(MIAMI) — The apparent alligator attack that resulted in the death of a Florida woman who was walking her dogs near a lake is an extremely rare occurrence, authorities said.
An estimated 5 million American gators live in the southeastern United States — about one-quarter of them in Florida alone — but the likelihood of being seriously hurt from an “unprovoked alligator incident in Florida is roughly only one in 3.2 million,” according to 2017 statistics from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.
“Over the last 10 years, Florida has averaged six unprovoked bites per year that are serious enough to require professional medical treatment.”
Summer is mating season, which can mean more active and territorial alligators, according to experts.
Shizuka Matsuki had disappeared Friday in Davie, Florida, before her dogs were found wandering alone, one badly injured, officials said.
Authorities later found Matsuki’s body and captured and killed an alligator measuring 12 feet 6 inches in length. When the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission performed a necropsy on the reptile, they found Matsuki’s arm, identified by a tattoo, in the gator’s stomach, officials said.
How to stay safe
To avoid an encounter with a gator, wildlife experts said, people must never feed them. It’s not only dangerous but also illegal in Florida.
Families with young children should also steer clear of waterways at nighttime, when alligators can’t decipher the difference between a child and its normal food sources, which include birds, rodents and other small mammals.
People must be especially vigilant during nesting season, in June and July.
“It’s rare that an alligator will come out of the water and go after a human being,” Ron Magill, a wildlife expert and communications director at Zoo Miami, told “Good Morning America” in 2016. “They usually nest close to the water. If you get near a nest, a female will come after you. Females are very protective.”
In the unusual event that you find yourself squaring off with a gator, wildlife experts offer these four tips:
If you happen to lock eyes with an alligator on land, forget running in a zigzag. Run away as fast as you can in a straight line. Alligators will typically chase a human only to defend their territory.
“The longer you stay within their territory, the longer they’re going to chase you,” Frank Mazziotti, a professor of wildlife ecology at the University of Florida’s Fort Lauderdale Research and Education Center, told ABC News in 2016. “When you run back and forth, you are in fact exposing yourself to attack for a longer period of time than if you just ran in a straight direction and got out of there. Once you’re no longer a threat, it has no interest in you.”
If a gator grabs hold of you, there are a few things you can do. Most important, don’t give up.
“Fight like hell. Don’t go willingly,” Mazziotti said. “The bigger fight you put up, the more likely it’s going to let you go and say, ‘This isn’t worth it.’”
Smack the snout
Rather than try to open a gator’s jaws, which are extremely powerful, aim for where the animal is most vulnerable, like its snout.
“Pop them on the snout. The tip of their snout is very sensitive. That might be able to get them to release you,” Magill said.
Gouge the eyes
Jabbing a gator in the eyes may also make it release its bite, even for just a moment, allowing you to get away before it pulls you underwater.
“The thing you want to stop them from doing is turning. They’ll grab, and they’ll start rolling to try to break off pieces to eat, and that’s the key thing,” Magill said on “GMA.” “You’ve got to hold on as hard as you can. And the other is to try to poke your fingers in their eyes. That’s easier said than done in that situation, of course, but that’s the best chance you have.”
Copyright © 2018, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.