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   An Alligator Safety Guide


The intimidating gape of an alligator's jaws.

Your odds of being attacked by an alligator

in Florida, where most attacks occur,

are about one in 24 million.

 

Your odds of winning Florida's Lotto Jackpot

are one million better.*

 

So, if you learn more about alligators and apply it well, you improve your safety factor (and better your statistical odds at winning millions).

 

No, this isn't a promotion for the Florida lottery. Folks who live in alligator territory are rightly concerned about their safety in the presence of these powerful reptiles. Both knowledge and perspective are important in our understanding of alligators and our relationship to them.Lottery money.

 

Consider this: A resident of, or visitor to, the Southeast United States is more likely to die (let alone be injured) as the result of an automobile or airplane crash, lightning strike, drowning, fireworks discharge, smoke inhalation, fire, tornado impact, electrocution, dog attack, legal execution or even the impact of an asteroid, than from an attack by an alligator.

 

(Image above left: istockphoto/stockhlm; Image above right: istockphoto/Kydroon)

 

So, chances are you'll never need to use the information on this page, but knowing it may give you some peace of mind and aid you in enjoying our shared environment safely. This information also offers a glimpse of the alligator's fascinating physiology and behavior that have enabled it to outlive the dinosaurs. Our ultimate goal should be to avoid conflict, but this can only be done if the self-aware, more intelligent species takes the initiative.

 

It's not difficult. Here are twelve tips to aid you in doing so.**

 

* Data sources: Florida Lottery; Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission: Dogsbite.org; Live Science

** See the important legal disclaimer at the bottom of this page.

.

 

 

safety tips by the dozen*

 

These tips also generally apply to the American Crocodile, which shares habitat with the alligator in South Florida. Learn more about this cousin if the alligator here.

 

1. Be aware on, in or near water.

 

Never let children or pets

near the water unsupervised.

 

Alligators are opportunistic hunters. They prefer to wait for prey to get close, and lunge to seize it. Adults and children alike should be very aware of their surroundings near the water's edge; that embankment area of a water body, where land meets liquid, is often covered in vegetation in which the 'gator can hide, making it the reptile's favorite lurking place. And remember: the smaller the potential 'prey,' such as child or a pet, the more attractive to the alligator simply because it is easier to take.

 

Avoid swimming in a water body

known to be inhabited by alligators.Alligator warning sign.

 

You already know this -- it doesn't take a scientist to figure this one out. Many municipalities or residential developments post warning signs, but the absence of such a sign doesn't mean there are no alligators. Bear in mind that most water bodies in alligator states contain them.

 

In the water, you look much smaller to an alligator, even if you happen to be 6 ft 4 in/1.9 m tall while walking upright on land. The 'gator may not think of taking a tall man as a meal while that human is standing on the water's edge, but being in the water puts the man in the alligator's watery hunting field, where the he appears smaller on a liquid plane, and where the reptile has the advantage. Statistics show that the average age of an attack victim is 34 years.

(Image: Israel Dupont)

 

Kids jumping into a lake.Usually, the safest swimming areas are in frequented, supervised parks, where lots of cars parking and humans talking, shouting and splashing tend to ward off the 'gators. Even if you swim in areas that are known to be generally 'gator-free, never swim alone. Should an attack occur and you have a buddy to help you, your chance of escaping is much greater. Swim only within posted swimming areas. Venture beyond that and you enter deeper into the realm of the alligator, and away from potential safety or help.

 

(Image: istockphoto/LUGO)

 

Also, never enter water at night. Alligators are most active, especially for seeking prey, from dusk until dawn. And the fact that you can't see well in the dark makes for a much more dangerous situation.Sunset on the marsh.

 

Finally, avoid consuming alcohol when enjoying the water, even in daytime. Evidence in some Florida alligator attack incidents, as well as some of those involving the crocodiles in Australia, shows that the victims were under the influence of alcohol, or worse, crack cocaine. You need your wits about you when swimming to avoid drowning, let alone being wary of alligators.

 

So, don't drink and dive.

(Image: Israel Dupont)

 

Did You Know? 90% of attacks occur on persons wading or swimming at water's edge.

 

2. Never approach an alligator, including a baby or even a nest.

 

The alligator is naturally wary of humans, and will flee quickly if you get too close to it, or it may utter a very audible and compelling warning hiss. In some cases, however, alligators may charge or attack. Here are some examples of such cases:

 

• An alligator that is accustomed to being fed by humans may not be so shy (see above).

 

• An alligator that is surprised and alarmed by your approach may attack, thinking that it is being attacked itself.

 

• A mother alligator caring for her nest or for live babies, as seen in the image below. If you see alligator babies, or if you encounter a nest (a usually a mound of vegetation mixed with mud), enjoy the experience from a safe distance...momma 'gator is sure to be close by. If you get close, the mother may sound a very audible and intimidating warning hiss. Such a nest may be difficult to identify for a non-expert, but it is likely the mother will issue you a warning.

A mother alligator with her babies.

Gator mothers are well-known to be practically fearless when defending their offspring, whether the little ones have hatched or not. A mother alligator was observed leaping, jaws agape, to attack a helicopter as it approached the nest area to land! (The helicopter was carrying biologists surveying alligator nests.)

 

Also be careful near heavy vegetation in or near the water's edge. This is where an alligator likes to enjoy privacy and peace during the daylight hours. If you trudge through there and surprise it, the outcome may not be positive.

 

Generally, a good minimum land distance to keep between you and an alligator or nest is 15 feet/ 4.6 meters.A serious hand wound.

 

Some adventurous individuals believe that they can grapple with smaller gators without serious injury; they are quite mistaken. A smaller alligator, even 5 ft/1.5 m long, may remove a limb (ever heard of the "death roll?"), let alone a finger, and resulting lacerations alone can keep a surgeon busy for a while.

 

 

The photograph to the above shows the result of the bite of a small alligator, about 3 ft/ 1m in length. (Image: Jarrod Forthman)

 

An alligator basks with jaws agape.An alligator will often lay on land with jaws agape, and seldom is this a sign of imminent attack, especially if it is far from you. In doing this, it is believed, the reptile is merely trying to regulate its body temperature by letting heat escape its body, sort of like the panting of a dog. Generally, this is not a behavior to be wary of.

 

(Image: istockphoto/PaulMerritt)

 

Did You Know? Most human attack victims are male - a whopping 84%.

 

 

3. Be extra-aware during the warmer seasons.

 

A canal in a Miami neighborhood.Your chance of encountering an alligator is greatest during the animal's courtship and mating season in the warmest months, from March through September. This is when male 'gators become most dominant and aggressive as they try to intimidate rival males and attract females by their show of power. Some males end up having to travel to find a mate. July through September are when mother 'gators are guarding nests.

 

 

This Miami canal serves as an alligator "highway", conveying the big reptiles literally into humans' backyards. The soft grass of a residential yard is an irrestible basking site.

(Image above: © istockphoto/abstrand)

 

The warmer months are a very popular time in the southeastern USA for outdoor activities, and alligators being solar-powered, so-to-speak, are active, hunting travleing, couritng and mating. The warmth from the sun fires up their metabolism, giving them renewed energy; and renewed energy means great potential for conflict.

 

Did You Know? 75% of attacks occur from May-September.

 

4. Never feed or entice an alligator.


An alligator approaches an alligator warning sign.Why hunt hard for food all night when you can simply wait for a human to toss it right to your mouth? That's what a 'gator thinks when he enjoys food service from curious humans. Hence, each time that alligator sees a person --you guessed it-- it thinks it's feeding time. The alligator may approach that person, sometimes hungrily charging to accept his expected meal. It all adds up to a dangerous situation, especially if that person is a child. The smaller the prey, the more willing the 'gator is to pursue and take it. The excitement of the alligator's presence tends to inspire mischief in its feeders, which may lead to a harmful or deadly brush with an alligator.

 

Also note that most feeders of alligators seem to offer food that's very unhealthy for the animal, like marshmallows or hot dogs, food that may harm the alligator and the animal and environmental dependents of it.

 

Feeding these crocodilians isn't just dangerous, it's illegal in several states, including Florida. Evidence strongly suggests that many victims of alligator attacks were hurt or killed by alligators that were accustomed to being fed by humans. Don't be a participant in the eventual injury or death of another for the sake of the momentary thrill of feeding a wild alligator.

 

In the image above, an alligator's presence dramatically

reinforces the signage at Lake Alice in Gainesville, Florida. (Image: Israel Dupont) 

                                                                                                 

This also includes disposing of fish scraps left over from fishing. Never leave the scraps on land or in water (Those 'gator snouts can smell the scraps on the shore or embankment). The scraps should be deposited in a nearby trash can. If there isn't such a can, you should take the scraps with you and dispose of them in a trash container elsewhere. In Florida, for example, it is illegal to leave scraps. Leaving scraps conditions the alligator's behavior just as direct feeding does.

 

Be careful too, when feeding fish, turtles or ducks, in case alligators are present. They will gladly eat fish, turtle or duck food. It is best to avoid these practices in the wild.

 

 

5. If you witness the feeding or enticing

           of a wild alligator, report it to authorities.

 

Report such a person and/or the event to the authorities immediately. (In some states it is not illegal to feed alligators, although it should be.) The act of feeding, as mentioned above, may be perilous to the feeder and to anyone who ventures near that alligator afterward.

 

Authorities need to be aware of the situation so that action can be taken to preserve public safety.

By reporting it you make an important civic contribution - you not only bolster public safety, but you assist in the protection of the alligator species from the undeserved and rotten publicity it gets when a human is hurt by one.

 

If you live in the alligator's range state, you may refer this directory of state wildlife authorities for contact information.

 

6. Contact authorities if you suspect

             an alligator may pose danger.

 

Your state's wildlife or environmental agency is authorized to investigate complaints from citizens regarding so-called "nuisance" alligators. In the event that you believe, based on observation, that an alligator poses a danger to you or others, it is wise to call the authorities. (Of course, in the rare event that someone is under attack, the best option is to call 911 Emergency for help, and to do what you can to help the victim.)

 

Usually, an alligator under 4 ft/ 1.2 m in length poses insignificant or no danger (in Florida, authorities generally do not remove alligators under four feet in length). If, however, you observe an alligator of any size behaving in such a way that convinces you that it may come into actual conflict with humans, the authorities should be contacted.

 

Learning all you can about alligators from various sources, including Living with Alligators, can serve you well in estimating an alligator situation. The use of this knowledge will help you to contribute to public safety and also to avoid unnecessary fear in the event that an alligator may be in the vicinity, but not posing a threat.

Florida's wildlife agents are kept extremely busy fielding more than 21,000 complaints annually, so the more the public learns about alligators, the less likely frivolous (though well-meaning) complaints will consume authorities' valuable and limited resources - not to mention your own tax dollars. By learning as much as you can, you're better able to assess the animal's status in your community and distinguish between a real threat and a false alarm.

 

Did you know? To report a "nuisance" alligator, you may find contact information for your state's wildlife authority here.

 

7. Create a barrier on your property, if necessary.

 

An alligator on a backyard lawn.Many residents live on the bank of a canal, river or stream, and are rightly concerned about the entrance of an alligator to their property, especially if they have small children or pets. The most effective measure (though not necessarily 'gator-proof) is installation of a wall or fence. Another possible deterrent is dense vegetation.

 

Any construction or planting like these discourages the animal from entering the area, where it may wish to bask or travel through. You should check your local laws and ordinances pertaining to erecting such a barrier.

(Image: istockphoto/paladex)

 

THE ALLIGATOR BARRIER

 

An alligator is quite capable of climbing a barrier, but one can install an obstruction that almost certainly would prevent an alligator from entering a property. Ideally, such a structure should be at least 6 feet in height and an additional minimum of 20 inches should reach under the surface of the ground, since the alligator is an expert digger and if eager enough may resort to digging.

 

A smooth concrete wall is a good barrier. This describes a wall that does not have large protrusions, such as deep stucco, which would facilitate an alligator's grip.

 

A fence may be an excellent deterrent. If a wooden fence, the wood slats shoudl be vertical, not horizontal, as horizontal boards or slats may serves as a ladder for the alligator.

 

If a metal fence, it should be made of chain-link or panel contruction, woven in panels small enough to prevent an alligator slipping through. The fence should have installed at the top a metal-woven overhang (chain-link, panel, barbed wire etc.) of at least 20 inches in depth at a minimum angle of 45°. The angled portion of the barrier prevents a climbing alligator from advancing over the fence. The thickness/strength of the metal should ideally be 11.5 gauge or stronger; this guage in chain-link form, or its equivalent in other form, is required by the State of Florida for permitted possessors of larger crocodilians (note that the lower the gauge number, the stronger the metal strand is). Furthermore, hatchling, yearling and small juvenile alligators may be able to pass through smaller fence links and panels, though larger, more dangerous alligators, will not.

 

Any such barrier should be properly installed and maintained and care should be taken not to permit trees, shrubbery or other vegetation to grow near or on the barrier that might serve as a "ladder" for alligators to climb.

 

Watch an alligator easily scale a fence, in the amatuer video below. Note the ineffectiveness of this kind of barrier.

 

8. If charged by an alligator, run away,

             but NOT in 'zigzag' motion.

 

The alligator is not an ideal runner. Those short legs obviously don't serve it like a horse's legs do, and the 'gator can actually tire out in a relatively short time. When it charges after a human or animal, it is either trying to scare it away or seize it. It has a fast and furious burst of energy which serves it well for stealth hunting -- grabbing prey when it doesn't expect it. Furthermore, the reptile is opportunistic, which means, quite simply, it doesn't like to work very hard to get its food if it doesn't have to.

 

So, in the very rare event you are charged or chased by an alligator, move in as straight a line as possible away from it as fast as you reasonably can. In many cases, the vegetation features of the wild will serve to protect you by slowing the alligator down, like trees, bumps, bushes, etc. -- your comparatively long legs usually make it easier for you to maneuver through the trees and brush than an alligator's short legs do for it.

 

Most adult humans can outrun even a fast crocodilian, which has been clocked at a maximum of about 10 mph/17 kilometers per hour (kph), compared to a human speed of 15-17 mph/24-27 kph. But this doesn't matter much; an alligator will often give up the chase because it sees that the runner is moving away too quickly, and realizes that too much effort will be required to continue pursuit. The vertically aligned mammals with long legs have the advantage over the tubular, horizontally-aligned, short-legged reptile.

 

You may have heard somewhere that the zigzag run (running in a "z" pattern, side-to-side) is a good idea, but this is not only an unnecessary maneuver but probably a very unwise one. Here's why:

 

Unless you're an Olympic-level athlete, running zigzag over natural topography increases your risk of tripping and falling over rocks, plants, roots, and the like. And it goes without saying that falling while being pursued by an alligator is not good.

 

Furthermore, an alligator has limited binocular vision, a relatively narrow functional 'blind spot' appearing directly in front of it at close range, partly due to its wide, long upper jaw. Hence, the 'gator's vision is most effective in the 'sides' of its field of view. So, running zigzag not only slows your rate of distance from your pursuer, it may more clearly indicate to the animal exactly where you are; even this point hardly matters since in many cases the 'gator may keep its eyes shut while pursuing so as not to get them hit by twigs, grass stalks and branches in its path.

 

Alligator ready to attack, sounding a warning hiss.Finally, an alligator bites very effectively in a side-swiping motion, so if you are trying to run zigzag and are slowed down by plants, rocks, or other obstacles, the backwards flying leg of a running human is an optimal target for side-swiping, chomping jaws (the operative word here is "side").

 

Simply put, when faced with an attack, move directly away from the alligator as quickly as possible, navigating the terrain as carefully as possible. The zigzag idea will likely not serve you well.

 

(Image: istockphoto/cshanklin)

 

9. If attacked, fight back.

 

This is, of course, easier said than done in the fury and shock of an attack, but one must do what is necessary to survive.An alligator executing a 'death roll.'

 

As mentioned above, the alligator doesn't like much trouble when taking food - it prefers an easy meal. If it seizes prey, and the prey fights back hard, the alligator may release it, depending on factors such as it's own size relative to that of the victim, it's own level of aggression, and its measure of hunger. Merely struggling to break free may not be enough counter-aggression to stop a 'gator, and may actually prompt a devastating "death roll" response, in which the reptile furiously spins on its body's central axis to tear muscle and bone free of the victim's body.

 

The image above captures the alligator's dramatic rolling maneuver; this is not shown to scare, but to demonstrate the reality of this animal's abilities. Remember, the chance of you ever having to deal with this situation is remote at best. (Image: istockphoto/ntripp)

 

These armored saurian are among the toughest beasts in the animal kingdom, so an attack victim should channel his or her nervous energy and will to survive and take the offensive by fighting hard. Not struggling...fighting very, very, very hard. Others on hand during such an event may be able to help by fighting the reptile, too. This should include punching the snout, poking the eyes, and even jabbing the ears, which are seen as small slits behind the eyes.

 

Remember: You're far more likely to be hurt or killed in a car crash than to be attacked by a gator.

 

 

10. If bitten, seek medical attention immediately.

 

This may seem like a 'no-brainer,' but some who are bitten by smaller crocodilians think that mere first-aid is enough to treat the wound. An immediate concern following a bite is the effect of bacteria, which a 'gator mouth is teeming with. These bacteria, Aeronomus hybrophila among them, can enter the bloodstream through the bite and cause an infection so serious that it can result in the victim's death. (One study found 38 species of bacteria and 20 species of fungi in the alligator mouth!)

 

The bacteria isn't the only issue-- there's also the 'gator's infamous crushing power. The American Alligator and its crocodile cousins have the greatest known bite forces on Earth (a large alligator's jaw pressure can be at least five times that of a large lion - nearly 3000 psi). The reptile's jaws can crush muscle and bone, in addition to cutting and tearing.

 

11. Never take an alligator from the wild

                 or accept one as a pet.

 

The taking of alligators from the wild, in any of the animal's range states, is illegal and may be punishable by a fine and a prison sentence. Besides the illegality and the danger involved in taking them, alligators (and all crocodilians) make the worst pets. They are far too dangerous, troublesome and expensive to care for. Don't fall for a sales pitch from a pet shop merchant who tells you that they don't grow large if you keep them in a small enclosure, and that you can keep the animal tame.Baby alligators on pad.

 

If you happen to live in a state outside of the alligator's range, and you know of a "pet" alligator, caiman or crocodile that needs a home at a qualified facility, please visit here.

 

(Image: Ronald Dupont Jr.)

 

Did You Know? Alligators discovered in the wild in the colder northern U.S. states are actually released or escaped "pets." If not rescued, they die when temperatures drop in the frigid season.

 

12. Share your knowledge of alligators with others.

 

Sharing your knowledge of alligators and alligator safety contributes to public safety, and promotes a greater appreciation for the marvels of nature and to a better understanding of our place in it and how our enjoyment of it truly enhances our lives.

 

 

 

 

SUGGESTED ARTICLE CITATION: Dupont, Israel. 2008. An Alligator Safety Guide. Living Among Alligators. The Bridgeworth Company/Crocodopolis/Israel Dupont,. May 2008; Rev. August 2014 [Insert date accessed].

 

 

 

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* LEGAL DISCLAIMER: This safety information is offered as general information only, and the author and owner of this website, his/its affiliates, associates, agents, and advertisers assume no liability in connection with this advice and/or its observance. Every situation with its myriad of factors is unique and impossible to predict, even by an expert. The consideration of the information presented here and from other reliable sources, along with the exercise of good sense and judgment, can go a long way to helping you stay safe. Furthermore, the owner and author of this website does not provide legal consultation. To obtain legal advice, consult a qualified attorney.  Any information provided, and/or offers made on this website, are void where prohibited by law. Please refer to this website's Terms of Service for more detailed information.

 

 

 

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