ALLIGATORS AND DOGS DON'T MIX
by Whit Gibbons
June 12, 2005
friend told me about her recent experience with an alligator at a recreational
park in coastal South Carolina. While taking her 12-year-old son out in
a kayak for the first time, she rounded a bend in the lake and saw a five-foot
alligator. Despite knowing that alligators are common in parts of South
Carolina, she was taken aback. But her real surprise came when someone
told her the alligator had been put in the lake intentionally.
was perplexing: not only because people had moved an alligator from one
area to another, an activity that is against the law without proper permits,
but also because they put the alligator into a lake where people paddle
around in boats almost level with the water. Now my friend knows that
alligator attacks on people are extremely rare, especially considering
the tens of thousands of encounters between humans and alligators each
year in the South. But this lake also happens to be in a "dog park”
where dogs go swimming.
A dog park
is a place to bring your pet for a day of fun. This includes allowing
the dog to run without a leash in some areas, to bark without a neighbor
yelling at it (or you), and to chase Frisbees and tennis balls. Tennis
balls are routinely tossed into the water for dogs to retrieve. The problem,
of course, is that the lake in this dog park now has a resident alligator.
Alligators love dogs, in a gustatory sense. The biggest alligator could
and would eat the biggest great Dane, German shepherd, or pit bull in
a minute. Average-size alligators would readily eat a terrier, poodle,
or dachshund, especially one that was swimming. Dogs are merely prey to
an alligator. According to a park attendant, this alligator was "growing
the likelihood that the alligator in the dog park might be dangerous?
At only five feet long, it is unlikely to cause any harm this season or
possibly even the next. But when it gets bigger and is not wary of being
around humans, things will change.
to a recent query by someone who wanted to swim with alligators, I indicated
that a five-foot alligator is not likely to attack anyone, although it
might bite you if you try to catch it. The alligators people are warned
about are full-grown adults: females that get more than nine feet long,
and males that may reach lengths up to 13 feet. Females that have a nest
with eggs or babies around them in the water will sometimes attack people.
Adult alligators might also be a problem if they mistake you for a natural
prey item like a deer or large fish splashing in the water. Alligators
are not out to eat humans, but they have big mouths and teeth, and like
any other large animal, they are potentially dangerous.
As for the
alligator in the dog park, once it gets big enough, it is going to eat
a dog. That’s almost a certainty. A dog may be a pet to us, but
to a large predator like an alligator it is just another food item. In
fact, some of the so-called attacks on people are the result of an alligator’s
attacking a dog as food and a human’s not getting out of the way.
Meanwhile, alligators are part of our native southeastern ecosystems and
should be accepted as such. But some common sense cautions apply: do not
let children or dogs near the water around big alligators; do not feed
alligators (feeding them is illegal and is often the original reason for
their interest in people); and do not pick up alligator babies, which
begin to appear in late summer or fall.
In the wild,
alligators are a natural part of the environment, and we should remember
that we have invaded their home and not vice versa. But an alligator introduced
into a lake at a dog park may well be considered an intruder. Alligators
definitely make life more exciting, but none of us needs the excitement
of watching our dog become a meal. The dog park makes it clear that owners
are fully responsible for their dogs. They should also make it clear that
alligators are not.
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