5 ways to avoid, or survive, an alligator attack

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If you find yourself in the jaws of an alligator, fight like your life depends upon it. Because it does, says a Florida alligator expert.

Frank Mazzotti, a wildlife ecology and conservation professor and alligator expert at the University of Florida’s Fort Lauderdale Research and Education Center, offered up this suggestion and other tips for emerging in one piece after an admittedly unlikely encounter with an alligator.

We asked Mazzotti for the advice after some unsettling news out of the Sunshine State: Two Florida residents have lost limbs to alligators in the past few weeks. One is a teenager who was recovering in a hospital Tuesday after his lower right arm was bitten off a day earlier.


Alligator attacks are still extremely rare. In fact, the likelihood of a Florida resident being injured in an unprovoked alligator attack is roughly one in 2.4 million, according to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

Note the emphasis we put on the word “unprovoked.” In the first incident, a Florida tour boat captain is suspected of illegally feeding an alligator that then bit off his hand. In the second incident, the teenager decided to cool off on a hot summer day by diving into a river that authorities said was teeming with gators.

In the unlikely event that you come upon an alligator, consider Mazzotti’s advice:

--Don’t feed it:“That can cause trouble,” Mazzotti told the Los Angeles Times. “When you do that, the alligator doesn’t know where the handout ends and the hand begins.”

--Avoid a gator’s territory: “If you see alligators in the water, don’t go in there. I know this sounds like common sense,” Mazzotti said, but it’s a tip that many people ignore. Alligators do not consider humans to be prey in part because of their size, he said. But a splashing human’s arm or leg can be mistaken for smaller, vulnerable prey in the water, such as a raccoon or possum.

--Watch the weather, and the calendar: The teenager who jumped into the river might not have known that this is the tail end of alligators’ mating and egg-laying season. Or that recent rains tend to make alligators more active. “The males and females have been spending lots of time with reproductive activities, so they are hungry. With that, and the rainfall, that only makes them more active. And since they are moving around more, that brings them in more frequent contact with people.”

--Run (in a straight line): If you find yourself face-to-face with a gator, get out of the way. Fast. And don’t believe that old tale about running in a zigzag fashion to throw off the gator. “The shortest distance between two points is a straight line, and that’s the fastest,” Mazzotti said. True, alligators can move quickly on land -- but only for short distances. Run, and do not slow down, he said. If the alligator is attacking because you have trespassed into its territory, it just wants to run you off -- not hunt you down, he said. “Run away in a straight line. Everything you hear about running in a zigzag line is untrue.”


--Fight for your life:“If you do find yourself in a situation where you have been attacked, don’t give up,” Mazzotti said. “Fight for your life. Go for the eyes.” An alligator is typically looking for some easy eats, not a struggle. Moreover, there’s this: “An alligator typically bites and releases or bites and readjusts. That’s your time to get away.”

And run in a straight line.


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