By David E. Hubler
Contributor, EDM Digest
Every spring and summer we see news accounts of people bitten by alligators. Last July, for example, a tourist in Mexico was attacked by an alligator when he waded into a lagoon in the resort area of Cancun.
After a struggle with the animal, Cal Monzon managed to get away and was found by a security guard who heard his screams. But he had lost one arm up to the elbow, Newsweek reported.
In May 2016, when police in Lakeland, Florida, were searching for a 21-year-old on the run, “they discovered him lying on the ground missing about three-quarters of his left arm,” according to KRON News 4. Jessie Scott Kingsinger had jumped into a lake and encountered an alligator in his attempt to swim away.
One excellent – though not full-proof – way to avoid an alligator attack is to stay out of lagoons and lakes, especially in tropical areas. But gators often are seen on land too, and if provoked, can move very fast to attack.
Rarely Will an Alligator Come Out of the Water to Attack a Human
“It’s rare that an alligator will come out of the water and go after a human being,” Ron Magill, a wildlife expert and communications director at Zoo Miami, told ABC’s Good Morning America. “They usually nest close to the water. If you get near a nest, a female will come after you. Females are very protective.”
There Are More than One Million Alligators in Florida Alone
Florida has more than a million gators, but only a dozen or so bites are recorded each year, according to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC).
“In recent years, Florida has experienced tremendous human population growth. Many residents seek waterfront homes, and increasingly participate in water-related activities. This can result in more frequent alligator-human interactions, and a greater potential for conflict,” the FWC warns.
What can you do to prevent an alligator attack? Wildlife experts offer these four tips:
1. Run as Fast as You Can
If you happen to lock eyes with an alligator on land, forget the popular but erroneous escape method of running in a zigzag. Run away as fast as you can in a straight line. Alligators will typically chase a human only to defend their territory. “The longer you stay within their territory, the longer they’re going to chase you,” Frank Mazziotti, a professor of wildlife ecology at the University of Florida’s Fort Lauderdale Research and Education Center, told ABC News. “When you run back and forth, you are in fact exposing yourself to attack for a longer period of time than if you just ran in a straight direction and got out of there. Once you’re no longer a threat, it has no interest in you.”
2. Fight Back Hard
If a gator grabs hold of you, there are a few things you can do. Most important, don’t give up.
“Fight like hell. Don’t go willingly,” Mazziotti said. “The bigger fight you put up, the more likely it’s going to let you go and say, ‘This isn’t worth it.’”
3. Smack the Alligator’s Snout
Rather than try to open a gator’s extremely powerful jaws, aim for where the animal is most vulnerable. “Pop them on the snout. The tip of their snout is very sensitive. That might be able to get them to release you,” Magill said.
4. Gouge the Creature’s Eyes
Jabbing a gator in the eyes may also make it release its bite, even for just a moment, allowing you to get away before it pulls you underwater. “The thing you want to stop them from doing is turning. They’ll grab, and they’ll start rolling to try to break off pieces to eat, and that’s the key thing,” Magill said. “You’ve got to hold on as hard as you can. And the other is to try to poke your fingers in their eyes. That’s easier said than done in that situation, of course, but that’s the best chance you have.”
Even if you get away with only flesh wounds, you need to get them treated immediately at a hospital or other medical facility.
According to a recent study by Australian scientists, a bite from a crocodile (or alligator) can lead to serious infections. Bacteria can enter the body via the deep cuts from a crocodile’s teeth or from wounds occurring when people try to escape.
The study said surgery is essential to prevent new or worsening infection after any bite so surgeons can remove already-infected tissue and help flush out any bacteria hiding in the wounds. “Bacteria living in crocodiles’ mouths can come from the intestines of other animals they eat or from the water in which they live.
“When people are trying to escape a crocodile attack, bacteria living in the soil and mud also pose a risk. And bacteria commonly living on our skin without causing problems can cause infection when the skin’s protective barrier is lost.
“If untreated, bacteria can cause severe wound infections. Without treating these infections properly, the victim’s tissues die and their arms and legs may need to be amputated. Infection can also enter the bloodstream and spread to the rest of the body causing multiple organ failure and death.”