Environment

Alligator attacking? Here's what to do, experts say.

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On Friday, a Plantation woman who was walking her dogs was killed when she was dragged into a lake by an alligator.

Earlier this week, a pastor was fatally attacked by a crocodile as he baptized followers at a lake in Ethiopia. And in June 2016, a Nebraska toddler who was visiting Disney World was grabbed and devoured by a gator at one of the resort's lakes.

So, what do you do when you're confronted with an alligator, which generally live in freshwater lakes, ponds, rivers, marshes, swamps, and even man-made canals throughout Florida? (Crocodiles, which live in brackish coastal waters, are more rare.)

For one, you want to prevent such an encounter by not feeding them, not swimming in marshy waters and not swimming in any body of water after dusk, when alligators are in the hunt for food. By feeding them even bits of bread, alligators lose their natural fear of humans and associate humans with food, alligator experts say.

Most important, keep children and dogs away from shorelines where alligators may be. Alligators can lunge at a child or pet within a few feet of the shoreline.

"Do not allow dogs to swim or explore waters that are known to have alligators because dogs look like prey to alligators," according to to a paper on alligators by the University of Florida's Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, entitled "Living with Alligators: A Florida Reality." "There are far more alligator attacks on dogs than on humans."

But if you find yourself in the reptile's line of attack, here are key tips on what to do:

Run

"Let's say you are standing by the edge of the water, you should immediately move away from the shoreline, because they are ambush predators. They are not looking for a fight; they are looking for an easy meal," said Todd Hardwick, a longtime South Florida alligator trapper. "If you see one nearby, step away. If it's coming at you, run as fast as you can."

Alligators can run at speeds of 7.5 to 9 mph for short distances, according to the University of Florida report.

And yes, running in zigzags is a "big myth," Hardwick said. "Just run."

Poke its eyes

"Poke at the alligator's eyes," said Joe Wasilewski, a noted South Florida wildlife biologist. "They will sink in to the skull. If you do that enough, you're gonna piss them off enough to let go."

Punch its head

"Don't panic and punch at the animal's head; it's a very vulnerable spot for the alligator," Wasilewski said. "They are looking for easy prey, so they'll usually let go. Make as much noise as possible."

Fight back

"You just want to fight because they don't want to fight," Hardwick said, noting that you'll want to do that before an alligator goes into what's called a "death roll."

"They'll roll under the water violently, possibly tearing a limb. The person then could either drown or die of blood loss."

Monique O. Madan, 305-376-2108, @MoniqueOMadan
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