Beware of gators! - WALB.com, Albany News, Weather, Sports

Beware of gators!

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October 12, 2007

Albany--After two recent alligator attacks here in the southeast, wildlife experts are warning you to be extra careful when near a body of water.

In September, a 12-foot alligator tore a South Carolina man's arm off at the shoulder while he was snorkeling in a lake.  Just this past Saturday, a woman in Savannah died after being attacked by an alligator.

Since 1980, there have been eight reported cases of alligator attacks in Georgia.  Saturday's incident is the first deadly attack reported in the state since that time.

News 10 talked to wildlife experts who say there are a number of things you can do to avoid becoming an alligator's next target.

At Chehew Park, the alligator exhibit is one of the zoo's most popular attractions.  "Our largest alligator is about thirteen feet and maybe 800 or 900 pounds," says assistant park curator, Ben Roberts.

And for the most part, Roberts says they're pretty timid creatures. "If you walk up on them, they're going to run first," he says.

That is unless:  "People start actually feeding them.  It's kind of like feeding a dog out of your hand, you do it long enough, eventually you might get nipped," says Roberts.

"It's illegal to feed alligators in the state of Georgia and it's not a very good idea because alligators learn to associate people with food," says Julie Robbins with the Georgia Department of Natural Resources.

Ranger Julie Robbins says it was an alligator that killed 83-year-old Gwen Williams in Savannah less than a week ago.  Rangers believe the animal was likely fed by people.

"When the nuisance trapper came out and captured that gator, they opened up its stomach and looked at the contents of its stomach. They were able to identify the human remains inside that alligators stomach," says Robbins.

Georgia is home to more than 200,000 alligators. Robbins says these reptiles often end up in unusual places--especially during dry weather.

"Even here in Albany, we've had alligators that have come through the drainage ditches and have ended up in people's yards," says Robbins.

To avoid an alligator attack, Robbins offers several suggestions.

"Don't ever approach a female with a nest, and try to stay away from where known alligators are," says Robbins.

But for the most part, both Robbins and Roberts agree alligator attacks are quite rare.

"Even though we have a lot of alligators, we don't have a lot of conflict with people," says Robbins.

"If nobody messes with them, the chances of them messing with you are pretty slim," Roberts.

According to a recent StateMaster study, Georgia ranks third place for alligator attacks. The state ties with South Carolina.  Florida comes in at number one with 337 documented alligator attacks since 1948.  Seventeen of them have been fatal.

The last time, an alligator attack happened in Georgia occurred at Lake Seminole, near Chattahoochee landing in June of 2000.  A man was swimming in about 4 feet of water when an alligator bit him on the thigh and hands. Rangers believe the man may have startled the gator while swimming.

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