A Broward airboat captain who used dog biscuits to lure alligators close to his passengers attracted something he didn't plan for – a visit from undercover wildlife officers.
Robert "Captain Bob" Goss, who worked at Sawgrass Recreation Park on U.S. 27, on the fringe of the Everglades, was caught on videotape taking the biscuits from his pocket and tossing them to alligators and turtles, according to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.
Goss, who faces a maximum fine of $500 and up to 60 days in jail, was fired after he was charged with illegal alligator feeding.
Although dog biscuits are an unusual alligator treat, airboat captains have long fed the huge reptiles fish, marshmallows and other foods to bring them excitingly close to tourists. Airboat operators engage in this illegal practice because they don't want to disappoint tourists by showing them nothing but sawgrass and wading birds.
"The tour boat captains get paid by tips," said Lt. Dave Bingham, of the wildlife commission. "If you ride around in the Everglades and you didn't get to see an alligator because they're fearful of humans, they don't get that many tips."
The practice is illegal because it raises the risk of encounters between people and alligators, endangering both.
The investigation began after a tourist contacted the wildlife commission in June, saying a captain at Sawgrass was feeding alligators during an Everglades tour. Two undercover officers pretending to be tourists took a tour on Captain Bob's boat Sept. 8, where they videotaped him taking dog biscuits from his shirt pockets and tossing them to the alligators.
As he was doing it, he told his passengers it was illegal and that violators could face heavy penalties.
Goss, 57, of Fort Lauderdale, could not be reached for comment, despite a message left on his home phone.
Bingham described Goss as a "good guy" who was adamant in urging tourists not to do what he was doing. "He's still trying to do a good job and get it out that it's illegal to feed gators," he said.
After the airboat ride, the wildlife officers reviewed the videotape. A few hours later, an officer returned to the park and interviewed Goss as he fueled his airboat. The captain repeatedly denied feeding alligators, according to the report.
"We have a do-not-feed-alligators policy and he was terminated," said Rick Soverns, owner of Sawgrass Recreation Park. "Our captains have all signed forms that they will be terminated if they feeds alligators, and that's what happened."
But Soverns said that if Goss is found innocent, he will be reinstated.
By feeding gators, "you're creating a nuisance gator and taking away their natural fear of humans," he said.
In June, an airboat captain in Everglades City lost a hand to an alligator he was feeding.
Soverns said Goss claimed he was feeding turtles, not alligators. But the report states he threw the biscuits directly at the alligators, tossing the food on both sides of the airboat to lure them closer. And Bingham said either way it was illegal, because the law said you can't feed alligators or "entice" them with food.