Sharing the Trails with Alligators

If you hike near water in Florida, chances are pretty good you’re going to see an alligator at some point. Those of us who are on the trails a lot are used to it, but it can be scary if you haven’t had much experience sharing the trails with these reptiles. Something that’s important to remember is that a healthy, wild alligator will most likely want nothing to do with you; so the best course of action is to just ignore them and let them go on their way. Alligator attacks in Florida are extremely rare. According to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission there have only been twenty-four fatal alligator attacks in Florida since 1973. Statistically, you’re more likely to be killed by a cow than you are an alligator.

Alligators are ambush predators. That means they lay in wait, hiding beneath the surface of the water or near the water’s edge, then they quickly strike their prey. Never get closer than thirty feet from an alligator. Their striking distance is about fifteen feet, and they’re lightning fast when they want to catch their dinner!

The only safe way to get photos like this of an alligator is with a telephoto lens. You’ll often see videos of people getting dangerously close to alligators, hoping to get a memorable photo of one. This is definitely not advisable. While an alligator may seem docile and uninterested in you, they are wild and dangerous animals and deserve plenty of respect and distance.

A mama alligator with babies like this is the most dangerous kind of alligator, and you want to stay as far away as possible so she won’t feel the need to protect her adorable offspring.

So what do you do if you’re walking along and come upon an alligator in the middle of, or near the edge of the trail? If the alligator doesn’t seem to want to carry on and get itself back to the water, the best thing to do is just wait it out from a safe distance. Try walking heavily toward the alligator (but not too close!) and see if it will move off the trail. If it doesn’t, and you can’t pass safely, you’ll just have to turn around and leave it alone. Remember, this is his home. You’re just a guest.

Should you be afraid of alligators? It might help to remember that alligators have a very slow metabolism. That means they really don’t need to eat as often as you might think. In the wild, it’s common for them to only eat about once a week. The best way to avoid an alligator attack is to always assume there are alligators in any body of water in Florida. Most alligator attacks happen at the edge of bodies of water. Alligators are especially drawn to dogs, so never take your dogs where alligators may be present. They’re much more likely to turn and go away from full sized humans, but a smaller person or a dog could look like prey to them. Just be vigilant and respect their space, and you’ll be fine. Many alligator attacks are the result of alligators that have been fed by humans. These alligators learn to associate people with food, and that’s a death sentence for the alligator. A nuisance alligator will most likely be put down, and we don’t want to see that happen.

Alligators are an awesome part of life in Florida. We share our home here with about 1.25 million of them! The best thing we can do is be educated and learn to enjoy them, from a very safe distance.

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