Publicity not all positive after gator video goes viral

LAKELAND – Polk County is home to what might suddenly be the world’s most famous alligator.

Is that good or bad?

That was the question pondered Tuesday afternoon by the director of Polk County’s natural resources office. During a news conference at Circle B Bar Reserve in Lakeland, Jeff Spence considered the effect of worldwide publicity generated by video and photos of a mammoth alligator lumbering across a hiking trail with people visible several yards away.

Video of the bull gator – nicknamed Humpback by regulars at the reserve – has spread across the globe since being posted Sunday evening on Facebook.

Local media requests prompted county officials to hold Tuesday’s event in a meeting room at the Circle B visitor center.

Spence said he appreciates the new attention given to Circle B, whose visitor center emphasizes environmental education. Yet he worries all the publicity might have negative consequences.

“We have always been concerned about visitors to our environmental lands, and we’re also very concerned about the wildlife and in this case the very large gator seen crossing the trail,” Spence said. “We allow the public to use these lands as long they try not to impact the primary purpose of preserving these properties.”

Spence cited an example of bad behavior apparently caused by a visitor’s desire to get a close-up photo of Humpback. A man was seen leaving an observation platform and venturing into an area off limits to humans, Spence said.

“If there’s an incident with a gator, it’s not going to have a good outcome,” Spence said. “Someone could get seriously injured or killed and once that happens …; most likely, that gator will be destroyed. This is a very large gator. He lives his life out here and we want him to live out the remainder of his life out here. We don’t want to have to destroy him because someone is doing something they shouldn’t.”

The 30-second video shot Sunday morning by a regular visitor to Circle B has been…