With nowhere to go, animals once hunted to near-extinction are finally rebounding, and they’re coming for a suburb near you.

Meghan Overdeep
May 9, 2018
Brian Silliman, Duke University

Still shocked by the recent reports of massive alligators blocking highways and setting up shop in Target parking lots? Researchers say you’re going to have to get used to it.

There’s no denying that sightings of large predators in places where they "shouldn't be" have increased in recent years. But according to researchers at Duke University, these creatures are actually recolonizing former hunting grounds taken over by humans. Animals once hunted to near-extinction, are rebounding—thanks to conservation and environmental protection laws.

"We can no longer chock up a large alligator on a beach or coral reef as an aberrant sighting," Brian Silliman, Associate Professor of Marine Conservation Biology at Duke's Nicholas School of the Environment, said in a release. "It's not an outlier or short-term blip. It's the old norm, the way it used to be before we pushed these species onto their last legs in hard-to-reach refuges. Now, they are returning."

And they’re making their way into habitats we never expected to find them, and more surprisingly, they’re flourishing.

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"The assumption, widely reinforced in both the scientific and popular media, is that these animals live where they live because they are habitat specialists. Alligators love swamps; sea otters do best in saltwater kelp forests; orangutans need undisturbed forests; marine mammals prefer polar waters,” Silliman noted. “But this is based on studies and observations made while these populations were in sharp decline. Now that they are rebounding, they're surprising us by demonstrating how adaptable and cosmopolitan they really are.”

Cosmopolitan alligators? You’re just going to have to get used to it.