Recently, an Everglades airboat captain lost his hand to an American Alligator (Alligator mississippiensis) during a tour. Feeding, harassing or molesting alligators is punishable with a maximum fine of up to $500 and 60 days and jail. Losing your limbs or your life is an additional punishment for bad behavior.
In all of my years in the Everglades I have seen people do some dumb things around these giant reptiles. I watched a mother with a shovel in one hand and a bag of mystery meat in the other feed a wild alligator as her small children stood by and watched. The shovel she claimed was to hit the alligator over the head if it approached. I explained to her the first rule of alligator etiquette. Don’t do dumb things. I explained the law and she left (and probably to return another day).
|© Pete Corradino|
I watched in horror as a European couple walked their child down to the edge of the water and backed away to take a picture. No doubt the picture of a small child with a six foot alligator just feet away might have impressed someone but I carefully approached and pantomimed the first rule. They didn’t speak English, but “don’t do dumb things” was easily articulated with two arms making a chomping motion.
I watched two teenage boy inexplicably chasing an eight foot alligator down the main road in the Everglades National Park. I stopped them and asked them what was going to happen when they caught up to the alligator. They had no clue. The alligator found an opening in the mangroves and slipped away.
|© Pete Corradino|
The law has a purpose. Alligators have a natural fear of humans. In fact there have been less than 600 wild alligator attacks in Florida since 1948 and only 23 of those were fatalities. Of those attacks, most were either alligators that were fed, alligators that were being handled (molesting) or occurred when someone was swimming in the water with them.