There are anywhere from 1-2 million alligators in Florida. And since 1948, there have been over 300 recorded alligator bites, 22 of them ending in death. The chances of you getting attacked are slim, but it is best to be prepared. Because if you’re like me; you love exploring every inch of Florida, including swampy, alligator-heavy backlands.
Step One: Leave It Unprovoked!
The best strategy is to simply leave the gator alone. According to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Committee, the likelihood of a Florida resident getting injured in an unprovoked alligator attack is about one in 2.4 million. So leaving a gator alone greatly reduces your odds of getting attacked.
“Well, great, Austin!” one may say, “So how the heck to we leave a gator unprovoked?” Great question! Let’s explore some steps to make that happen.
- Don’t Feed Alligators. Alligators are naturally afraid of people. We look huge and scary to them. But, when we start feeding them, alligators lose that fear and now associate human beings with food. This is a terrible double-edged sword. The alligator is now a bigger threat to humans, and thus, it needs to be removed from its home. And keep in mind the next time some knucklehead brags about feeding a wild gator; he has also risked the life of anybody who unwittingly stumbles upon the alligator in the future. Feeding a wild alligator is illegal in Florida.
- Avoid Alligator Territory. There are often warning signs posted on rivers and lakes for alligators. Those signs are there for a reason; alligators mistake a splashing limb for small prey. Also, a swim area lacking a warning sign does not mean it is alligator free. Take a look around before diving in; especially note the vegetation along the banks where water meets land. These are some of the alligator’s favorite hang outs.
- Watch the Calendar. Alligator breeding season is from March to July, which is also when most alligator attacks happen. The gators are more aggressive and hungry, and because they are hungry they move around more, making an encounter with a person more likely. Then from July to September the mother gators are aggressively protecting their nests. The summer months in Florida bring much more rainfall which makes the gators more active. Alligators are also most active between dusk and dawn. So be careful of evening and night swimming, better yet, keep your swimming limited to daytime hours.
- Give Them Space. Alligators are amazing creatures and I’d be lying if I said I immediately vacate the area if I see a one. With that said; if you want to admire them or get a photo, keep plenty of space between you and the gator. If it hisses or opens its mouth defensively, back away farther. Alligators, while appearing lazy, are capable of moving very quick. Be careful.
Okay, so those are some of the main tips. The rest is common sense like “Don’t wrestle alligators!” So what do you do when an alligator actually attacks you?
How to Survive an Alligator Attack
- Run Away in a Straight Line. You’ve probably heard it said that when an alligator charges you need to run away in a zigzag pattern. That is awful advice. Run away in a straight line. First off, an alligator’s speed tops out around 11mph. Most humans can run around 15mph. Second, an alligator cannot maintain that 11mph sprint for a long distance. Third, if an alligator charges you it is either trying to run you off or eat you. If it is running you off it won’t give much chase when it sees you sprint away. If it is trying to eat you it seems a silly strategy to give it multiple opportunities to snag you with its sharp teeth by repeatedly running back and forth in front of its mouth. Remember, the terrain will work for you, just be careful not to trip and fall (another reason the zigzag pattern is an awful idea). You have long legs and the alligator has short legs. Rocks, branches, trees, and bumps all slow down the gator while you can easily run over them in one fell swoop. Alligators love easy prey, once they see how difficult it will be to catch you they’ll give up.
- Fight. If an alligator gets hold of you don’t be passive, don’t play dead. Fight it with everything you have and fight dirty. This is your life we’re talking about. Specifically, go for the eyes. If an alligator judges that its prey is fighting too hard it may simply let go. Remember, alligators like easy meals and don’t want to expend too much energy. And don’t just struggle: fight.
- Escape. Usually, when an alligator has something in its mouth, it releases its bite in order to readjust the grip it has on its prey. It is one of the moments when quick, decisive action can get you free.
- Seek Medical Attention. First, you will probably need to be patched up. Second, the alligator has a filthy mouth filled with bacteria that can cause infection. Get everything well-cleaned.
Well, that’s about it. For more information on alligator attacks or alligators in general, check out some of the websites in the sources section and enjoy the pics!
photo credits: Andrea Westmoreland
“A Guide to Living with Alligators.” Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. Feb. 12. 10 Aug. 13. <http://myfwc.com/media/152524/Alligator_Brochure.pdf>
Dupont, Israel. “A Dozen Safety Tips.” Living Among the Alligators. Retrieved 9 Aug. 13. <http://www.crocodopolis.net/lwa_safety.htm>
“Common Myths and the Truths about Crocodiles.” Southcarolinaparks.com. Retrieved 9 Aug. 13.<http://www.southcarolinaparks.com/files/state%20parks/wildlife%20page/ww_alligators.pdf>
Lynch, Rene. “5 Ways to Avoid, or Survive, an Alligator Attack.” Los Angeles Times. 10 July 12. 9 Aug. 13. <http://articles.latimes.com/2012/jul/10/nation/la-na-nn-alligator-attacks-rare-20120710>