If you live or embark on adventures anywhere south of the extreme southern end of North Carolina, to as far south as the Southern tip of Florida, or as far West as the South Eastern edge of Texas, then you run a potential risk of encountering the majestic American alligator (Alligator mississippiensis). The alligator is fairly widespread, although its largest populations are found in Louisiana and Florida. The State of Louisiana is estimated to be home to an approximate 2 million alligators, followed closely behind by Florida with around 1.5 million alligators. The population size is considered the direct result of efficient management techniques by State wildlife divisions, as well as farming/ranching techniques employed by private facilities. Even in States where their population size isn’t as great, there is still a perfectly reasonable chance of encountering one of these amazing animals while on an outdoor adventure, especially if time is spent around an aquatic environment.
The American alligator is one of the largest reptiles found in North America, challenged only by the American crocodile (Crocodylus acutus) which can give the alligator a run for its money in the size department, although, they tend to be around the same size typically. The American crocodile, however, can only be found in the Southern end of Florida and does not have nearly the same population size. They are both Florida State and Federally protected. The American alligator also sports State and Federal protection, although, it is not as extreme. Hunting and management practices are in place for alligators, whereas American crocodiles are strictly off limits.
Alligators being semi-aquatic, thrive in a variety of aquatic environments. Rivers, billabongs, bogs, lakes, ponds and essentially anywhere else providing a reasonable supply of water with food access is a potential home for alligators within their native ranges. As such, caution must be shown when in those territories. While alligators are typically pretty timid and avoid confrontation as much as possible, there are some circumstances in which these animals lose their fear of humans and may become a threat if you aren’t careful. Here are some rules to follow that will keep you safe while in their territory.
1.) Do NOT feed alligators: Feeding alligators enables them to associate humans with food access. This is dangerous as it may entice an alligator to approach someone hoping for a food handout. If you notice an alligator approaching you from within the water and continuing to come closer…this is a bad sign and demonstrates behavior that the animal has been fed by others. Back away from the water source! Do not attempt to draw the animal in or attempt to chase it away. Notify a wildlife officer in your area of the situation and inform them of the location of the incident. The animal will need to be captured. In all States, nuisance alligators will need to be euthanized, or otherwise placed into a captive facility to ensure public safety.
2.) Do NOT swim in waters known to be home to alligators: While in most cases alligators will simply ignore you if they see you in the water, you never know who may have been feeding those alligators at some point. Further, mistaken identity causes alligator “attacks” with relative frequency. If you see an alligator while swimming, do not splash around in an attempt to scare it away. In fact, this behavior has the opposite effect and will potentially draw the animal in. Obey the signs that say “No swimming”. They’re there for a reason. Try a local swimming pool instead or a public body of water designated for safe access.
3.) Do NOT attempt to capture or harass alligators: Alligators, while seemingly lazy, can be quick and agile. Larger alligators can even be deadly. Unfortunately, television programs demonstrating reckless behavior have been enticing people to attempt the techniques shown. This is a bad idea, on top of being ILLEGAL in every State in which alligators are present! These animals have a great amount of power in their bites. They have been measured to have the highest bite force of any other living animal on earth (larger specimens, of course). Even smaller specimens are capable of inflicting serious injury if you do not know what you’re doing!
4.) If you encounter an alligator on a trail, do NOT attempt to walk over it. Unless you can give the alligator a wide berth, then please do not attempt to walk around it. Different seasons can result in different behavior with American alligators. Mating season, especially, is a dangerous time to press your luck with these animals. During that time of year, alligators of both sexes can be quite dangerous. Females defending nests and males defending territory for reproduction can both mean business. Be smart and stay clear!
5.) If you see others breaking safety rules, notify authorities! Many people press their luck around these animals are blatantly break the laws about feeding them or swimming with them. Unfortunately, this spells disaster not only for the alligator that likely will be captured to destroyed due to the ignorance of an irresponsible person, but it can likely even be disasterous for unsuspecting person…maybe even a young child.
Alligators have no desire to have conflict with people. In fact, they steer as far clear from us as reasonably possible. However, the irresponsible actions of a few can result in tragedy. These animals are strong and powerful animals that have been on this planet since the age of the dinosaurs. They haven’t lasted this long being stupid. They are quite intelligent animals that have the capacity to learn behaviors, especially from us. Let’s be responsible and ensure that man and alligator can co-exist peacefully.
If you are interested in learning more about the American alligator, please consider booking an educational program through our company, Roaming Reptiles of Central Florida!