Drivers in South Florida are used to traffic jams on the 18 Mile Stretch of U.S. 1 — the long section of highway connecting the state’s mainland to the Florida Keys.
Usually it’s because of a bad crash or a crush of cars on the weekend.
On Monday night, it was an alligator that didn’t want to move, according to witnesses and the Monroe County Sheriff’s Office.
Deputies and wildlife experts shut down the road for about half an hour as they wrangled the 10-foot gator to the side of the highway. Then they diverted traffic around the capture, said Kenie Rodriguez, of Key Largo, who was heading to the Keys around 6:30 p.m.
“It was slow as molasses for about 20 minutes as we waited to pass it,” Rodriguez told the Miami Herald/FLKeysnews.com.
Gator trapper Todd Hardwick of Pesky Critters Wildlife Control, out of Miami-Dade and Broward counties, said he was called by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission to get the reptile off the road.
He said he and his team had the 250-pound gator under control in a little less than 30 minutes. A video from Hardwick shows he and his staff carefully roping the alligator, which aggressively tried to evade capture, before taping its mouth shut and placing it in the back of a pickup truck.
“These animals have a lot of fight in them in the beginning,” Hardwick said. “You can’t rush it.”
The Stretch has underground culverts for animals to get from one side of the road to the other. But the gator pushed through the chain-link fence on the east side of the road and climbed the concrete barrier that separates northbound and southbound traffic, determined to get to the Everglades side of U.S. 1, Hardwick said.
“He’s an unstoppable heat-seeking critter at that point,” he said.
Unfortunately for the reptile, that was likely his last adventure. Florida law mandates that reptiles that size either be sent to a gator facility or be killed and the meat and hide harvested, Hardwick said.
Hardwick, 60, has become a celebrity trapper in South Florida since starting Pesky Critters 42 years ago — quoted in local news reports and appearing on the “Tonight” show with both Johnny Carson and Jay Leno.
The Monroe County Sheriff’s Office said one of its deputies, Jason Farr, assisted with the capture. And, it turns out, Hardwick wasn’t the only celebrity trapper on the case.
Tre Huntoon, who appeared on several episodes of Animal Planet’s “Gator Boys,” was driving out of the Keys and stopped to lend a hand, said sheriff’s office spokesman Adam Linhardt.
“Never a dull moment,” the agency said in a Facebook post.