LAKEWOOD RANCH -- In Florida, we've all gone gator: college mascots, Orlando amusement parks, countless dives and joints from Jacksonville to Key West.
We love them, humanize them -- until they get in the way, that is.
When non-Floridians from up north come gator-clueless to make Manatee County their home, they often bring a "Lake Placid" (you know, the horror flick) premonition alligators are human-chomping horrors not to be tolerated.
So much for cuddly mascots.
As more residents call trappers to haul away neighborhood alligators, some Lakewood Ranch officials are concerned newcomers can't tell the difference between a gator being harmful and a gator just being a gator.
Jim Rogoze, Country Club West Homeowners Association liaison, told Community Development District 6 Board members this week some residents are upset by the uptick in gator trapping.
"Alligators, according to the residents, haven't done anything wrong," he said.
Rogoze said he has seen trappers in his Silverwood neighborhood at least three times in the last two months, which is fairly uncommon.
"I think sometimes folks might move here from a different location where they're not familiar with alligators, and they might come to the conclusion the gators are dangerous -- when they're not," Rogoze said Tuesday. "You don't go next to them and put your hand on them, but if they're in the distance, they make very little attempt to come at you."
Rogoze, along with CDD 6 Board members, say they are concerned residents don't know most gators are killed after they're trapped.
"The vast majority of alligators over 4 feet are killed for their meat and hide, which compensates the trapper for his time and expense," said Gary Morse, spokesman for the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.
Even though Florida has more than 1 million adult alligators, the cold-blooded reptiles have been tacked onto the federal endangered species list because of their similarity in appearance to crocodiles, a threatened species. Alligators can be found in almost every freshwater body -- and some saltwater bodies -- in Florida.
As more people in Florida come to live and play near the water, the number of alligator complaints is rising, the FWC says. In response, Florida permits killing 7,000 alligators each year.
So when should you make the call?
"If the alligator is a perceived threat to people and property," Morse said. "But if the alligator is just being an alligator sitting there and doing nothing, then you should just leave it alone. It'll go on its merry way."
Rogoze said he's sending information to all Silverwood residents on when it's appropriate to call a trapper.
CDD 6 Chairman Richard Williams said his board will likely pass the information to homeowners.
"Most of the residents understand the alligators were here first," he said. "This is their natural habitat."
Sabrina Rocco, East Manatee reporter, can be reached at (941) 745-7024. Follow her on Twitter @sabrinarocco.