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Totems: Alligator, Part 3 of 3

by Cie Simurro, a.k.a. Thunderbird Starwoman

You would think that a reptile as ferocious as an alligator would be eating all the time to sustain its nearly-half-ton physique; however, the truth is that it only eats about once a week in spring and summer, and not at all in the winter. Except when seizing prey or when they are in danger, they move rather slowly, which may contribute to their longevity, which is 50+ years. They take energy from the sun or food when they can get it; and they never expend energy unless they have to. Teaching us to conserve our energy is part of their Medicine. When ‘gators do eat, they are predator to just about anything that moves: fish, frogs, rodents, crustaceans, small mammals, birds, lizards and turtles, to name some. And for the raccoons that raided their nests, (find that in Alligator Part 2 in my archived articles at wisdom-magazine.com) they return the predation favor when the raccoons come to the water’s edge to drink. In 2013, it was reported that gators eat wild fruit too. As food opportunists, they will attack a larger animal if hungry, lunging at speeds of up to 30 m.p.h., then drowning them underwater first, or thrashing their victim back and forth, or rolling over and over, "unscrewing" a portion of the prey. Even things that don’t move have been found in their stomachs: things that break down food through friction like pebbles and stones, and frequently man-made objects. How much friction is in your life? Is there any way you can alter your lifestyle to reduce stress? Or do you keep turning the same things over and over in your mind?

Powerful predator animals often get mixed reviews in the good and evil department of myths. Some Southeastern tribes equate the coarse, spiky scales that alligators sport, as synonymous to those of evil spirits. In some folktales, Native American alligator spirits are sent to attack people or spy on them by evil sorcerers. Alligators tend to play the role of dangerous and stupid villains in most of their folklore, often being outwitted by weaker but cleverer characters such as Rabbit. For Southeastern tribes, rabbit is often figured prominently as a trickster, who loves nothing more than foiling alligator. Though alligator is frequently the butt of rabbit’s schemes, in the end rabbit gets its comeuppance, since alligator is credited with chomping off rabbit’s long, elegant tail, thereby reducing it to a ball of fluff. But in a few Southeastern tales, alligator plays a more benevolent role, sharing his hunting power with humans who treat him respectfully. The Choctaw have a teaching story of an alligator that taught a hunter who couldn’t successfully hunt deer, but was powerful in every other respect, how to become a great hunter of deer, in exchange for the hunter saving its life. By telling him to bypass the young does, doe mothers with fawns, and young bucks, but take the life of the old bucks that were ready to give themselves to the people, the alligator insured that the Choctaw always had enough deer to feed their people. Stories were and are an excellent way to deepen values in a culture. People, especially children are more likely to remember the principles portrayed by interesting characters than being lectured about them. The above story not only demonstrated human values, but also illustrated the environ-mentally sound practice of predators (including humans) culling animals not in their prime, so species can continue to flourish.

In his book, The Raw and the Cooked, Claude Levi-Strauss speaks of a Cayua (tribe in southern Brazil) myth that emphatically states that the alligator is a master of water, and that it was his job to prevent the earth from drying up. Like dragons, alligators was considered guardians of treasures. In China, the word for alligator is tulong, meaning "earth dragon". Speaking of dragons, a prosthetic tail, the first of its kind has been created for an alligator. The ‘gator, named Mr. (ahem) Stubbs was found without a tail and rescued. Alligators use their tails to right themselves in deep water, so at first Mr. Stubbs was taught the dog paddle. When it became clear that he would never thrive without a tail, a team was enlisted to create one for him using Dragon skin, a silicone material that filmmakers use for special effects and animatronics. Then of course, he had to unlearn the dog paddle so he could swim like a normal alligator.

So what about the recurring urban myth that alligators live in the sewer system under New York City? Well, I suppose it could have been true at one time – that is, for a short time. In 1935, a sewer inspector began reporting that he saw a large albino alligator coming toward him in the sewers of NYC. No one believed him. Eventually though the Commissioner investigated and saw a couple of two-foot alligators, about which he wrote a detailed report. It is possible that vacationers returning from Florida with baby alligators, ultimately disposed of them by flushing them down toilets or storm drains, when they were no longer cute or entertaining. Though the thing is, they wouldn’t have been able to survive for any length of time. Sure, there have always been enough rats and garbage to sustain an alligator food-wise, and it might even be warm enough through spring and summer - maybe even autumn; however, as soon as the temperature dropped in winter, it would kill them. Alligators need temperatures between 78° and 90°. Not to mention the effect on their health of E coli, salmonella, and other organisms that live in sewage.

We usually think of American alligators as residing in the Everglades, and in fact that is where the densest population exists. In fact, in 1987, the alligator became the official state reptile of Florida. In the 1700’s Spanish explorers described los lagartos, these "terrible lizards" as being up to 20 feet long. English sailors heard that as ‘allagarter’, which in time, became ‘alligator’, and that’s how this species got its name. William Bartram, the naturalist said there were so many, the adventurous could consider walking from one bank of a river to the other across their backs, if they were harmless. In 2014, one would be lucky to find a single alligator longer than 10 feet, as they have been hunted so mercilessly in the millions, for meat and for their skins, protection only coming to them around 1970, when they were added to the federal endangered species list. From 1880 to 1894, 2¼ million were slaughtered out of ignorance, fear, and for commerce; to make shoes, purses and other products from their skins. Even after protections were established, poachers often sold skin products to Northerners. That such a magnificent, wild, mysterious creature should be relegated to the status of accessories ….

They are a keystone species, distributing seeds, and providing fresh water to other species. And yet, alligators have made such a significant comeback in protected areas, there is now a regulated season to hunt them. Florida’s alligator population has doubled to over a million, just as the state’s human population has doubled, causing habitat destruction. "Harvesting" programs, which means "killing them," Cropping, or culling them, which means killing them, and "Nuisance alligator programs" which means removing or more likely killing them - are all in effect, besides the many thousands that are legally hunted now every year, as well as the multi-million dollar industry farming them and killing them. Egg predation and being run over also continuously challenge their survival. It becomes clear to people who care, that it will take a change in consciousness along with the concerted, combined efforts of conservation and animal rights groups, for these creatures to live and thrive alongside humans in the future.

Despite alligators currently being considered a danger, too numerous, and a nuisance by some, there are some 14 alligators in Louisiana that are worth upwards of $500,000 to $700,000 each. They are ivory colored with bright blue eyes. No, they’re not albinos; they’re leucistic alligators. In 1986, the Louisiana Land and Exploration Company found 17 of the just hatched leucistic alligators in a clutch. Thought to be the only leucistic alligators in the world, they have a rare genetic condition that reduces the color of their skin pigmentation and gives them blue eyes, as opposed to albinos, which have no pigmentation and pink eyes. They’re between 9 and 10 ½ feet long, and weigh hundreds of pounds. No, I wouldn’t want to wrestle with them either! Now 14 years old, there are 14 still alive. Regular alligators live for 70 years or more, but no one knows how long the leucistics will live. Very sensitive to sunlight, they have to live in a controlled environment like the Audubon Zoo in New Orleans and Gatorland in Florida.

Cie Simurro ~ Thunderbird Starwoman has been a healer and writer for 40 years. Her work is to bring forward and disseminate the healing arts and ancient universal wisdom through writing, teaching, and healing, facilitating the mystical reunion of humans with Source and Nature, in all directions, with the Elements, acknowledging the divine within all. For healing for you or your animal, spiritual training, to invite Cie to bring her presentation: "Our Partnership With Nature" to your area, or purchase her book, Totems for Stewards of the Earth ($22 to PO 295, Shelburne Falls MA 01370), call 413 625-0385 or email: cie@ciesimurro.com

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