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Gator Attack!

Not all gators are as friendly as "Jake" the Razor Gator.

Gator Attack Statistics

In the story that follows, you will read the true account of a gator attack in the panhandle of Florida. Author Jack Rudloe details his tangle with a giant gator and how he almost lost his life while wrestling it, in an effort to save his dog from a watery grave.

"...as the wings of our minnow seine were piling up on the edge of the ditch, I glanced at the diminished water space within the half circle and noticed with some irritation that there was something large, black, and heavy being dragged along. It moved like dead weight , inert. Obviously it was a log that could mess up our strike. Usually the big expanse of needlerush marsh alongside the creek system managed to filter out logs. I didn't recall any recent storms strong enough to send anything that large far up into the ditch. Maybe someone threw it there. In any case, it would have to be hauled out.

I turned my attention back to the net. It was the critical time when we began to draw the webbing up on shore. To keep the lead line down, I crouched down on my knees, bending way over and steadily pulling the lead and cork lines in together, hand over hand. If we didn't keep a steady, fast-moving tension on the wall of webbing, straining the water and packing the shrimp and fish together, they could get away. Escape lay either over the floating cork line or down beneath the lead line.

I glanced back at the obstruction in the net and cursed to myself. If the log became all balled up in our net, we could lose the entire catch. I wished we had a third person present to wade out and drag it up on the bank. But neither of us could turn the moving net loose to do so.

Vaguely I thought that something wasn't quite right. The log was shiny, almost leathery, I dismissed my concern and focused my attention on the lead line. If I could keep it pressed down tight enough, I could perhaps drag the log and the catch up on the beach without balling up the net and letting everything get out.
I looked up again and, suddenly, came face to face with a pair of large cold yellow eyes staring back at me, no more than four feet away.

"What's the matter?" Anne cried, jumping up from her crouching position on the other end when she heard me yell, "God, God, an alligator! Get away from that thing!"

For a few dangerous seconds I froze, mesmerized by those eyes. My whole body shook with fear as I looked at that dark leathery skin stretched tightly over the bony head. The coldness of the gaze, the terrible alien focus-it mattered not that it was only five-and-a-half feet long. It could still do plenty of damage.

Over the years there have been a growing number of attacks on humans, not so much by female alligators protecting their nests as by predatory males. Most are maulings, but there have been a few fatalities.
Comprising bone and muscle and less than one percent brain, the males can reach sixteen feet or larger. The females seldom grow more than eight or nine feet, and together they fill the night with terrifying mating roars and bellows that shake the swamp with thunder.

People have mistakenly lost their fear of these ancient reptiles. Alligators have become the symbol of Florida tourism, plastered on billboards amid the neon and claptrap of tourist attractions. They appear ubiquitously on postcards, in animated cartoons, and as smiling mascots of the University of Florida's football team. But I had learned through bitter experience to take them seriously. They are not friendly stuffed dolls, or inflated green floats in swimming pools. They are throwbacks to the Age of Reptiles, surviving for more than 60 million years, and among the last true monsters left on earth.
In that fraction of a second, looking into those eyes staring up from the roadside ditch, atavism took over. True, it was only a five-footer, maybe six, but as the years vanished, terrible memories returned, when I battled another, far larger alligator than this trying to save my dog. It happened at Otter Lake, which was only a couple of miles away on the St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge. It used to be our favorite swimming hole. Anne and I would take our eight-month-old baby, Sky, and soak in the warm tannin waters beneath the towering cypress trees with their gnarled roots and buttresses that rose high above that water. What happened that morning on June 8, 1980, could have been much worse.

I had just finished jogging along the sand roads with Megan, my three-year-old Airedale, and went in for our usual swim. Then it happened. Even though it was eight years ago, I could still hear myself screaming, "Megan… Come, Megan… Meegaan!" My fright burst through the still morning air in desperation and disbelief.
An enormous alligator had rounded the curve of the lake shore and was bearing down on my Airedale. The cold, gold eyes, gliding just above the opaque water of Otter Lake, were fixed on Megan, my companion, my friend for the past three years.
Never had I seen a living creature move so fast, with such overtly grim determination. As the beast sped into the shallows, I could see ugly white spikes of teeth protruding from its crooked, wavy jaws.
Megan was almost out of the water, swimming to me with a bewildered expression, unaware of the danger closing in behind her in the lake where she swam almost every morning after a three-mile run with me.
Megan's feet hit the bottom.

She's going to escape!

I felt hope, joy. But the black, plated animal put on a horrible burst of speed. More and more of the knobby, black body emerged from the tannin-brown water. There seemed to be no end to it.
"No! No! No!" I screamed and rushed forward, somehow hoping to frighten it away, but the reptile couldn't have cared less. Its attention was fixed on Megan with cold-blooded intensity. With an explosion of water, it lunged upward, rearing above my dog almost as tall as a man, its front webbed claws spread menacingly apart. Time seemed to freeze. Tyrannosaurus rex had come to life.

Megan's confusion was transformed to terror that froze her to the spot. From somewhere inside the reptilian nightmare came a hissing like a steam boiler. The hissing became an unearthly roar as it struck, clamping its jaws on my pet. Crashing back into the water, it twisted and rolled, driving her down into the mud and weeds.
Something snapped in my brain. I had to do something. Adrenalin surged through me. With a cry of rage, of fear, of instinct, I found myself running and leaping through the air, onto the back of the thing attacking my Airedale.
Now the dark water exploded and cascaded, as the alligator slapped its tail. I slid over its plates and bumps, groping for a hold on its great back. I felt numbing pain in my chest, as my chin jammed into its ridged back.
My brain flooded with messages. It was bony to the touch, almost dry, not slimy. There wasn't an inch of give. As I struggled with every bit of muscle to throw it off Megan, it swelled with air, making the hard plated scales that normally lay flat rise upward like a spiny blowfish. The thing was suddenly bristling with spikes.
Ignoring me, the alligator surged forward and got an even better grip on Megan, who all but disappeared inside the horrid maw. My hands groped the soft underside of the monster's throat, feeling the alien beaded leather and scales. It was almost flabby.

The tail slapped again. Water exploded.

Keep clear of the tail, it can break your leg!
I hung on, desperately clinging, and tried with all my strength to turn the animal, to keep it from returning to the sunless, deep waters.

I've got to force it up on land.

My hands groped up to its mouth, right where its toothy smile hinged. At least here was a handle of sorts. But still, it was no more than a skull covered with leather. There was no flesh, no give.

I got a good grip, dug my knees into the sand, and yanked upward. The steel-trap jaws wouldn't yield. I sensed them shutting down harder, squeezing life and breath out of my Megan. I saw a flowing trail of bubbles.

If only I had a weapon. A knife!

She's drowning… I'm running out of time!

Again and again I dug in and pulled up on its upper jaw, but nothing I could do distracted it from its single awesome purpose. Fortunately for me, the saurian's only intent was to drag its prey down into the lake and drown it. Its small brain was able to focus on that and that only. I was only a hindrance, not an alternative. Maybe it thought I was another alligator trying to steal its meal away.

I felt my knees dragging through the weeds in the sandy bottom as it pushed inexorably back into the water.
With all my might, I slammed my fist down between its eyes, again and again. The only result was pain in my hands. It was like pounding a fence post. Time, depth, and distance worked against me as the alligator dragged Megan farther out into the water. I was losing the battle.

Desperately I threw my one-hundred seventy pounds into manhandling it, trying to turn it back into my world. For a second, hope returned. I succeeded. The beast did turn. But just for a moment. Then it lifted me up, swung around, and continued on its course.
The eyes… go for the eyes, something commanded in my brain.
My fingers worked their way over the unyielding leather-clad skull. I found its eyes, but the two sets of eyelids, one membranous and the other a thick leathery cover, closed automatically, sealing off its only vulnerable spot. Tightly closed, they weren't what I imagined them to be, soft and yielding. They felt like mechanical ball joints on a car. With all my might I jammed my thumbs down, but it was futile, as if I were jamming my thumbs against hard rubber handballs.
All my eye-gouging succeeded in doing was making the alligator swim faster. Black water closed over my head, the bottom was now sloping off quickly, and the beast had water beneath it. Any advantage I had was gone. Now it was rapidly entering its own world, and for me it was no longer a battle of land versus water; it was one of oxygen versus the depths.

I managed to force it up and get one hard gulp of air before it pulled me back down. Again I drove my thumbs into its eyes. By now, I knew that my efforts to save Megan were futile. Even if I could free her, and she weren't already dead, how could she survive having her bones crushed and her lungs punctured by eighty spiked teeth, each one an inch long.
Its long tail swept back and forth, sculling it forward. I was towed rapidly out toward the middle of the lake, no longer a problem to the powerful swimmer.

Once more I fought it to the surface long enough to grab another breath, and then we were going down, down, again. Down into the lightless swamp water. I was exhausted; my lungs were bursting. I could no longer see any sign of Megan. My vision was limited to inches-just enough to see the alligator's coat of mail.

Despairingly I let go and watched its plated trunk churning beneath me down into the gloom. It went on and on and on, like a freight train. I saw the rear webbed feet, churning one after the other, and then the narrow, undulating tail with its pale underside flashing. I could not see Megan. I would never see her again.
I boiled up to the surface, erupted into the air, swelling my lungs with oxygen. When I could breathe again, I let out the mindless despairing cry of a wounded animal. My arms and legs thrashed through the water, moving me toward the cypresses and the beautiful oaks with their long twisted branches. Finally hard sand grated beneath my knees as I scrambled up on the shoreline, crying and yelling incoherently.

In horror, I turned and looked at the empty lake-it had swallowed up all signs of disturbance. Its calm waters mirrored the blue sky, the stacks of white puffy clouds, and the moss-draped cypress trees. An osprey winged its way across the sky, calling its highpitched chirp. It was as if nothing had occurred.

For days I remained shaken and depressed. I had fought with everything I had and lost. I missed Megan terribly. I kept seeing her golden shaggy face looking at me in bewilderment as I urged her out of the lake. Over and over again, that big black head closed in on her. Slowly I reconstructed what happened from the bruises and scratches and pains in my body. The long linear scrapes on my chest had to have come from the alligator's dorsal bumps, the bruises on my ribs and belly from its thrashing back and forth. The aches in my thighs were from straddling it with a scissors grip.

Whenever I closed my eyes, the nightmares returned and so did the words of Walter Anderson, a hermit artist who renounced civilization and went to live on Horn Island, off the Mississippi coast.
What is man's relationship to nature? If he makes friends with it, does he lose the careless sowing of seeds? If nature becomes a god, will it not also become a demon and destroy him with that same careless brutality with which man destroys fish? If the brute is necessary, who is to be the brute?"

Published with permission from Jack Rudloe's "Wilderness Coast" 2005 Great Outdoors Publishing



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