It took several days in Florida for the idea that I was pretty much surrounded by giant reptiles that could kill me to sink in to my brain. And, no, I am not referring to the Republican presidential candidates who were stumping through the state trying to gin up votes in the primary election which was scheduled for the last day of my trip to the Sunshine State. I am, of course, referring to Alligator mississippiensis, more commonly known as the American Alligator, or, colloquially, as gators.
As a resident of New York City the only predator I am ever concerned about while birding near my home is other people. It was weird to think twice about approaching the vegetation-covered edge of an innocuous pond but it only makes sense. Though alligator attacks are rare they do happen. According to Wikipedia:
Alligators are capable of killing humans, but are generally wary enough not to see them as a potential prey. Mistaken identity leading to an attack is always possible, especially in or near murky waters. Alligators are often less aggressive towards humans than large crocodile species, a few of which (mainly the Nile and Saltwater Crocodiles) may prey on humans with some regularity. Alligator bites are serious injuries due to the reptile’s sheer bite force and risk of infection. Even with medical treatment, an alligator bite may still result in a fatal infection. The alligator’s tail is a formidable weapon that can easily knock a person down and break their bones. Alligators are protective parents who will protect their young by attacking anything that comes too close or poses threats to baby alligators.
Since 1948, there have been more than 275 unprovoked attacks on humans in Florida, of which at least 17 resulted in death. There were only nine fatal attacks in the U.S. throughout the 70s, 80s, and 90s, but alligators killed 12 people from 2001 to 2007. In May 2006, alligators killed three Floridians in less than a week.
Yikes! And alligators seem to be everywhere in Florida – basking in the sun, cruising through canals, eyeing your pet poodle. While they can be dangerous they are also incredibly cool and it was a joy to be able to see them in the wild (from a distance).
One disappointment was that not one single alligator responded to my challenges for a wrasslin’ match. You know, maybe alligators aren’t all that tough at all…
And, for the record, I am not the first person to ponder birding where danger awaits on 10,000 Birds.