By Charles Towne
All of my attention was on the group of wood storks that were fishing in the canal.
Wanting to get a little closer, moving quietly so as not to disturb the birds that I wanted to photograph I swung my leg over the large deadfall log and promptly forgot all about the storks.
I had broken a cardinal rule of survival. Never assume that it is safe to step over a log until you have checked to make sure there is not a snake sunning itself in the grass on the other side.
As I lowered my foot I was surprised by a stunning blow to my thigh. No, it wasn’t a snake, it was a six-foot-long alligator that I had rudely disturbed by stepping on it. The alligator, almost as surprised as I was, swung it’s head in a roundhouse blow that darned near knocked me down and then it promptly vanished into the tannin darkened waters of the canal.
Alligators are not fussy about what they eat. Ross Allen, founder of the Silver Springs Reptile Institute liked to say, “if the occasion presents itself the alligator will eat a pine knot, and probably digest it!” The only prerequisite is that their meal is meat and it matters not a bit that it is rotten, for they are opportunistic hunters and dead prey doesn’t fight back.
If it lives in the woodlands, marshes lakes or rivers near a gator habitat… sooner or later it is apt to fall prey to the ambush of a hungry alligator. Deer, small bear, raccoons, skunks, all types of birds, otters, turtles, fish, stingrays, smaller alligators, snakes of every kind and almost anything creeps, crawls walks, flies or swims, anything that it can seize, is fair game. And that includes the family dog.
One might well ask, “what good purpose does the alligator serve?
Just one of the benefits of having the alligator as a resident, and there are many, is based on the fact that Florida is a fisherman’s paradise. Alligators help dramatically to reduce the non-game species of fish thus enabling the game fish such as bass to proliferate, and they also create deep ponds, called “gator holes” where game fish prosper.
As to the question, do alligators eat humans? I will have to answer that with another question, what part of “carnivore” do you not understand?
In order to prevent alligator problems, there are several things one can do.
(1) Always pay close attention to alligator warning signs, they are there for good reason. It was July 13th, 1987 when a Florida State University student foolishly left the well-posted swimming area at Wakulla Springs State Park. He should have known better. A short time later a tourist on a glass-bottomed boat excitedly pointed out the alligator with the dead deer in its jaws, only the deer turned out to be the student.
(2) Don’t assume that it is safe to swim even if there are no signs posted! We live in Florida! Alligators live in Florida! Alligators eat meat! Alligators are always hungry! Be forewarned!
(3) Don’t clean fish or discard food scraps in the water. Fish offal entices alligators in the same way that throwing bloody chum attracts sharks.
(4) Never, never, never, never ever feed alligators. Once trained to take handouts the alligator rapidly learns to associate food with humans, and soon they lose their natural fear of man and this can lead to disastrous results.
(5) When you know that someone is feeding alligators please report such incidents to the authorities. You could possibly be saving someone’s life.
Remember, feeding alligators is illegal in the State of Florida, (Punishable by jail time and a hefty fine) and it is also extremely dangerous.
Observe the rules, be safe, enjoy nature, and God bless you.
Charles Towne is first and foremost a Christian. An octogenarian, author, journalist, wildlife photographer, naturalist, caregiver, and survivor, his life has been and continues to be, a never-ending adventure filled with possibilities never imagined. He has adopted the philosophy that to Live fully, laugh uproariously, love passionately, and learn like there is no tomorrow, is a formula for a long and joy-filled life.