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Cuddle Cute Pandas, Kill Ugly 'Gators

By Steve Fagin

Publication: theday.com

Published September 07. 2013 4:00AM

Who hasn't oohed and aahed over the Smithsonian National Zoo's female giant panda, Mei Xiang, nuzzling her newborn cub?

Thanks to the zoo's 38 cameras transmitting live video 24/7, about a million viewers have tuned in over the past few months to the heart-warming show via computers and mobile devices – yes, there's an app for that.

At the other end of the cuteness scale is the record 725-pound, 13 ½- foot alligator slaughtered earlier this week by a truck driver in Mississippi, which should change its nickname from the Magnolia State to the Monster Reptile State or Monster Reptile Killer State, take your pick.

Just for fun, let's pretend to juxtapose those images, so that the zoo cam is trained on hunters taking aim at panda cubs.

A few viewers, I suspect, might be offended.

I have no great affection for alligators, crocodiles, or other large, lurking predators that lunge and snap, but am just as offended when they are killed for sport as I would be if some lunatic with a rifle broke into the zoo's panda den.

We homo sapiens tend to display only anthropomorphic affection for adorable mammals, offset by disgusted disdain for slimier, reptilian species.

I suppose it's commendable that humans are trying to preserve giant pandas, whose numbers in the wild have dwindled to only a few thousand, but I also wish people would have similar regard for less-cuddly critters.

Back to the ill-fated alligator, its death turned out to be part of a dramatic tale with a twist.

According to CNN, a hunting party led by Beth Trammell of Madison, Miss., caught and killed a 723½-pound, 13½- foot gator last weekend, breaking the previous weight record of 697½ pounds.

But Trammel's record, like her gator, was short-lived.

An hour later, Dustin Bockman, his younger brother Ryan and their friend Cole Landers snagged their heavier prize.

The gator didn't give up without a fight – even when Bockman shot it in the back with a crossbow.

Luckily for the hunters – and unluckily for the gator – they attached a line to an empty 3-gallon water jug affixed with bells and glow sticks, so eventually they tracked down and reeled in the hapless reptile.

Eventually, as the network reported, Bockman stuck the barrel of his Remington 1100 20-gauge shotgun into the water, aimed it at the soft spot on the back of the animal's head and pulled the trigger.

That still didn't do the trick, though, because the gun barrel was under water and "peeled back like a banana peel," Bockman said. Nevertheless, he was able to fire two more shots, and that finished the job.

Bockman was one of 920 people picked from 27,000 applicants for licenses to hunt in Mississippi's 10-day alligator season. Chances are Bockman's record, like so many alligators, will not survive the season.

By the way, we here in the Nutmeg State don't have native alligators – the closest we come are snapping turtles.

These fearsome-looking creatures (oops, there I go, valuing them superficially) don't get anywhere near as big as Mississippi's alligators, but I've seen a few as big as manhole covers. This can be an unsettling sight if you're swimming nearby, though turtles as a rule don't bother humans, at least in the water. I've helped snappers cross the road by using a long stick, knowing better than to place my hand near their powerful jaws.

Anyway, in July Connecticut for the first time established a snapping turtle trapping season. Trappers can take up to 30 turtles until Sept. 30, but no more than five in a single day.

I hope we don't emulate Mississippi and make a big deal of the hunt, vying to see who can bag the biggest turtle.

What's the sport in that?

Just the same, I also hope I never see a 725-pound, 13 ½- foot anything heading toward me when I'm out for a swim.

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