People Feeding Alligators Could Have Contributed to Attack on 2-Year-Old at Walt Disney Resort

June 15, 2016 Updated: June 15, 2016

What began as a search effort for a 2-year-old Nebraska boy snatched by a seven- to eight-foot alligator at Walt Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort & Spa in Orlando, Fla., on June 14, ended with the recovery of the toddler’s body the following day.

So what do we know about American alligators?

American alligators are mostly found in southern states, with Florida having one of the largest populations—approximately 1.5 million. Alligators spend most of their time lurking in freshwater habitats in search of crabs, crayfish, and bugs, turtles, birds—and not humans.

An alligator’s natural behavior is to fear humans, and it is when humans feed them that the fear is eliminated, said Kenneth L. Krysko, manager of herpetology collections at the Florida Museum of Natural History.

“What happens is people feed them,” Krysko told Epoch Times. He said it is illegal to feed alligators in the state of Florida.

“If humans start feeding [them], the natural fear of humans are gone and an accident can happen.”

It is then the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) is called in and forced to euthanize the reptile, as it is now considered a nuisance and dangerous.

The FWC euthanized five alligators in search of the missing toddler. 

The association of people with food alters the behavior of an alligator, which in turn can lead to an “extremely rare” attack, said Krysko.

A typical reaction would be for the alligator to drag its prey into deeper water, Lee A. Fitzgerald, professor and curator at the Department of Wildlife and Fisheries Science at Texas A&M University in an email to Epoch Times.

Then a reflex known as the “death roll” can occur, where the alligator rolls its body while holding its prey. “The jaws of an alligator close with strong force and are difficult to pry open,” described Fitzgerald.

Fitzgerald reiterated that attacks are rare and preventable “by not swimming or wading in areas where large alligators are present.”

Seven Seas Lagoon by the Walt Disney resort area, Orlando, Fla. (Google maps)
Seven Seas Lagoon by the Walt Disney resort area, Orlando, Fla. (Google maps)

In the lagoon area where the 2-year-old was snatched Tuesday night, there are “No Swimming” signs, but no warnings against wading, or that there are alligators. The family was sitting near a pool by the lagoon on Tuesday, “enjoying the evening”, according to Orange County Sheriff Jerry L. Demings. The 2-year-old was playing on the edge of the lagoon when the incident happened. The boy had a 4-year-old sibling. 

If You Come Into Contact With an Alligator

If one were to come in contact with an alligator, Fitzgerald advises to “cry for help and do everything possible not to be drawn into deep water.”

Krysko advises a more forceful form of defense.

“Fight back, poke its eyes out,” he said.