Archive for Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Conditions align for alligator attacks

May 16, 2006

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— Dry weather has pushed them out of the Everglades and into backyard canals, where they concentrate in greater, hungry numbers.

Mating season has made the males more territorial.

And then there are the people - hundreds moving into Florida each day, who have taken over what was once wildlife territory and, in some cases, are feeding the dangerous reptiles like pets.

All these factors, plus a heavy dose of coincidence, are likely to blame in the recent string of deadly alligator attacks across the state of Florida, wildlife biologists said Monday. There have been three alligator-related fatalities in the past week; before that, there were only 17 since 1948.

"You have a perfect combination of events that make them act in this unusual way," said Frank Mazzotti, a Fort Lauderdale wildlife scientist with the University of Florida. "I don't ever remember a time when we've had this many fatal attacks."

Officials are advising people to stop feeding the alligators and stay away from the edge of canals, especially with children or dogs.

But they add there is no reason to panic. You're more likely to be attacked by a shark or struck by lightning than attacked by an alligator in Florida. In fact, nationwide, the deadliest animal is the deer, according to statistics from the Florida Museum of Natural History, because of the roughly 130 fatal car accidents they are involved in each year.

Zack Auspitz, 12, left, looks at a captured alligator that had been living in a lake behind his home Monday, May 15, 2006, in North Miami Beach, Fla. Auspitz said the recent fatal alligator attacks have made them think twice about going into the water. He and his family frequently swam in the Miami-Dade County lake where the alligator was captured.

Zack Auspitz, 12, left, looks at a captured alligator that had been living in a lake behind his home Monday, May 15, 2006, in North Miami Beach, Fla. Auspitz said the recent fatal alligator attacks have made them think twice about going into the water. He and his family frequently swam in the Miami-Dade County lake where the alligator was captured.

There are no eyewitness to the gator attacks, which authorities note happened in different parts of the state in apparently different situations - to a 28-year-old woman jogging May 9 in Sunrise, Fla., when, officials say, she was attacked and pulled into the water; to a Tennessee woman attacked Sunday while snorkeling in the Ocala National Forest, and to a 43-year-old woman found dismembered Sunday in a canal just north of Tampa Bay.

Allan Woodward with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission called the string "an unfortunate coincidence" and a statistical fluke. He said most alligators are not aggressive. Between 1 million and 2 million of them live in Florida, but the state usually has only about six or seven nonfatal attacks a year. "It just happens these all happened at once," he said.

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