By: Glenn Wilsey, Sr.
I always tell everyone I meet, never to "play" with alligators. There are times when people tell me that they have seen pictures of me in the water with wild alligators. Some will say that they have read my stories and know I like to swim free style with wild alligators. They always ask about alligator attacks. They ask why I am able to swim with alligators and not get attacked.
Well, to tell you the truth, I know a lot about alligators. Growing up in the everglades, my parents taught me how to get along while around alligators. I took it a bit further and learned how to get along "with" alligators. When I was 14 years old my mom came out to the lake to see me swim. I had no idea she was there. She saw me in the lake with a 7-foot alligator. The alligator wasnt even near me, as far as I was concerned. The alligator was about 20 feet from me. My Mom was really upset with me and when she calmed down, I explained to her that I had been swimming in the lake with the same alligator for the past two years. My Mom didnt like the idea but never really bothered me about it any more. I think she took on the "what I dont see wont bother me" attitude. As I grew older, I tried getting closer to other alligators that were in the everglades behind my house.
I dont tell everyone cool stories about how alligators are going to chase you down, attack you and eat you. Alligators as a rule do not "eat" people. An alligator cant excrete salt from their body. An alligator in the wild does not know the taste of salt. If a wild alligator were to grab you and you didnt fight him back he will most likely spit you out because you taste terrible to him because humans are salty. This is called a bite and release.
Since 1948 only 13 people have died in the whole State of Florida from alligator bites. This will show you how non-aggressive alligators can be, but this does not mean you wont get bit by an alligator. Most alligator bites happen at parks and recreation areas where stupid people are illegally feeding the alligators. Feed an alligator hot dogs, chicken and hamburgers and he "will" come back and "bite" the hand that feeds him or worse, someone else who shows up later.
I have had people tell me, Hey Gatorman there was a story I read that said an alligator bit off a mans hand and when they caught the alligator they found the hand in the alligators stomach. Then they say, "YOU said alligators dont EAT people". Well, there are exceptions to every rule. When alligators are being fed all the time by people at parks and recreation areas they get used to the taste of the salt in our food and from the sweat on peoples hands. So, if an alligator that gets used to being illegally fed at a park was to grab your hand and bite it off, its because he thinks he has just been given another piece of chicken with that people smell on it and will swallow it. So, I know that when someone says an alligator just came up and grabbed my hand out of nowhere, its for sure someone had been feeding that alligator. People feed alligators and when they come back for more, the people say, "ah, hes so cute!" And these are not always the ones that are bitten first. I dont feed alligators for two reasons, one it is illegal to feed alligators. The other reason I dont feed alligators is because I swim with alligators and if I feed alligators Ill lose my friendship with them. What I mean is, if they associate me or other humans with food then It wouldnt be possible to swim near them or even be in the area with them. When I say I swim with wild alligators it doesnt mean that I drive down the road and spot an alligator in a canal, then stop the car and jump in with him. There are times, however, I can meet an alligator and within 15 to 30 minuets be swimming next to them.
Just two weeks ago some friends and I went way out in the everglades to hang out and swim at one of our favorite places to relax. We stopped and tied off our airboats and jumped in the water. After about 10 minutes a 7-foot alligator got curious and came a little closer. I swam out to her and followed her back and forth across the channel. The alligator finally came over to all of us and even swam right between us. When I first swam out to the alligator the people that were with me started asking me all kinds of questions. The first question was, "ARE YOU CRAZY?" This was more screamed at me than asked of me. I just explained to them that I can look at an alligator and somewhat tell what he or she is going to do. Thats due to my years of studying alligator behavior.
The next question, was, "Arent you afraid?" Well, afraid isnt the word I would use. My usual reply to that question is that I am merely "cautiously terrified." Whenever Im in open water with a big unfamiliar alligator my heart is beating a mile a minute and yes, I am just afraid enough to be very careful.
Then someone asked, "What would you do if the alligator turned on you?" Well, Ill tell you this, a lot of things go through my mind. I have never had an alligator just attack me. I have had alligators get caught in the current in front of me and get pushed by the current in my direction. I try to act like something big and scary and not good to eat and I get out of the gators way if he doesnt get out of mine first. Remember, aside from a little curiosity, most gators would rather get away from people. The last question was something like, "What does your family thing about you swimming with alligators?" My family has said for years that they think Im a little crazy. My son is just like me and there are times when I have to ask him if he is crazy. My wife wont even watch me wrestle alligators, so you know she doesnt like watching me swim with alligators. I have taken her swimming with alligators and she says it does nothing for her. There were other people in the area at the time, locals mostly. Their kids were wading in the shallow water or fishing with their Moms and Dads. They werent worried about an alligator coming close them. They also were taught by their parents how to get along when around alligators.
When someone is bitten by an alligator they dont always tell the story like it really happened. Ive heard stories such as; "I was working in knee-deep water, picking out the aquatic weeds, when a 12-foot alligator came up from the bottom and bit my hand off. This just tells me that someone was feeding that alligator. It is unfortunate, as Ive said before, that the person who was bitten might not have been the person who was illegally feeding that alligator and making it associate humans with food. Its even more unfortunate that when an alligator does attack a human it has to be destroyed. A 12 foot alligator is hard not to see in knee-deep water. The alligator went for the hand, because it was something he had become used to doing. If a person lives by the water where the bite happened, or if they frequent the area then they should have known an alligator lived there. If I were in knee-deep water with a wild alligator I would expect the alligator to go for my knees or waist area. Most people that get bit close to their homes or a crowded area are bitten on the hands. This isnt natural behavior it could only happen because someone was hand feeding that alligator.
Sometimes when a human and an alligator are in the wrong place at the wrong time an alligator may bite because he doesnt know what humans are. He is testing to see if we are dangerous to him or if we are food. Generally, he will spit you out, a bite and release. This is what happens if you dont fight back. An alligator will grab a small object and hold it until it stops moving and then the alligator will decide what to do from there.
One day as I was swimming in our lake I accidentally stuck my hand in an alligators mouth. As the alligator moved back I went with him and he never put any pressure on my hand and, thankfully, he let go. There are lots of people who say they know what to do if an alligator grabs them. All you can do is hope that whatever you do works.
Although I have a great love for alligators and Im not too afraid of them.
I always tell everyone not to play with an alligator. An alligator has 40 teeth on his top jaw and 40 teeth on his bottom jaw and thats 80 good reasons to leave them alone. I have many friends that I have taken into the everglades and let them be in the water when an alligator was close by. Sometimes, Ive even told them about it. Some of my friends ask me if they can go with me, because they know Im going to get close to alligators before the day is over with.
When people are "bitten" by an alligator, there is always a great story about it. In most cases the story has been changed to protect the person who got bit. If you go to the hospital and you have been "bitten" by an alligator, the hospital has to call the fish and game commission. Then Fish and Game will come and arrest you and or give to a ticket to appear in court. The ticket could cost you up to $5,000 dollars and come with a 90-day jail sentence. Oh and your insurance company may not want to pay for the damages, because you were playing with the gator. That is why people change the story about the alligator "Attack." Most attacks are provoked attacks. I look at a provoked attack as; someone feeding alligators or showing off to his friends and/or a person foolishly exceeding their actual knowledge or ability. That includes getting in the water during mating season when the males are aggressively defending their territory. Sure, you might not do that last one on purpose, but if you get in the water and you didnt know it was mating season, arent you exceeding your knowledge and ability and therefore at fault?
You can see who the show off was. The show off is the one holding his hands up, wrapped in bandages from the tip of his fingers to his elbow.
The usual story is, "I was fishing and my hook got caught on a lily pad. When I went to unhook it, a 6 or 7 foot alligator came up from nowhere and grabbed my hand. This person always had a big "GOOFY" look on his face. Now, I know hes not telling the truth because he still has fingers and or a hand. That tells me the gator was less than 3 feet long and he was showing off by probably trying to: a) pet the alligator or b) catch the gator.
As much as I am around wild alligators, I have learned much about their behavior. I have seen wild alligators come close to people who know and live close to gators. When these people see an alligator getting too close, they will make loud noises or even toss a stick or something in the gators direction and the alligator will leave. These people live out in the wild and know the alligator will leave. Then, I have seen people at parks toss food in an alligators direction. That alligator would get curious and come closer and before you know it the alligator is right next to the shore. After a while, those people feel comfortable with the alligator and start to think he must be tame because, "everyone feeds him here." They will get so close to the gator that they are in the alligators "Strike" zone. Then that alligator will feel threatened and try to defend himself and someone may get bitten. Once again, when an alligator bites someone it usually will result in the alligator being declared dangerous and having to be killed. Theres an old saying that "a fool and his money are soon parted." Well, as far as alligators are concerned, I like to say a fool and his fingers are soon parted.
Well I do hope you have learned a little more about alligators from this story.
Glenn W. Wilsey Sr.
*This story or any part of it can not be used or reproduced with out written permission of the author!