Sunday, August 22, 2010

What's a Golf Ball Worth? Caution: Graphic Images


            I was recently forwarded an e-mail with a few graphic images associated with an apparent American Alligator, Alligator mississippiensis, attack.  The text accompanying the pictures suggested a Florida man was reaching down to retrieve a golf ball in a pond when he was attacked by an alligator.  It’s clear from the pictures the man unfortunately lost his arm as a result.

            Considering the millions of people scattered throughout Florida, many of whom snorkel, swim, and fish in the State’s waters, alligator attacks are exceedingly rare and unlikely.  But, it does happen.  So, I couldn’t rule out the possibility the e-mail was true and not another alligator hoax. Alligators don’t typically mess with humans, but we should use caution around any large and predatory animal. 

          The large reptiles have an incredibly wide range of potential prey items, from fish and turtles to raccoons and even deer.  But despite the diversity of alligator prey, a human walking upright on two legs doesn’t look like anything else; consequently, alligators typically flee from or ignore us when we approach the water’s edge. 

            Trouble arises when alligators begin to associate people with food.  This may occur when they become accustomed to being fed by humans.  In these cases, alligators will quickly lose their fear and become dangerous.

            Humans may be at risk from alligators in other circumstances too, such as when they are perceived to be an animal drinking from shore.  Alligators sometimes employ an ambush strategy to capture prey.  This strategy involves lying motionlessly in the water and waiting for an animal, such as a wild pig, to come down to the water to slate their thirst.  It’s easy for me to understand how a man reaching down into the water to find a golf ball could be mistaken for potential prey in these circumstances.

            With this in mind, I researched the story online and quickly found several news stories relating to alligator attacks on golf courses throughout the southeastern United States.  It could be that alligators on golf course ponds are exposed to humans so often (and perhaps occasionally fed by them as well) they gradually lose their fear.  When confronted with a ball in the drink, I suggest golfers take a penalty stroke rather than rooting around in the water in an attempt to improve their score.  That golfer on the hole ahead of you could have just thrown his leftover sandwich to the resident alligator.



            In any case, the pictures I received are associated with a 2007 alligator attack on a South Carolina snorkeler, not a golfer in Florida (or any other State).  Although most associate alligators with Florida, the species can be found nearly throughout South Carolina and even the third of North Carolina closest to the Atlantic coast. This particular alligator, killed after the attack, measured 12 feet (3.7 m) long and 550 pounds (250 kg). I can’t fault the snorkeler in this case; he was apparently minding his own business and had no reason to fear what is typically a harmless species.  I myself have often been found wading through their habitats (but not those of their cousins, the crocodiles). But, we must always be aware of our surroundings and knowledgeable of the risks associated with entering the realm of a large and potentially dangerous animal, even the normally inoffensive American Alligator.

2 comments:

Mike said...

Reminds me of a recent observation I made of a man crouched at the edge of a golf course pond, patting the top of the water, attempting to get a young alligator to approach. All I could do was grit my teeth, hope he knew enough to watch for the resident 12 footer lurking about and relate it to the local wildlife conservation officer.

The people don't necessarily have any ill will in mind, but I'd like to think they'd have better common sense.

David Steen said...

Mike,

Thanks for sharing. Perhaps golf courses within the range of the American Alligator should have policies in effect to discourage this type of behavior. Educational programs and displays might be beneficial too.

Dave