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Gator Attack!

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

Gator Attack Story

The number of alligator sightings and attacks in Florida has nearly tripled in recent decades, according to a paper being published today in the journal Wilderness & Environmental Medicine. As more Americans move to coastal communities and the country's alligator population continues to rebound, humans are increasingly encountering the once-endangered species. In Florida alone, the number of alligator attacks has risen from an annual average of five between 1948 and 1986 to an average of 14 between 1986 and 2005, said Ricky Langley, a medical epidemiologist at North Carolina's Department of Health and Human Services. The number of "nuisance complaints'' or sightings in Florida increased from 5,000 in 1978 to nearly 15,000 in 1998. "It's pretty much a straight line going up,'' Langley said in an interview, adding that Americans "just have to be more careful, and be on the lookout when they're on the water or on golf courses.'' Florida leads the nation in alligator sightings; Louisiana reported 4,000 alligator encounters last year while Georgia and Texas each had about 450. Alabama followed with almost 250, and Arkansas reported just under 100 alligators in 2004. The trend marks a sharp departure from the late 1960s, when federal officials listed the American alligator as an endangered species. US alligators, which made it off the endangered species list in 1987, now number more than 3 million.


Topping the list, few may be surprised to learn, is trying to pick up or catch an alligator. Swimming in an area thick with the reptiles comes in at No. 2. Retrieving lost golf balls is also high on the list.

The paper appears in the current issue of Wilderness & Environmental Medicine. In it, the author, Dr. Ricky L. Langley, an epidemiologist for North Carolina's Department of Health and Human Services, offers a chronicle of almost half a century of run-ins between people and alligators in the United States.

Alligators were once listed as endangered. But as the population has increased, so have encounters between people and alligators, and that is likely to continue. The problem, Dr. Langley said, is that as alligators rebound, more and more people are moving to the coastal areas that the animals favor. Apart from actual attacks, nuisance complaints are also on the rise.

Among the steps people can take to avoid reduce risk, the study said, is to keep small children away from water where alligators live, avoid swimming at dawn, dusk and night, when they eat most actively, and do not feed them.The study found that from 1948 to August 2004, 376 injuries and 15 deaths caused by alligators were reported in the 10 states in which they live, an area roughly bounded by Florida, North Carolina, Texas and a small part of Oklahoma. It also noted that for those who survived the attacks, there was often a risk of infection.

When Dr. Langley looked for patterns in the attacks, he found that most victims were male.



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