When Good Gators Go Bad.

Well, it’s happened again. There was another highly publicized alligator attack here in Florida. A teen swimming in a Melbourne canal was grabbed by an alligator. He survived but lost his arm. He did, however, get a spot on the Today Show this morning discussing his attack. I am very happy to hear that he survived. And while he made some very good points about alligator over-population in Florida, he obviously did not have a perfect understanding of the potential harm these animals can bring or else he might have both arms today. But, once again, the country watched his report, wide eyed, and the notion of savage, blood thirsty gators hunting down Florida residents lives on.

I have lived in Florida for 3 years now. And as you might remember, I lived in Africa for a good portion of my life growing up. If there was one lesson I learned in Africa about animals, it was to remain humble about wildlife. We are only another animal in the grand scheme of it all. While we, as humans, have the capacity to remain separated and safe from animal attacks, if we are not well educated or respectful of the animals living in our environment, we can easily slip into our spot on the food chain and potentially be harmed. I have carried that lesson with me here. And Florida has certainly impressed me with its vast amount of wild life, just look in my own backyard. Even as I was writing this post and took a break to feed my kids lunch, I happened to see a gator swim across our back pond. This alligator is about 4 feet long and seems to have established this pond as its territory. Alligators are a very real part of our lives here and, it seems crazy to admit, seeing one is not quite the novel sight it used to be.

However, attacks can happen and so we hear of another on the news today. But, honestly, I’m just annoyed. These stories and fanciful national headlines very rarely give the viewer any sense of perspective. There is no information offered about the enormous mistreatment of alligators and our struggles to co-exist with an animal that has been going about its business in this state for hundreds of years. With the gory gator stories and all the misinformation out there, the masses just assume they want to eat us and that’s that. Even the victim had to make the comment “They’re out for blood.” Are you kidding me? 

Do you know why alligators usually attack us? They aren’t afraid of us. And why would an alligator go against its natural instincts and move towards us, rather than away? Because unfortunately, it’s been fed by humans. It happens all the time. Even down the road, there was a group of baby alligators that would swim up to a fence along the sidewalk when humans walked by. That’s insane. No, they weren’t born smacking their baby gator jaws, hungry for people blood. They wanted the scraps people threw to them. Unfortunately, I haven’t seen those alligators for some time now so, obviously, a call was made to the local “Alligator Hotline” (yup, that’s for real) and they were removed – and destroyed.

Do you want another reason why an alligator would attack us? Human stupidity. If we swim into its territory (um, teen from Melbourne, FL – this is you, buddy) or dangle our toes in a fresh water pond while we fish or let our dogs play in the water while we stand by – I’m sorry, you’re asking for it. Bottom line. Alligators do hunt by nature and will come after a mammal proportionate to its size if its right in front of its nose.

I have 4 separate bodies of water out back and no fence (they’re bloody expensive and don’t do that much to deter gators, but maybe someday). As you know, I also have two sons. And, as I’ve mentioned, we certainly have gators in that water out back. But have we had a scare with an alligator? Nope. Why not? My children are taught to be as afraid of any local fresh body of water as they are of the road. They don’t go near it. As a family, we are respectful of the alligators territory. If we do see a gator, we watch inside the perpetually locked back porch with our binoculars and talk about it. If my husband or I happen to walk out on the grass to get a better look from afar, the alligator immediately disappears, maybe emerging on the far end as it crawls out and into an even further pond. I promise you, alligators don’t want to be around us.

And this brings up the final unfortunate issue. Teen from Melbourne, FL., you’re right. There are too many of us and too many of them. And while Alligators don’t want to be around us, they are. Potentially, there may be more than one alligator in every fresh body of water in Florida. And, as we all move down here, set up shop, slap on our flip flops and sun glasses and park our booties under these lovely palm trees, the alligators are getting encroached upon. And while I don’t see the influx of humans changing anytime soon, unfortunately, the gator population needs to be controlled. This is a serious issue in any animal park or reserve where one species doesn’t have any natural predators – there are too many and it affects the natural balance of an eco-system. So while I am not a big hunting fan, I do support any humane destruction or relocation programs for alligators. It sucks for the gators, but we are really not responsible enough to live this close to this many of them for much longer.

Now before I start getting any comments about what a bad mom I am for raising my kids so close to alligators (um, did you read this post?), you should be aware of a few facts. According to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission, between the years of 1948 and 2004, there have only been 15 reported fatal alligator attacks. That’s nothing when you consider how many of them there really are around here. In fact, the FWC receives 15,000 calls about nuisance alligators annually and then removes about 5,000 of the gators they are called about. These beasts certainly show up everywhere: in front door atriums, under cars, in a ditch, anywhere. But to have only 15 fatalities occur in 56 years? They really don’t deserve the man-eater rap they have been assigned. Like I said, they don’t like us and would be quite happy to just be left alone.

So that’s my public service announcement about Florida Alligators. I hope you’ve learned something. And I promise you that if my gators start getting frisky or deciding that they want to make my backyard their favorite sunning spot, I’ll be calling the alligator hotline asap. Maybe you’re wondering what they do with the removed alligators that are destroyed? Well, they sell it to make alligator meat OF COURSE. Do you think I’m kidding? A neighbor a few doors down had a nuisance gator removed… and guess what was for dinner? I kid you not. Gator BBQ. Gotta love Florida.

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3 Comments

Filed under Africa, Alligators, Animal appreciation, Florida, Teaching kids, Wildlife

3 responses to “When Good Gators Go Bad.

  1. Hey, we had some great gator sausage in Louisiana. Good stuff! I actually read a great book of short stories when I was a teenager about wild animals in Africa. The message was to leave the wild animals the hell alone. They cannot be blamed for acting aggressively when humans step in to change their natural behavior. It was eye opening. But of course I feel bad for the kid who lost his arm.

  2. Reading back on my post today, I am laughing at my gator rage. Yeah, no one deserves to lose their arm, he just made a bad choice. Just enough with the man-eating hype, you know? For instance, after Steve Irwin was killed by a sting ray, a woman down here was killed in her boat by a sting ray that happened to jump out of the water as her boat went by. Both were freak accidents but it got hyped up and I actually heard someone say “who knew sting rays were so dangerous!” Ugh. They’re. NOT. Uh oh, I feel some sting ray rage coming on…

  3. I’m with you sister. You come into my house without being invited and I too will probably take you down. We, as human beings, are in general very pompous. We behave like the whole planet is ours and no other creature has the right to be here. Give me a freakin’ break! We need wall to wall carpet, AC, a dishwasher and 5 bathrooms to get by, while the wild kingdom does it natural style with sticks and water. Of course we are also cutting down forests and wiping out natural habitats to build cookie cutter apartments, condos and Wal-Mart shopping centers. It seems we as a society care very little about the world we want to own, except for what comforts it may offer us.
    That was MY sermon. Thanks! 🙂

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