CAPE CORAL, Fla. — More alligators are turning to ponds and canals to survive, a Southwest Florida animal behaviorist says. Ranger Rob believes this is due to population growth as more people build on swamps and marshes.
Over the weekend, a southeast Cape Coral woman saw a gator behind her home in the canal.
“I turned around and to my surprise, there was a gator sitting there watching us in the water,” said Genelle Bennett.
She was sitting in her boat with her dog, Buddy. He started barking at the alligator and Bennett said she called her boyfriend to grab her dog.
“It [the alligator] didn’t seem like it was scared of us,” Bennett said.
About 10 minutes after speaking with us, Bennett spotted an alligator in the water. It’s not clear if it was the same gator, but Bennett believes it was – due to its size and it ending up in the same spot as Sunday.
The unusual sight brought her to Facebook, where people got word of the alligator in the canal. Many drove by to see it for themselves.
“We all said, ‘definitely ,nobody feed the gator,’ but it almost seemed like it had been fed in the past because it was coming towards us and not like we were scaring it away,” Bennett explained.
Ranger Rob, an animal behaviorist and naturalist, believes people are starting to feed wildlife more causing potential negative consequences.
“These animals don’t see us as like ‘this – this gives us food.’ It sees this thing and food are related,” he said.
The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation says there were no fatal attacks in the past two years. However, one Englewood woman was killed over the weekend near her home. The Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office says 80-year-old Rose Wiegand fell into the pond near her home. As she was struggling to stay afloat, the Sheriff’s Office says two alligators attacked her and she died. The Medical Examiner’s Office said her cause of death was a result of the alligator attack.
FWC removed two alligators nearby, but it’s not clear if they were involved. Back in May, a man in Largo was also killed by an alligator.
There were 21 biting attacks in Florida between 2020 and 2021. Ranger Rob says alligators tend to get more aggressive during mating season.
Between April and June, males are more aggressive. Through July and August as the female alligators lay eggs, they are more territorial, and sometimes even beyond that timeline – as they can be with their hatchlings for up to a year.
The gator population is not necessarily growing, but Ranger Rob says humans are starting to take over alligator habitats even more.
“We’re going further inland, taking up more swamp areas, more areas where these animals can be,” he explained. “They’re going to be coming into canals looking for new territories.”
The balance here is having coexistence with the animals and having communities that are wildlife and eco-friendly, Ranger Rob said.
“They’re not doing this because they’re mean or vindictive or anything like that,” he said. “These animals are trying to survive because of us taking up so much of their habitat they are getting desperate for looking for food.”
As for Bennett, she says she’s going to remain more vigilant when she’s outside with Buddy. Ranger Rob says everyone should do the same.
“So if you’re just walking down a trail and you see a gator, steer clear of it because you don’t know what that animal’s life experiences are,” he said.
If you do see an alligator while you’re in the water, Ranger Rob says do not splash or thrash around. Keep your eye on the alligator and get out of the water.
If you are being attacked and your arm, for example, is in the alligator’s mouth, he said to go for the soft spots of the alligator’s mouth, such as the throat. You can also go for the animal’s eyes and once the alligator releases any pressure, get out as fast as you can, he said.