What you need to know to safely get out of an alligator encounter

By Kelli Bender
Updated June 15, 2016 09:05 PM
Credit: Getty

On Tuesday night, an alligator attacked and dragged away a 2-year-old Nebraskan boy who was lounging near a lagoon at Walt Disney World’s Gran Floridian Resort with his family.

As the search continues for the child, many are left wondering how this happened and how it can be prevented.

Wild animal expert and conservationist Jeff Corwin said in a statement that he was surprised to hear the attack occurred on the highly-regulated Disney grounds, but noted that there are over a million alligators in Florida and thousands of acres of Disney property, which makes it possible for one of the animals to slip onto the grounds unnoticed.

According to the experts at the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, alligator attacks, especially unprovoked attacks, are relatively rare since the animal is naturally afraid of humans. There is an average of seven alligator bites in the state per year that require medical attention. These incidents are a mix of provoked and unprovoked attacks.

To avoid provoked attacks, the FWC advises that humans never approach alligators, regardless of size, or feed the wild animals. Hand-feeding alligators causes them to lose their fear of humans and become bolder about approaching them. If you encounter an alligator that you feel is a threat, you should contact your state’s wildlife commission for assistance.

Unprovoked attacks can be more difficult to avoid. The majority of unprovoked alligator attacks occur near or in brackish, fresh water and only when the animal feels threatened or needs food, reports the FWC. If you are unsure if a fresh, brackish area is safe for swimming, don’t go in and be cautious around the shoreline.

Keep a close eye on children in these environments. Most gators will lunge at smaller prey that is within a few feet of the shoreline. This also includes pets. Dogs should stay away from the water. Dogs resemble an alligator’s natural prey, and the sounds and movement of a dog may attract hungry alligators to an area where humans are swimming.

Additionally, alligators hunt around dusk and dawn, so try to restrict swimming in waters hospitable to alligators to the daytime only.

The best defense against an alligator attack is awareness and common sense. In potentially alligator-infested areas, always keep a close eye on your surroundings and safely dispose of any food scraps. If you do see any alligator, keep your distance. Never approach the animal or try to take it home as a pet.

If you are bitten by an alligator, you and those around you should make as much commotion as possible. Alligators have an incredibly strong grip, but can get scared off when their prey isn’t easily overpowered. Following a bite, it is best to scream loudly and rapidly move all of your limbs. If possible, attempt to hit and kick the alligator, especially around the face and eyes. When the alligator releases its jaw, continue to make large movements and loud sounds to keep the animal away, until you have reached safety.

Following an attack, no matter how small, it is important to visit a hospital. Alligator bites can get infected easily, even if they are minor. Getting medical attention for a bite can prevent the injury from developing into something more serious.