Pet Alligator Bans are Unnecessary and Reckless

by | Nov 2, 2023 | Opinion

By Benjamin Seevers

A small town in western Pennsylvania is considering a ban on alligator ownership. Yes, you read that right: a ban on alligators. This prohibition, like every other action of government, is misguided and will likely lead to negative unintended consequences.

The Kiskiminetas Township (Kiski Twp.) board of supervisors is considering the ordinance in light of multiple alligator sightings in the Kiski river. The first one being a 4-foot alligator named ‘Chomper’ in August and now an escaped 2-foot alligator aptly named ‘Neo.’ Chomper and Neo have caused quite the stir despite their small size and docility, and with winter fast approaching, these gators will either be recaptured or freeze to death.

With all the hysteria, let’s look at alligator attack statistics.

Alligator attacks are not that common in the first place. Since 1948 through 2022 in Florida, unprovoked alligator bites (“bites on people by wild alligators, which were not provoked by handling or intentional harassment”) totaled a mere 453 incidents, reports the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. That amounts to an average of 6 bites per year since 1948. Out of the 453 incidents, 141 were minor (injuries that were “superficial and required no treatment or only first aid”) and 312 were major (injuries that required “medical care, beyond first aid, to treat wounds”). Only 26 unprovoked bites since 1948 were fatal, coming out to an average of 0.35 fatal, unprovoked alligator attacks a year.

These numbers might be surprising to the average person, especially since 1.3 million alligators are approximated to call Florida their home.

The smallest alligator responsible for fatal unprovoked attacks was 7 feet long. Compare that to the 4 foot long alligator ‘Chomper’ and its successor, the 2 foot long ‘Neo,’ we get some important perspective. Is it expected that these small, docile alligators would lead to a minor or serious attack or possible fatality of any Kiski Twp resident? Not at all. The risk factor involved with these alligators is low, and when taken into account alongside the total number of alligators in the Kiski River, one (or allegedly two), the overall chance of an incident is exceedingly low.

Unfortunately, these facts are not stopping Kiski Twp supervisors from passing a ban (which also regulates the ownership of dogs, household and farm pets and animals, and other reptiles). Township Secretary Patrick Bono stated, “They (residents) [are] complaining, mostly comment, that they can’t believe people have alligators. And the one neighbor is fearful that alligators may get loose and end up in her yard. We’ve got to do something.”

No, Bono, you do not have to do anything, nor should you.

Based on the data given above, there is no grounds for fear. Any resident expressing their fear should be reminded of the above statistics and of the fact that these alligators, if left uncaught, will not survive the winter.

Fear is no grounds for public policy. People fear many things, but their fears are usually grounded in nothing but hysteria (just look at COVID-era regulations).

Aside from fear, self interest is also a motivation for this ban. This article notes that some citizens are concerned about the effects alligator owners have on their property values. But how could that possibly be verified? This is a baseless concern.

Additionally, presupposing that alligators decrease property values does not justify prohibition. In the case of property values, keeping alligators as pets does not trespass on anyone’s private property rights because a property value is an assessment that someone makes about the current market price of a property. Property rights matter for justice, not property values. Nobody has a right to a higher assessed value. If such a right existed, it would be used to justify any and all action against one’s neighbors because almost anything can be perceived to affect the value of a given property.

Diminishing property values is clearly a baseless and dangerous foundation for this policy. Banning pet alligators so that a few people’s property values might increase is cronyism at its finest. The policy is specifically designed to harm alligator owners to the benefit of their neighbors.

Now, if an alligator were to escape and somehow cause havoc, the injured parties can of course bring lawsuits against the alligator owners. But there is no just action the government can take preemptively to alleviate this issue.

What about the kayaking businesses on the Kiski river? They should be given consideration as well, right? The kayaking business and their patrons have contributed a lot to the revitalization of the Kiski river, so they might be worth listening to; however, even they do not seem to be concerned.

An article from August states that Neill Andritz, the owner of The River’s Edge Canoe & Kayak in Gilpin (a nearby township), “said he doesn’t anticipate any disruptions to business,” stating:

“We are approximately 15 miles from the sighting, and all operations are running normally, including tubing. This species is also not aggressive towards humans unless threatened. We have every confidence in our first responders, the PA Game Commission and the PA Fish & Boat that this situation will be handled quickly.”

He continued, stating, “A lot of our customers have asked about it [the alligator] but they don’t seem concerned about it.”

Even if there was concern over the impact on Andritz’s business, the concern would be short-lived since the fall and winter is approaching, and the kayaking business will slow down. After the winter, there will no longer be an alleged threat of alligators, and business can continue as usual.

Furthermore, the township supervisors need to consider more carefully the perverse incentives this ban creates. Will unknown alligator owners decide to dump their pets in the Kiski river to avoid the fines levied by the ordinance? Nobody could possibly know that, especially not the government (For more on failed government pest control programs, check out this research paper by Dr. Caleb S. Fuller and Dr. David S. Lucas).

There is a clear risk of this ban exacerbating the issue that it was aimed to solve. The total population of alligators in the river may increase tremendously as a response and cause quite a stir (at least until winter kills all of them), an outcome the township supervisors would likely not prefer.

The ordinance is not just economically ignorant, it is inhumane. Along with owners potentially dumping alligators in the river to inevitably die in the winter, responsible and caring alligator owners such as Dominic Hayward would be forced to either move or sell his gators, thereby creating opportunity for alligators to escape in transit or end up with a more neglectful owner. The welfare of Kiski Twp.’s alligators will be diminished.

Ultimately, this ordinance to prohibit alligator ownership is unnecessary, risky, and benefits a few property owners at the expense of alligator owners and their reptilian pets. It is unethical and possibly inhumane. No matter the perspective on this issue, the costs outweigh the benefits. Kiski Twp. and every government should reject efforts to ban pet alligators and not submit to the temporary hysteria that these alligators have caused. The unintended consequences, in this case, might literally come back to bite them.

NEXT: CPR: Capitalists Please Rise

Benjamin Seevers

Benjamin Seevers

Benjamin Seevers is a Mises Institute Fellow and holds a BA in economics from Grove City College. He will begin his PhD in economics at West Virginia University in fall 2023. His research interests include private governance, public policy, and libertarian ethics.

This article was originally published on FEE.org. Read the original article.

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