Expert: Gator attacks are uncommon in Florida, but be wary


PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — Tragedy struck the “happiest place on Earth” Tuesday when a 2-year-old boy was snatched off the shore and dragged underwater by an alligator.

Officials said a Nebraska family was on vacation at a Walt Disney World Resort when the child waded about 1 or 2 feet into the water at a small beach and was taken.

The boy’s father was injured trying to fight off the gator, but neither he nor a nearby lifeguard could save his son. Divers found the body of Lane Graves about 16 hours after the incident was reported.

Alligators are not uncommon in Florida, however, unprovoked attacks on humans are uncommon and deadly attacks are extremely rare, according to a local expert.

Zoo New England President John Linehan has been in the trenches over his 35-year career and had some advice for those visiting the Sunshine State.

“Definitely staying away from bodies of water in Florida unless you know that it’s alligator-free is a good idea,” said Linehan. “Especially if you’ve got smaller children.”

Linehan said visitors should not be casting fishing lines wherever and whenever, and they also shouldn’t wade into waters on a whim.

An eight-foot long alligator silently swims through the waters of the Florida Everglades at Everglades National Park, Fla. Sunday, Oct. 30, 2011. (AP Photo/J Pat Carter)
Things to know about Florida gators »
(AP Photo/J Pat Carter)

Experts say alligators are not sophisticated in finding food and they’ll eat a wide array of whatever’s accessible, including small mammals.

“All of the predators really see small children, small humans, as easier prey,” Linehan added. “They don’t necessarily discern between different species. They have very strong instincts.”

Part of the problem has been human development encroaching on alligator habitats, according to Linehan.

“There are more and more human/animal interactions and fortunately, most of them don’t come out with tragedies like this,” said Linehan. “But in many cases, they have the potential to.”

Zoo New England controls the Franklin Park and Stone Zoos.

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