Alligators made the news again last week in Florida. It was a horrific story of a two-year-old that was fatally attacked by an alligator while visiting Disney World in Orlando, Florida. The child was playing in the shallow water of a man-made lake after dark and the father of the boy tried valiantly to fight off the alligator but was unable to save his young son. Events like this are shocking even to Floridians who are familiar with the dangers of sharing real estate with these reptiles. But people that live outside of the area, people less knowledgeable about the behaviors of these creatures, hear about these stories and typically over- estimate the risk of an alligator attack. Conversely, others are frequently dismissive of the very real threat that co-existing with over a million alligators in Florida creates. The facts, though, highlight that alligator attacks are relatively rare and the risk of an attack can be dramatically reduced even further with a bit of common sense.
When we first looked into moving to Florida from the Midwest, one of the things that concerned me was the abundant wildlife in this tropical part of the world. I will admit to googling alligator attacks, panther populations, and bear sightings. but the beauty of this state won out. This is where we wanted to be.
The home we ultimately purchased is in a golf community that has several small retention ponds along the course and one of them isn't far from our house.
My imagination was having a field day and I could only envision that the pond was teeming with alligators. I have yet to see an alligator outside of the zoo but my fears were not totally unfounded. Alligator attacks in Florida are a reality. According to the USA Today,
"The statistics, which go back to 1948, show that the deadliest years for fatalities caused by alligator attacks were 2001 and 2006. Three people were killed each of those years."
Their graph below highlights the relatively low risk of an alligator attack.
There are nearly twenty million people in Florida so the odds of being a victim of an alligator attack are extremely low. Still, there are things we can do to help alleviate that risk even further.
Because alligators lurk in fresh or brackish waters, do not swim in these areas or any body of water that is posted with warning signs.
Alligators are most active between dusk and dawn, so swimming at night or even walking near ponds, lakes, or canals during these hours should definitely be avoided.
Feeding an alligator reduces its fear of humans. Do NOT feed an alligator. To do so is not only dangerous but it is also against the law in Florida.
Most alligator attacks occur in the water but if you encounter an alligator on land do not approach it. Alligators can jump to heights of six feet and they can run very fast for short distances. So maintain a distance of at least twenty feet.
Because alligator attacks are fairly rare they almost always make the news and without an understanding of the statistical odds of an attack, it is easy for our fears to take over.
According to CBS News, the facts are this, Florida averages about seven serious unprovoked bites a year and officials put the odds of someone being seriously injured by an unprovoked alligator in Florida at roughly one in 2.4 million.
While we were visiting the Naples Zoo earlier this year I noted a sign near the alligator exhibit that also emphasized how infrequently these attacks occur.
I'm okay with those odds.
Knowledge is power.