynolds, McReynolds)

ATHENS, Mich. – Every year, alligators are found in Michigan.

Most of them are small alligators still living in aquariums in people’s homes. But sometimes calls come in for larger alligators spotted in ponds or creeks. In 2019, a man was collecting minnows in Tuscola County when a 5 to 6 foot alligator lunged at him from a ditch. The man drew his pistol and killed the animal.

In 2020, the staff at Critchlow Alligator Sanctuary in Athens started offering a course for animal control officers on how to safely catch alligators like the one in Tuscola County. The year prior, the sanctuary took in nine alligators out of eight different Michigan counties that were loose. The staff noticed that many animal control officers had no training on how to handle the southern reptiles.

“This is definitely a need in our community to keep our law enforcement safe and to keep these animals safe,” Angelina Kelly, the manger of animal enrichment at Critchlow Alligator Sanctuary, told The Grand Rapids Press.

Almost 200 alligators call Critchlow Alligator Sanctuary home. The smallest are only a foot or two long but the largest, named Medusa, is 11 feet long and is expected to keep growing. The sanctuary takes in around 20 to 30 new alligators each year. Many of those are pets from people who are unable or unwilling to care for growing gators, but some are captured by animal control officers from around the Midwest and brought to the sanctuary.

The course is a hands-on experience. After a classroom portion and tour of the facility the class participants practiced handling the small alligators and then moved up to 2 to 3 foot alligators. They end the day practicing how to capture and release 4 to 5 foot alligators in teams of three.

Sal Palombo runs Michigan Animal Control, a private company that specializes in dealing with raccoons, skunks and other wildlife, and took the course last fall. He’s thankful for the opportunity to get hands on experience with the powerful animals under the watchful eye of experts.

“You’re dealing with pure power wrapped in a skin,” Palombo said, “It is not like dealing with a small mammal. These are pure muscle.”