Back to Nature (Published on - May 24, 2006)
Alligator attacks raise concern
Photo by Rick Tremmel
Alligators are survivors and are interesting to observe from a safe distance.
Alligator attacks kill two women in less than a week and may have played a role in the death of a third woman. The following is from several publications, all of which used Associated Press reports:

Annemarie Campbell was captured and killed while snorkeling in a secluded recreation area near Lake George, about 50 miles southeast of Gainesville.

Yovy Suarez Jimenez was attacked while out jogging near a Broward County canal. The medical examiners are still investigating how Yovy came in contact with the alligator. One theory is she may have slipped and fell into the canal.

On Sunday, May 14, a homeless woman, Judy Cooper, was discovered near an Oldsmar canal in East Lake Woodlands, her body apparently dismembered by an alligator. Her purse and drugs were found nearby. The medical examiner ruled an alligator did contribute to Cooper’s death.

In 58 years, only 17 alligator attacks have been confirmed. These recent attacks obviously raise awareness and concern.

Florida residents know first-hand about what it takes to survive in a tropical climate. We will

survive. Batteries and flashlights were sold out around Tampa Bay by noon the day before Hurricane Charley was to make landfall in our region. We learned to take nature seriously. There were lineups at the gas pumps as early as 9 a.m. By 7 p.m. it was visually apparent by the streets of boarded up windows, closed businesses and prepared EMS officials and staff that Tampa Bay residents were taking this situation seriously.

We learned respect, fear and awe of nature. Human motto: be prepared.

A few of our planet’s oldest species have survived by living by this simple rule: be prepared. One of the most ancient beings on our planet is the indomitable alligator, a real dinosaur. Plain and simple, they were here before us and they will probably be here after we’ve made a mess of things and are gone. If there is one warm body of fresh clean water somewhere in the subtropics you’ll find a member of the crocodilian family. Dinosaur motto: We will survive. Be prepared.

Alligators, of the crocodilian family, evolved from a common ancestor with dinosaurs that were walking on earth even before other reptiles, such as lizards, snakes and turtles appeared. Although alligators are classified as reptiles they are in fact closely related to birds, whose ancestors were also dinosaurs. Theory has it that the feathers on birds are actually elongated scales.

Alligators and their relatives are the last of the living reptiles that are closely related to dinosaurs. Although the alligator is considered threatened they are making a healthy comeback.

Alligators have short, blunt, rounded snouts; most crocodile species have longer, pointed snouts. The upper teeth of the alligator show when the mouth is closed. Eyes, nostrils, and ears are located on the same plane allowing for the entire body to be submerged, except for these organs. A protective covering of bony plates lies under the skin across the back.

Even with armor, the

animal is extremely flexible and quick. Alligators are between 6 and 16 feet in length, although any over 12 feet is rare. The largest recorded American alligator was 19 feet in length. Female alligators rarely exceed 9 feet in length, but males can grow much larger. The Florida state record for length is a 14 foot 5/8 inch male from Lake Monroe in Seminole County. The Florida record for weight is a 1,043 pound (13 feet, 10.5 inches long) male from Orange Lake in Alachua County.

They have a long powerful tail for swimming. Large alligators will eat anything they can overpower including humans. Alligators do not chew their food, they swallow items whole or tear chunks off by grasping and rolling. They are known to stash food until decomposition begins. Stones are swallowed to aid in digestion.

Alligators do not recognize the difference between domestic pets and wild food sources. When an alligator is hungry, they act on their hunting instinct and may attempt to feed on your house pet if given the opportunity.

How often have you observed people walking their pets up to the water’s edge where ponds and lakes are clearly marked, BEWARE OF ALLIGATORS. What are they thinking? It doesn’t require the intelligence of a brain surgeon to ascertain who is at real fault in this situation, does it?

One of the most common mistakes humans make in contact with alligators is feeding them. Alligators do not distinguish between a treat thrown or the hand that is throwing the treat. Feeding an alligator is training that alligator to equate and associate humans with food.

These latest attacks and deaths are horrifically tragic. Nothing can be said to bring these loved ones back. But we may prevent senseless deaths in the future by being aware of safety precautions.

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Safety Guidelines

1. Don’t feed the alligators.

This is a most important rule! Providing food for these wild animals not only makes them bolder and encourages them to seek out people, it also alters their natural diet in an unhealthy way.

2. Keep your distance.

Although they may look slow and awkward, these animals are extremely powerful and can move with a startling burst of speed on land over short distances. A safe distance from an adult alligator is about 60 feet.

3. Never disturb nests or small alligators.

4. Keep your pets and children away from alligators.

5. Don’t swim in areas that are known alligator habitats.

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