Late one November night in Fort Bend County, Texas, Christy Kroboth was called in to catch an alligator. Three cops stood by, watching her as she wrangled the 12-foot reptile under control. When she was done, one of them raised his eyebrows and opened his mouth. “Wow,” she recalls him saying, ” I didn’t know Rapunzel caught alligators.”
Christy Kroboth—five foot six, 30 years old, and brimming with energy—is currently transitioning from her job as a dental assistant into working full time with alligators. This entails trapping them, training others how to trap them and teaching students about the misunderstood “monsters.” Born and raised in Stafford, Texas, she and her buddy Chris Stevens now run Gator Squad, a business handling “alligator nuisance control” in their region of southern Texas. When there’s an urgent emergency call, such as a gator blocking traffic, Kroboth generally handles the situation solo, tucking the gator in the trunk of her Honda CR-V. (Kroboth can fit an 11-footer if she lays the back seat down.) If there’s an alligator nuisance that can wait a bit, or that’s too big to fit in her car, she’ll grab Stevens (and his truck) and they’ll do it together. The average gator is around 12 feet long and 800 pounds, and Kroboth names each of her catches.
Kroboth took some time to give us the inside scoop on what it’s like to swim with modern-day dinosaurs and be labeled “the world’s most beautiful alligator hunter.” Kroboth speaks in a light, songful voice that bubbles over with laughter, and when she talks about gators, you can just feel the huge smile across her face.
How did you get into gator trapping?
I started catching alligators about two years ago. I’ve always been an animal lover—we’ve always taken in strays, and any little thing we could do to help we always did. So I got into alligators just ‘cause i knew a lot of people just go out and don’t know how to deal with them, so they’ll go out and shoot them, and then they’ll sell them for their skin and their meat.
I wanted to help save the alligator. I was like, well, if I can get out there before another trapper gets out there, if I can take the alligator alive, then that’s basically a win-win for both me and the alligator. So, I’ve gotten into it to of course help save them, but I also got into it to do educational stuff. We teach people that they’re not the big, scary monsters that everyone thinks they are—they are just like any other animal and they deserve respect. So I got into it more just to kinda change people’s perspectives.
What are the steps to trapping a gator?
Okay, so the first step of course is approaching the animal and seeing how it behaves. All alligators are different, and all alligators are going to behave differently when you walk up to them. So it’s kind of just approach the alligator, know its behavior, see how it’s going to react. Then you want it to tire out, but you want the animal to tire out itself—you don’t want to get tired in the process. So that’s basically getting the animal to do natural behaviors, like rolling on ground or turning in circles, stuff like that.
Once you get it tired, then most of the time you’re able to go up and do a front-catch on him, where you grab the jaw and tape his mouth shut. There’s so many different techniques on how to catch gators, and mostly you kind of learn as you go what works and what doesn’t. You kind of just have to do each alligator differently. On the big ones, you can basically get their jaws pretty easy, on the smaller ones you may have to jump on their back and hold them still so they don’t move. So it just kind of depends on the situation. But once you get him taped up and secure, and when he’s really worn out and tired, then he kind of just gives in to you. He knows that you’re the one who caught him, he knows that you’re the dominant one, so he’s basically gonna lay there and be like “Don’t hurt me, I won’t hurt you,” and when he’s finally at that stage, that’s when it’s safe to go in to try and pick them up and put them in the back of the truck.
Do you need some kind of permit or license to handle gators?
I had to get my license from the state, so I got mine from Texas Parks and Wildlife. And since alligators are protected, you have to have a license to trap alligators or do anything with alligators. So I went through the whole training course and learned about them and we had a handling course. Once you get your license, then you kinda have the freedom to do whatever you want, and whenever there is an alligator that needs help, or an alligator that needs to be removed, the call goes into Texas Parks and Wildlife and then they will let whoever is closest to the area know about it. I live in Fort Bend County, so I get all the calls from my county.
How do the training and handling classes work?
So the first part of the course is all the rules and regulations. Since alligators are a protected here, we have to know the laws and everything. You have to learn how to do the paperwork, and if one does have to be put down, you have to know how to put a tag on it. And then there’s also the handling class, which is hands-on, and it’s the basic skills of catching and handling an alligator safely.
Are people surprised when a young blonde woman shows up to trap the alligator?
It’s mostly only guys that do this, so when I show up on a call, the first question that I usually get is “Who are you, what are you doing?” and I have to explain, “I’m the alligator trapper, Texas Parks and Wildlife called me.” Most of the time when I get on a call, the guys are bigger than me. A lot of the times it’s either the police that called me or homeowners, and so they’re like—“You? You’re going to catch this alligator?” And I always have to go, “Yes, I’ve caught millions of them, I’m gonna catch him,” and they always doubt me a little bit at first, or the guys will go into protective mode and be like, “Oh here I’ll help you,” and I have to tell them “No, stand back, you called me—I’m gonna do this.”
It is a big stereotype and they are always super surprised when I show up, but then once I have the alligator caught and taped up and safely secure I always invite everybody over to pet the alligator, take pictures of him, and that’s kind of when I go into my whole educational speech, and then everybody’s like—Oh, you did great, we’re sorry we thought that way at first. So they always do end up apologizing at the very end. So it’s fun. (Chuckles.)
What are the most important things when it comes to handling an alligator?
(Laughs.) Try not to get bit. But of course, working with alligators, you’re gonna get bit. You know, you just kind of sign up for that when you mess with them. So you’re gonna get bit, but one of the most important things is just safety. We try to put safety first and we’re always worried about the public. Sometimes we’ll go into catches and we’ll be so focused on the animal, that when we look up there’s tons of people around us trying to take pictures. So our first thing is safety first and we try to keep the public back.
We’ve kind of worked with alligators long enough to know what the animal is capable of; we kind of know its behavior, so most importantly, if we’re out there with our partner, just watch each other’s back and go slow—that’s the most important thing. Don’t go too fast. If you go too fast and if you go in with the attitude of “I’ve got this,” that’s when things can go wrong. Number one thing is to go slow, and take your time. It’s a wild animal; it’s capable of doing whatever it wants, it’s unpredictable. So we always go slow and we make sure we just really work the animal to get it really tired before we do any sort of handling on it.
What happens to your gators after you trap them?
I one-hundred-percent believe in population management, and some of them, you know, can’t make it and you can’t save them all. But I have a really good relationship with some game wardens, so some of my alligators can be released back into the wild, if they have no health problems—if they’re good, healthy gators that are scared of people, those can be released back into the wild. If they’re not afraid of people, if people have been feeding them and now they swim up to people looking for handouts, those can’t be released back into the wild, because, you know, they’ll just walk up to somebody else. So those actually have to go to a place and and just live the rest of their lives in captivity.
And then the big ones that I’ve been catching lately, they’re blind, and that just comes with age, so those can’t be released back in wild either, because if I put them there, they may just crawl out into the middle of the street again. So those go down to an alligator farm, and they’re put into the breeding program, where there’s tons of ponds, there’s a lot of acreage, and they just breed. There are other alligators there, they’re fit, they’re happy, they’re less alone. They’re not put on display or shows, the public can’t go out there and see them, they’re way out in country and a guy goes out couple times a week and feeds and checks on them, and just leaves them alone. So it’s like the next best environment to be in besides out in the actual wild. It’s a natural environment, and just looks like a swampland; it’s fenced in so they can’t get out and someone is there to keep an eye on them. So they just live out the rest of their life.
Do you need to stay super fit for gator wrangling?
No, not really, I mean I don’t really work out or anything. I probably need to focus more on swimming and techniques for holding my breath. I’ve seen all sorts of people do this. And it’s more of kind of mind game. Knowing the animal and knowing its next move—just trying to outsmart him.
Have you had any close calls with the gators?
I’ve been bit before, but no arms or fingers or toes missing. If they wanted to eat me, Godzilla, the 13-footer, could have eaten me if he wanted to. I’ve been bitten by little ones—they can jump higher and spin around faster. But nothing too serious or major, no close calls or anything. I’ve swam with them, I’ve been in water with them, and they always go the other way, unless they really seriously feel threatened. I don’t advise anyone to get in water—I had to get in water to actually do a catch—but no close calls or anything.
I got a call once that this family had an alligator in their swimming pool. Their backyard wasn’t fenced off and it kind of backed up to a creek, and so they had a big six-foot alligator in their swimming pool, and he had sunk down to the bottom. So I had to get in and me and the alligator, we ended up swimming laps, back and forth, trying to wear each other out. [Laughing] We were both tired by the end, but afterwards I finally was able to get him to stop in the shallow end of the pool and was able to put a rope around him.
Where do alligators usually tend to show up?
In Texas, it’s the south part of Texas, wherever there’s heat—they are cold-blooded so they like heat. In any body of water there can be an alligator, because they are water creatures—that’s where they swim, that’s where they hunt, that’s where they mate, that’s where they eat. But of course, too, they do move around, especially at night. They know during the daytime that people are out walking around so they know to kind of stay in the water. And they’re so smart—they know that at night we tend to be inside, and so they feel more comfortable at night to get up and walk around and maybe find a different water hole or go find a girlfriend or a boyfriend, you know.
What are some of your key educational points about gators?
So I always let them know that alligators don’t want to hurt people. They aren’t out being like, “Oh, where’s a nice human that I can get.” No, alligators, they know their food, they’re in the water, they eat fish. They don’t want to attack anybody.
But then, any other animal, if they feel threatened, they’ll defend themselves. Just like us—if anyone’s trying to tie us up and stuff us in a trunk, we’ll defend ourselves. And I always let people know that alligators will give warnings. Don’t get too close to them because yes, they are a wild animal and if they wanna bite they will, but they always give warning signs. If you keep pushing them, keep pushing them, then of course they will bite. But I always let people know, don’t feed them because that creates a problem—they’ll start looking for people for food. They’ve been around for millions of years, they don’t need us to feed them. And then of course I go into the whole “Here’s their ear, here’s their eye, here’s their toes,” and stuff like that.
But the basic stuff is just: Don’t approach, don’t feed, and just respect them, leave them alone, don’t mess with them.
Are there any particularly memorable gators that you’ve handled?
I’ve caught so many, and each one kind of has its own story. I name all my alligators so that way I remember the story that goes with it. This one alligator, I named him Runway, because he was actually on the runway at an airport and the airplanes couldn’t land. We got to the airport and the airplanes are circling around and I’m over here trying to catch this alligator—so that was a good memory one.
And then we caught an alligator, his name was Ray Charles. He’s completely blind; someone shot his eyes with a pellet gun. So we had to take him to vet and they actually had to remove the pellets out of his eyes. Now he’s trained with a dog clicker so that when he hears the clicker he’ll open his mouth and you can feed him. He can’t see but he’s super smart and he follows commands. So he’s super cool.
And then of course there’s the big alligators, like the Godzilla from the Home Depot parking lot, and the one from the golf course that I just caught—Chubbs—the big 12-footer. Those are the awesome, fun stories.
How often do you get calls about gators?
Right now, it’s slowing down, because it’s wintertime. Kind of like bears, they do go into a hibernation stage. But my alligators for some reason just haven’t gotten that memo yet. It’s slowing down. I probably won’t have any more calls right now for winter, but in the springtime that’s when it will start up again. Typically during the spring and summertime, I’ll get about three to four calls a week about alligators.
This coming year I am going to be doing alligators full time. Of course in the spring and summertime I’m busy with tracking gators and all that. But now, like I said, we’re also planning to do the courses for the cops and do the training with alligators so that’s going to keep us busy going from police department to police department. And wintertime is typically when we do our school events, and we go into schools with a small gator and teach the children about them.
What are some of your favorite things about alligators and gator trapping?
I just love the fact that I’m able to work with these animals. Like I said, a lot of people think they’re scary, that they’re mean and monsters. Me, being able to work alongside them every day, and see a different type of them, see that that’s not their behavior—I love that. Because they are awesome animals and they’ve been around since the dinosaurs and it’s really cool to work with an animal that’s been around that long. And they’re so smart, being with them every day, I just learn something new from them all the time.