Are There Alligators in New Mexico?

Updated On October 3, 2023
New Mexico

Since New Mexico is adjacent to states that have a native alligator population, it is easy to see why the question is being asked.

However, alligators are not native to the state of New Mexico and steps have been taken to further reduce their potential presence.

Much like some states that allow residents to keep exotic pets if they obtain the proper permits, New Mexico currently has similar laws on the books.

While they are still found in this state, these incidents tend to be few and far between.

To learn more about the state of New Mexico and its alligators (or lack thereof), please be sure to check out the following guide.

New Mexico
New Mexico

So… Are There Alligators in New Mexico?

In a word? No. Does that mean that there are never any sightings?

Of course not but they tend to take place because of scofflaws who look to keep them as pets.

State laws prohibit this practice, but that does not stop people from trying.

However, the state’s climate is simply not hospitable to the American alligator.

While states like Texas possess the climate and the marshland that alligators love, New Mexico cannot offer the same level of comfort for these animals.

That’s why state laws have been put into place to keep them at bay.

When they are brought in by overzealous exotic pet owners, they are typically left with no place to go once they have started to outgrow their containment.

Home and business owners may have the best of intentions when they take in alligators but there is no way to tame one on your own.

New Mexico residents who attempt to own their own alligator will learn this lesson the hard way if they do not find themselves in trouble with the law first.

If you are willing to obtain the proper permits, you are able to own an alligator in the state of New Mexico.

“This New Mexico law states that the sale, purchase, trade, and possession with intent to keep as a pet of any subhuman primate, skunk, raccoon, fox or other sylvatic carnivores may be regulated by regulation of the health and environment department [department of health] for the protection of public health and safety,” reads the state statute on exotic pets.

Alligator Species in New Mexico

On the rare occasion that an alligator is found within New Mexico state lines, it will be an American alligator.

This is the only species that is found in the United States, whether it has been obtained legally or illegally.

New Mexico residents will also need to research their local ordinances when it comes to alligator ownership so that they are not running afoul of their county or city.

Is it Safe to Swim in New Mexico?

In the vast majority of instances, New Mexico is more than safe to swim in from an exotic animal standpoint.

If alligators are seen in New Mexico, they are the product of exotic pet owners and not frolicking about lakes and other natural bodies of water in the area.

That does not mean that there are no other concerns that need to be addressed.

New Mexico swimming safety is about more than the presence of alligators.

Don’t make the mistake of assuming that swimming is safe because there is a reduced presence of alligators.

Recreational water illness is a common issue that often goes neglected until it is too late.

For example, some swimmers have suffered from diarrhea that is caused by a wide range of pathogens that can be found in the waters of New Mexico.

Cryptosporidium (Crypto), escherichia coli O157:H7, giardia and shigella.

The crypto bug is the most common cause of recreational water illness.

That does not mean that you cannot swim but it is something that residents and visitors will need to consider.

Those who wish to contribute to safer waters can take a few key steps in order to stop the spread of these pathogens.

Do not swim when you have diarrhea or have experienced diarrhea within the past two weeks.

Lake and river water should not be swallowed if you can possibly help it.

Children should be washed before and after swimming as well.

If you have a pet that has decided to jump into a river or lake, be sure to wash them and wipe them down, too.


Interesting Alligator Facts In New Mexico

New Mexico may not have alligators to worry about, but there is no shortage of urban legends to pass along.

Like any other state, they have a wide range of legendary creatures that may or may not exist.

Since New Mexico is known as the Land of Enchantment, it is easy to see why these tales have been passed down from generation to generation.

The “bottomless lakes” of New Mexico are a particularly compelling point of contention.

Legend has it that the cowboys who once explored the region did their best to find out if the lakes had the bottom.

They would take massive pieces of rope and tie them together, to see if they would be able to reach the bottom.

Other local legends speak of items that mysteriously vanished once they were dropped inside of these bottomless lakes, only to be found later on in the Gulf of Mexico or Carlsbad Caverns.

The currents are said to be strong enough to wash away a swimmer and there are even rumblings of a gigantic turtle monster that stands guard beneath the surface.

These legends have become so prevalent, they have even inspired the name of a popular state park.

Bottomless Lakes State Park is not home to any actual bottomless lakes, to the best of our knowledge.

They are not lakes, they are actually sinkholes.

The sinkholes are said to range from 17 to 90 feet deep.

The legends of them being endless are derived from the coloration of the water.

The blue/green look that the water provides is very unique, giving the appearance of an abyss that never ends.

Only one of the “bottomless lakes” permits swimmers, so anyone who is looking to investigate will have to hang up their sleuth hat.

Alligators vs. Crocodiles

There are no alligators or crocodiles in the state of New Mexico but on the off chance that an alligator happens to show up, it is best to know about the key differences.

Some might believe that alligators and crocodiles are interchangeable but there are important differences that must be noted.

For starters, the crocodile is much more aggressive than the alligator.

While a mother alligator may attack if they feel as if their children are in danger, crocodiles are more likely to attack for hunting purposes.

They are highly skilled at tracking their prey, whereas an alligator strikes when they feel as if they have been presented with the right opportunity.

Alligators have a black and grey coloration, while crocodile is more of a light green.

Crocodiles tend to be a bit larger than alligators as well.

The alligator is more likely to be found in freshwater, while the crocodile prefers salt water or water that is more brackish.

Brackish water refers to the combination of saltwater and freshwater.

3 Safety Tips for Swimming in Alligator-Infested Waters

1. Do Not Antagonize An Alligator

New Mexico swimmers are typically not going to encounter an alligator but if an encounter does happen to take place?

There is certain protocol that needs to be followed to the letter.

For starters, it is important for swimmers to remember that an alligator is not typically looking to attack.

They are the sort of animal that looks to mind their own business unless they are being bothered.

If you happen to see an alligator, leave them alone.

Do not make noise, do not swim in their direction, do not do anything that will attract attention.

Unless you are actively antagonizing these reptiles, they are not looking to bother you.

2. Don’t Splash Around

The alligator is an opportunistic hunter.

They wait for their prey to become wounded before moving on them.

That means that splashing is not in your best interests.

An alligator hears splashing and starts to think that there must be some wounded prey in the area for them to collect.

This is especially crucial advice for those who are visiting bodies of water in New Mexico with their pets or children.

It may seem harmless to allow your dog or your toddler to splash around in the water.

Even if you are close to the shore, there is a chance that you could be riling up an alligator that has decided to make their home in the vegetation.

3. Do Not Feed Alligators

The feeding of alligators is another act that may seem harmless but in reality?

You are causing major issues that could lead to serious bodily harm for any swimmers who came after you.

Alligators have a natural fear of humans.

When they are fed, this fear starts to dissipate and they are more likely to return to the spot where they last received food.

Once they are not fed, they are far more likely to attack.

The alligators are also more likely to become nuisance animals that have to be removed by the proper authorities.

It may seem like a kind gesture but all you are doing is endangering other humans and potentially getting the alligator removed from its natural habitat.


New Mexico residents and visitors do not typically have to worry about the presence of alligators.

In fact, the presence of contaminants in the water is a bigger issue than anything else.

Recreational water illnesses are something to watch out for, so be sure to do the necessary research and take the necessary precautions.

New Mexico Safety Overview

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Safety Index:
New Mexico

Frequently Asked Questions

How common are alligator sightings in the state of New Mexico?

They are simply not something that the average resident or visitor is going to have to deal with on a consistent basis.

The American alligator is not native to the state and if they are present, it is because an exotic pet owner has obtained the necessary permits.

How are exotic pet permits obtained?

Anyone who is looking to obtain an exotic pet permit in the state of New Mexico will need to go through the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish.

They will provide the necessary forms and offer up any background information that is required.

When was the most recent alligator sighting in New Mexico?

To give readers an idea of how rare these sightings are, the most recent alligator finding in New Mexico was linked to a drug raid.

The dealer who was raided was also said to have a tiger in their possession, although authorities initially struggled to find it.

The fact that this story made national news shows how rare such sightings are in New Mexico.

1 Comment on Are There Alligators in New Mexico?

  1. M
    Mathias says:

    Alligators are not native to New Mexico, but there have been occasional sightings due to illegal pet ownership; however, the state’s climate is not suitable for alligators and laws have been put in place to prevent their presence.

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