Fred was tired of begging in wealthy Fort Lauderdale.
He lay down at dusk at the edge of a canal feeling alone and
safe. Suddenly a 12-foot alligator charged him at30
miles an hour. It grabbed his head and dragged him
into the water, twisting and turning until he drowned.
Then it stored him in an under-water cave to eat later.
No one would ever know of Fred’s fate, he was just
a homeless man who ‘moved away’ from Florida….
By Ron Laytner
FLORIDA EVERGLADES - The Gator Boys came along just in time.
Fatal alligator attacks have been growing in Florida. Over the years at least twenty people have been horribly killed. Who knows how many more deaths were never reported?
News reports have been chilling: The dismembered body of a 28 year old University student was found in a canal near Fort Lauderdale. She was attacked while jogging near the canal bank and dragged into the water.
Security police at a casino chased two men at night spotted breaking into parked cars. One was captured. The other disappeared into a pond. His headless body was found next day.
A young woman snorkeling in a pond was dragged underwater and disappeared. Another woman, dangling her feet in the water, was carried off.
Florida residents are warned not to swim in heavily vegetated areas, feed wildlife or walk pets near the water, especially between dusk and dawn when alligators are more active.
There are 1.25 million alligators in Florida and 16 million people. Once alligators were hunted to make purses from their hides and heads. For many years they were a protected species. But now protection is off and they are becoming a problem
Alligators are moving into built up areas, jumping into private swimming pools, entering houses, moving into lakes, ponds and canals and terrifying golfers.
The State of Florida calls these events (almost 600 a year) alligator nuisance calls and sends out 36 licensed hunters who capture the reptiles.
But everything changed when the Gator Boys arrived.
They were amazing! Paul Bredard and Jimmy Riffle were capturing alligators like no one has ever done before.
They’d jump into murky water, (the kind alligators like) dive down, find the horrible creature, jump on its back, wrestle it to the surface and carry or drag it onto the shore. Then they’d deposit it carefully onto their waiting truck.
Throughout this drama the Gator Boys managed to avoid the 80 odd razor sharp teeth of the wild reptiles.
They were a conservationist's dream.
They didn’t injure the alligators or kill them as did the licensed hunters. They returned them unharmed to the Everglades and set them free.
They were so good that the Animal Planet network heard of them and signed the Gator Boys as they had become known to a series of weekly television episodes to run all over the world, including Norway.
The ‘Gator Boys’ TV show became very popular running on Sunday nights. Bedard and Riffle were on their way to fame and fortune.
But then something bad happened.
Riffle and Bedard told a Florida wildlife officer they were using a captive alligator they owned for ‘reenacting’ segments of the Gator Boy show.
Now Florida wild life authorities are questioning and investigating. Are the wild alligators they capture – really wild? Are the Gator Boys using their own pacified and trained alligators?
If they are doesn’t this present a dangerous problem to watchers of the show?
Says Katie Purcell, spokesperson for the Law Enforcement Division of the Florida Wildlife and Conservation Commission, “We worry that people will watch them on Tv jumping into a pool to take out an alligator. Then these same people will themselves jump into a pool after an alligator which is really wild. It could rip them apart in seconds.
"Our investigators are working with the Florida State Attorney to see what charges can be brought against them.”
Katie added, “Our people never were on scene when Gator Boy segments were shot. And they saw scenes which were absolutely against our rules of handling alligators.”
Meanwhile the Gator Boys are avoiding the press and not showing up around Holiday Park in the Everglades where tourists come to see alligator wrestling shows daily.
Animal Planet will not discuss the situation. Further shootings have been benched.
What do we know about alligators?
They haven’t changed in millions of years. They are lazy. Once fed they just want to relax..They move back and forth trying to sleep in the shade when they’re resting on land, often keeping their jaws wide open to get in more fresh air and cool themselves down.
Alligators range up to 20 feet long and can live for up to 66 years. Their ‘powerful thrashing’ thick tail is not so much a weapon as a food closet. Alligators can live for up to two years just absorbing the fat stored in their tails.
Alligators can stay submerged for eight hours or they can rest on the surface, mostly underwater except for their nostrils which are arranged straight up to get every bit of oxygen.
How can they be trained?
An alligator will become your ‘friend’ if he knows you intend to feed and not hurt him. He will face you menacingly with his teeth encrusted jaws wide open. Why? He’s waiting to be fed.
If the weather is cold and he’s not hungry the alligator wants to lie in the shade and relax. You can train him to keep his mouth open or suddenly slam it shut. He’ll become so friendly he’ll enjoy having his stomach rubbed. And he becomes helpless and docile when his snout is taped shut.
When the Gator Boys didn’t show up after I drove out to their headquarters in Everglades Holiday Park I took pictures of their only representative, Mike Easter, a law enforcement college graduate doing alligator shows, including putting his arm in an alligator’s mouth.
People who paid for an airboat ride were given an alligator show for free when the ride ended. Easter was paid by the crowd; He’d take your picture holding a baby alligator for $5 and let you sit on the back of a huge alligator whose snout was taped shut for $10.
It was scary and also amusing. A woman holding a tiny alligator screamed when it suddenly urinated on her.
Taking a picture of a middle aged woman tourist sitting gingerly on a big 10-foot alligator, I kept moving back to frame the shot.
Suddenly Mike Easter warned, “I wouldn’t stay in there if I were you!”
I looked down and realized I was standing among a group of untaped alligators facing into the shade. My right foot was on a big claw, my left up against a mighty tail.
The owner of the claw was just turning his head toward me and his mouth was starting to open. Was he asking for food or was he getting ready to eat me? Did he know? His brain is less than half an ounce in size.
Mike Easter said calmly, "I'm watching your back!"
My heart stopped.. I quickly stepped out of the alligator pit. I realized just how dangerous Alligators are and why it's natural to fear them.
And that no matter what the authorities say, friendly alligators or not, people who work with living alligators are absolutely crazy...
- THE END