After a 2-year-old boy was snatched by an alligator from shallow waters at a Disney resort near Orlando — his body was recovered intact from a massive, man-made lagoon — animal expert Jack Hanna spoke out about the sometimes misunderstood creatures.
He said there are certain things humans need to know.
Hanna, director emeritus of the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium, said this is currently breeding season for alligators, so many may be looking for mates. And because they can go six months to a year without eating, they may also be looking for food. For these reasons, alligators can migrate great distances — walking down roads, crawling through pipes, slogging through swamps.
That’s why, Hanna said, it’s challenging to keep them completely contained.
He called this week’s horrific scene at Disney a “terrible, terrible accident.”
“This gator comes up there like a bullet, and the father — God bless his soul — had no chance,” he told ABC News, “because, once a gator clamps down, the jaws are the most powerful jaws of any animal in the entire world.
“It’s one of these things that happened that’s just a terrible, terrible accident.”
Police said 2-year-old Lane Graves was in the shallow area of a lake on Tuesday night when an alligator grabbed him and dragged him into deeper waters. His father, Matt Graves, ran into the water and reached for the boy — cutting his hand while attempting to wrestle his son from the gator’s deadly grip.
After an emotional recovery operation, police said the boy’s body was found in water not far from the site of the attack.
Orange County Sheriff Jerry Demings told reporters on Wednesday that an autopsy must be performed but that it is suspected that the boy drowned.
Typically, Hanna said, gators are intimidated by humans and leave them alone.
According to the Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, “alligators are opportunistic feeders” whose diets “include prey species that are abundant and easily accessible. Juvenile alligators eat primarily insects, amphibians, small fish, and other invertebrates. Adult alligators eat rough fish, snakes, turtles, small mammals, and birds.”
In addition, alligators have been known to feast on carrion — or dead animals — and even fellow alligators, according to the University of Florida.
“The person is the last thing a gator wants to go for — they’re afraid of human beings,” Hanna told Fox News. “However, if it was hungry when this thing was happening, and there were ankles splashing around there, that to the gator is something the gator may want.”
Hanna said alligators can be dangerous because they are hard to spot — and nearly impossible to outrun.
He told Fox News that “the gator is like a submarine” that sticks its eyes out above the water to see and goes under to hear and feel vibrations from its prey.
“When a gator comes out of the water, it’s like a bullet,” Hanna told ABC News. “They can outrun any human being on Earth in the first 20 to 30 feet.”
Hanna told major news stations that the best advice he can give to people is: maintain a safe distance.
- Never feed an alligator. Ever. “The minute you start feeding gators as a person, then you’re asking for a big problem — beyond the loss of life,” he told Fox News. “You cannot feed these gators.”
- When trying to see or snap a photo of an alligator, stay about 50 feet away.
- When swimming, fishing or enjoying other water activities, stay away from areas where gators are known to be living.
- Stay away from their nests. “The gator will go through a brick wall to get you if they’re around their nest or trying to go there,” he told ABC News.
- Never assume one lying in the road is dead, or try to remove it. Sometimes, they lie on roads because the asphalt is hot — but they are still very much alive.
During an alligator attack, experts have said, the victim should fight back — screaming, hitting, kicking the animal — and bystanders should make as much noise as possible, according to People magazine.
Alligators can get frightened and may flee when they think they cannot take down their prey.
But Hanna said the best option is to use common sense and avoid the animals altogether.
This week’s incident at Disney was a “freak, tragic accident,” he told CBS News.