I was incredibly saddened to hear about the little boy in Florida who was killed by the Alligator last week while visiting Disney World. I grew up in Florida and over the years had many encounters with them. I now live in Phoenix Arizona and often wonder why they couldn’t survive here if someone were to transplant them. I can gladly say I am happy no idiot has done that to my knowledge. Arizona has a very warm climate and despite popular belief, there are plenty of lakes and large bodies of water here. The eco system of birds and turtles could sustain their feeding at least for a while and the temperate climate could keep a cold-blooded alligator warm. With that being said, please keep gators away from Phoenix.
My first encounter with an alligator in the wild was in Clearwater FL. I used to live next door to the Philadelphia Phillies training facilities and would often visit the complex to watch the big leaguers take batting practice. I live next to a similar facility now here in Phoenix Arizona. The Phillies training camp was right next door to a large body of water known as Moccasin Lake. We would often see large gators swimming around there and I recall a story of a 16-foot alligator crossing the highway and taking a bite out of a police cruiser. There was a narrow passage between the water and a fence. We used to use that walkway to go find homerun balls. One day I decided to ride my bike over there alone. While walking through the narrow gap between the water and fence, I failed to notice that I was approaching a 9-foot alligator lying in the sun right in my path. I nearly stepped directly on his head. With a burst of adrenaline, I jumped 10 feet backwards and found myself 100 yards away in what felt like 2 seconds time. The gator was startled as well and jumped into the water.
Another time, years later, I was golfing in central Florida at a course completely surrounded by water and trees. I had hooked my drive into the woods and went in to look for it. I found the ball sitting in a shallow creek. As I approached the ball to retrieve it, I looked to my left and noticed the head of what appeared to be at least a 10-foot alligator. I left the ball there and walked out slowly backwards. If you have ever golfed in Florida you will notice that the alligators are permanent residents of every body of water around. Tourists often find it entertaining to feed alligators. This should never be done. When gators become accustomed to people they will always approach for a meal. This puts people at great risk because the gators associate you with food. 99% of the time, alligators will avoid people all together and leave your area. Unless of course they have been fed before.
Now that we live in Phoenix AZ, we don’t have to worry about alligators. There are plenty of other creatures to fear out here. My wife and I were deeply hurt when thinking about the loss of the child in Orlando. I can’t imagine what that family is going through. I am myself a father of 2 young children. I did however have to ask, “How could someone let this happen”? I take for granted that everyone knows the rules about fresh water in Florida and the ambush skills of the American alligator. We have been to that very beach and even eaten breakfast at the restaurant nearby. I’m sure the water looked inviting and no parent would ever put his or her child into harms way. The truth is that they probably just didn’t think a gator could be lurking just under the surface. People often let their guards down while on vacation as well, for some reason. I have since heard that they have captured several alligators out of that same body of water.
Our heart goes out to this family in their time of suffering. Please remember when you visit Florida that the gators are everywhere. Most full-grown adults are way off of their menu but small children and dogs are the most vulnerable. You can enjoy fishing in fresh water but I would never advise swimming. Even though I myself have done it as a kid not knowing any better.