Alligators escape from Hernando farm; owner cited

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Seventeen alligators escaped from an alligator farm in Hernando, Citrus County, according to Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) investigators.

FWC Investigator Jim Smith received a call from the local nuisance-alligator trapper, saying his agent had captured eight 4- to 6-foot alligators over four days in a housing development with no nearby natural water sources.

Another alligator was found dead. It had been struck by a vehicle.

Smith knew of a licensed facility in the area that had alligators in a fenced-in area. The farmer, Albert J. Spiegel, had recently acquired an alligator farm license.

Smith met with the alligator farmer and conducted an inventory inspection of the 2.5-acre farm. The alligator farmer was surprised to learn that of his 18 alligators, only one remained in the enclosure.

The alligators made the mass escape through a hole they had dug under the fence, according to Smith.

He cited Spiegel for maintaining wildlife in an unsafe/unsanitary condition, a second-degree misdemeanor, punishable by a fine of up to $500 and/or up to 60 days in jail.

According to FWC records, Spiegel was approved for an alligator farm license in February. He purchased 20 animals that same month. Two died at the farm.

Eight of the farm’s gators remain unaccounted for, said Smith.

“But this is Florida and we have gators everywhere, so there’s no cause for alarm,” Smith said.

If people do see an alligator in a place where it’s not supposed to be, they should call the Nuisance Alligator Hotline at 866-FWC-GATOR.

Spiegel voluntarily surrendered his alligator farm license to FWC investigators. The remaining animal will be transferred to a permitted facility.

During the last inspection in February, Spiegel met all the requirements.