Surviving a Gator Attack: 'Fight Like Hell,' Wildlife Experts Say

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Officials are still searching for the body of a 2-year-old Nebraska boy who was dragged into the water by an alligator Tuesday night at Disney's Grand Floridian Resort & Spa in Bay Lake, Florida.

The toddler was playing in the water at Disney's Seven Seas Lagoon around 9 p.m. when the alligator attacked, officials said. The reptile is estimated to be 4 to 7 feet long.

Florida is teeming with more than a million gators, but only a dozen or so bites are recorded each year, according to statistics from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. Fatal alligator attacks are rare.

To avoid an encounter with a gator, wildlife experts said people must never feed them. It's not only dangerous but also illegal in Florida. Families with young children should also steer clear of waterways at nighttime, when alligators can't decipher the difference between a child and its normal food sources, which include birds, rodents and other small mammals. People must be especially vigilant during nesting season, in June and July.

"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, said on "Good Morning America" today. "They usually nest close to the water. If you get near a nest, a female will come after you. Females are very protective."

In the unusual event that you find yourself squaring off with a gator, wildlife experts offer these four tips:


If you happen to lock eyes with an alligator on land, forget 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 today. "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."

Fight Back

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.'"

Smack the Snout

Rather than try to open a gator's jaws, which are extremely powerful, aim for where the animal is most vulnerable, like its snout.

"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.

Gouge the 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 on "GMA." "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."

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