Jacksonville, Fla. is celebrating National Alligator Day, a day established by Wild Florida Safari Park to raise awareness about the significance of alligators in Florida’s ecosystem and educate the public about these reptiles. Alligators can be found in all 67 counties of Florida, and it’s important to know how to handle encounters with them near your home.
To lower the risk of encountering alligators, the University of Florida provides the following tips:
- Don’t feed wild alligators: Feeding them is illegal and can make them associate humans with food, losing their natural fear of people.
- Avoid throwing fish scraps in trash cans: These scraps can unintentionally attract gators looking for an easy snack.
- Follow posted signs: Only swim in designated swimming areas and obey the instructions given.
- Swim during daylight hours: Alligators are more active at night, so swimming during the daytime is generally safer.
- Be vigilant with children and pets: Never allow small children to play unsupervised near water, and keep pets away from the shoreline as they can resemble alligators’ natural prey.
If you are concerned about alligators encroaching on your yard, installing a fence that is at least 4.5 feet high can be effective, as alligators can climb.
Dr. Frank Mazzotti, a wildlife ecology professor at the University of Florida, suggests assuming there is an alligator near any body of water if you live nearby. He advises caution, careful behavior, and awareness of surroundings when near water, as most incidents occur when people are in close proximity to the water.
In the event of an encounter, the best course of action is to run away in a straight line. Contrary to popular belief, zig-zag running is not effective as alligators have a limited sprinting ability and are unlikely to pursue for long distances. Running straight and quickly can increase your chances of escaping safely.
If you find yourself bitten by an alligator, fighting back is recommended by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC).
However, attempting to pry open the jaws is not advisable due to the gators’ powerful bite force. The FWC advises making noise, resisting, and hitting or poking the alligator’s eyes, as this may cause it to release its grip. Alligators typically release prey they cannot easily overpower.
It’s important to note that it is against the law to kill or harass alligators without a permit. Leaving them alone is generally the best approach if it is possible. In the event of an alligator bite, seeking immediate medical attention is crucial to prevent serious infection.
In summary, on National Alligator Day, it is important to be aware of how to coexist with alligators in Florida. By following guidelines such as avoiding feeding them, being cautious near water, and knowing how to react during encounters, you can reduce the risk of negative interactions and appreciate the role alligators play in the ecosystem.