A South Florida man is out to change the stigma surrounding one of Florida’s top predators. 7’s Kevin Ozebek has today’s 7 Spotlight.
To you, these may be lean, mean killing machines, but biologist Chris Gillette sees them differently.
Chris Gillette: “These are thinking, intelligent animals. I’ve got a lot alligators better trained than most people’s dogs.”
Kevin Ozebek: “You’re kidding.”
Chris Gillette: “No, 100%. I’ve got gators, like, where they know their name.”
And Chris can prove it.
Chris Gillette: “Snoopy!”
Kevin Ozebek: “You are the gator whisperer.”
Watch as Snoopy walks right up to Chris’ hand.
Kevin Ozebek: “So my heart is racing in here right now, but you’re fine? You’re as calm as a cucumber.”
Chris Gillette: Yeah, yeah. This is normal.”
It’s normal because this is Chris’ passion and profession. He has become a social media star interacting with the gators he rescues.
When gators end up swimming in pools and ponds, the state calls on Chris to remove them. Florida law says nuisance gators longer than 4 feet cannot be returned to the wild.
Chris Gillette: “Typically, nuisance gators are sadly killed, all right? Normally they kill about 8,000 nuisance alligators each year in the state of Florida.
But as Chris sees it…
Chris Gillette: “Every living animal has a right to exist.”
He’ll never kill a gator, so some of the big ones he catches end up at Broward County’s Everglades Holiday Park.
Here, Chris entertains and educates with these massive reptiles.
Chris Gillette: “We only protect what we love, and we only love what we know, and we only know what we’re taught, right?”
Some of Chris’ videos have gone viral. They are extraordinary to see.
Chris Gillette: “Look at that big boy. That’s a good alligator right there.”
But Chris says the message here is not that gators are cute. It’s that they deserve respect.
Chris Gillette: “He would 100% eat me. I wish that he loved me. I love him; he does not love me. He’s an alligator, not a Labrador.”
And despite his ability to hold an adult gator, Chris also teaches to never interact with them in the wild.
Chris Gillette: “I do have permits, I’ve been doing this my whole life. I work at licensed facilities. Never, ever go try this on your own.”
While Chris may be best known for his work with the Florida gator, he’s a lover of all animals.
From rescued pigs, chickens and parrots, Chris runs a nonprofit animal rescue out of his own home.
But it’s native animals that really have a special place in his heart.
Chris Gillette: “I love Florida. I’m born and raised in Florida, so the animals that we have here in Florida are definitely near and dear to me.”
That, of course, includes the gator, and after you see one recognize its own name, Chris hopes you’ll have a new respect for them, too.
Kevin Ozebek, 7News.
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