Stalking Florida Alligators
My wife and I were traveling along the coast in northern Florida,
alligators were the furthest thing from our minds. We had just
paid $23 to camp in our conversion van at a beautiful state park
on the beach the night before, and saw a dolphin swimming near
shore in the morning. Then we heard that we could camp for free
at several of the isolated campgrounds which dotted the Apalachicola
National Forest. Our frugality sent us into alligator country.
We stayed two nights in the dark woods next to the dark waters
of some slow river. Our only company was an old guy who seemed
to be living there, and a nice couple with their two-year-old
daughter. Lester was from England, Kari from Texas, and Indya
was born in Guatamala. They met in India, of course. Our little
group sat around the fire at night, trading stories, and occasionally
running down to the water with the flashlights to look for the
eyes of Florida alligators. We heard loud noises and splashes
in the night, but saw nothing.
Alligators Enjoying the Sun
When we discovered that it was free to stay at Williams Landing,
on Lake Talquin, we all moved up there for a week. The hot showers
are what convinced us. Again we traded stories around the fire
each night, but this time we saw all kinds of wildlife. Armadillos
walked through camp, and giant gray herons fished offshore from
the van. There were raccoons, owls, squirrels, ducks, frogs and
turtles. Then there was the "monster."
March is a great time to get out in the woods in Florida,
so I was poking around near a corner of the lake, when I heard
the splash. There were no fish big enough to make that much noise.
We had already seen two small alligators sunning themselves the
day before. This one had to be a giant. My wife Ana wanted to
see it, so we returned the next morning. Again we heard the splash,
and it was under the water before we could see it.
Over the coming days, we visited the monster each morning
when the sun was high enough for him to come out and soak up
the heat. We caught enough glimpses of it to know that it was
at least ten feet long, and Kari and Lester made a "Crocodile
Hunter"-style movie of us searching for it. In time, it
no longer panicked, but just slowly lowered itself into the water,
as if getting ready to hunt us properly. We stopped trying to
get so close to it.
Here is some advice from the Florida Fish And Wildlife Conservation
Commission. It is a good idea to read this before you go looking
for alligators. As it is, we may have been breaking the law with
our daily visits to see Wally Gator.
Leave alligators alone. State law prohibits people from killing,
harassing, molesting or attempting to move alligators. The potential
for being bitten or injured by a provoked alligator is high.
Closely supervise children when playing in or around water.
Never allow small children to play by themselves near water.
Don't swim outside of posted swimming areas or in waters that
might contain large alligators. Swim only during daylight hours.
Alligators most actively feed at dusk, dawn or at night.
Don't allow pets to swim, exercise or drink in waters not
known to be free of alligators or in designated swimming areas
with humans. Dogs suffer many more attacks than humans, probably
because dogs more closely resemble natural prey items of large
alligators. Alligators are more likely to attack small animals
than larger ones.
Never remove any alligators from their natural habitat or
accept one as a pet. It is a violation of state law to do so.
Alligators do not become tame in captivity and handling even
small ones may result in bites.
Enjoy viewing and photographing wild alligators. Remember,
they're an important part of Florida's natural history, as well
as an integral component of many freshwater ecosystems.
Seek immediate medical attention if you are bitten by an alligator.
Alligators harbor a very infectious bacteria, and even minor
bites may require special treatment.
Never feed or entice alligators - it's dangerous and illegal.
Alligators overcome their natural shyness and become accustomed
or attracted to humans when fed.
Inform others that feeding alligators is a violation of state
law and that by feeding alligators, people create problems for
others who want to use the water for recreational purposes.
Dispose of fish scraps in garbage cans at most boat ramps
or fish camps. Although you are not intentionally feeding alligators
when you dispose of fish scraps in water, the end result can
be the same -- feeding.
In Florida, increasing numbers of people and abundant alligator
populations have led to a progressive rise in the number of alligator-related
Although the majority of the problems with alligators relate
to their being in places where they aren't wanted, a small number
tragically involve alligator attacks. The FWC removes more than
5,000 alligators per year to reduce opportunities for such occurrences.
Through the removal of these alligators and increased awareness
on the part of the public, the number of alligator attacks that
occur annually has remained constant in spite of the increased
potential for alligator-human interaction.
Alligators are an important part of Florida's heritage and
play an important role in the ecology of Florida's wetlands.
An understanding of these facts and broader knowledge of alligator
behavior helps ensure that humans and alligators continue their
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