coming back alive
More Courage Than Fear

A professional landscaper died Friday, July 23, 2004 after being mauled by a 12-foot alligator that dragged her into a pond and nearly tore off one of her arms.

Janie Melsek, 54, was attacked by the alligator as she worked on landscaping behind a home, just off the Florida coast in the Gulf of Mexico. After the animal pulled her into the water, a neighbor and police officers engaged in a fierce "tug-of-war" to pull her from the reptile's jaws.

Melsek died in surgery at Lee Memorial Hospital to treat an infection caused by the reptile's vicious bites. Doctors said her body simply shut down in response to the infection.

The alligator responsible for Janie Melsek's death was later killed.
"My mom showed more courage than fear, and I could not be more proud of her," said Melsek's daughter, Joy Williams, 29. "She's just absolutely amazed me and our whole community with the fight she put up."

Police killed the 457-pound alligator, which required six men to lift it to shore.

She was the 14th person known to have been fatally attacked by a Florida alligator since record keeping began.

Florida's alligator population had once dwindled to the point that the reptile was placed on the federal list of endangered species.

They have since rebounded to perhaps a million or more across the entire state, according to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. They can now be killed during seasonal hunts conducted by the commission.

Alligator Facts
SIZE: The average size of an alligator is 6.5 feet to 13 feet. Some males can grow up to 18 feet, while females rarely grow past 9 feet.

DIET: Their diet mainly consists of easily attainable prey such as fish, snakes, turtles, small mammals, birds, frogs, and even snails.

HABITAT: Fresh water shores, swamps and lakes from North Carolina to Florida and west to Texas.

On land alligators can lumber along dragging their tails, or they can walk on their toes with the heels of their hind feet and most of their tail well off the ground. Using this "high walk" alligators can run up to 38 km/h for short distances.

Alligators and People

Although the majority of problems with alligators relate to their being in places where they aren’t wanted, a small number tragically involve alligator attacks.

While alligator attacks on humans are rare, they do occur. More than 200 unprovoked alligator attacks on humans have been documented since 1948, with 14 resulting in fatalities. 

If you are living or vacationing in an area where alligators are known to be found, it is important to take certain precautions in order to avoid a tragic encounter. All it takes is a little understanding of the alligator’s needs and habits to ensure a healthy coexistence.

Living With Alligators

DON’T feed or entice alligators. Inform others that feeding alligators is against the law. Alligators generally lose their natural fear of people when they associate food with people. By feeding alligators, people create problems for themselves and others.

DON’T feed other wildlife near the water, throw fish scraps into the water or leave them along the shoreline. Although you are not intentionally feeding alligators, the alligator doesn’t understand that. Dispose of fish scraps or other potential alligator foodstuffs properly.

DON’T let pets swim or run along the shoreline of waters known to contain large alligators. Alligators are attracted to dogs probably because they are about the same size as an alligator’s natural prey.

DON’T swim or allow pets to swim in areas with emergent vegetation (plants growing up out of the water). Alligators favor this type of habitat. Swim in designated areas only.

DON’T swim, walk dogs or small children, at night or at dusk, along the shoreline of waters that are known to contain large alligators. Large alligators feed most actively during the evening hours. Note that it is illegal to water-ski after dark in Florida.

DON’T try to remove alligators from their natural habitat or try to keep one as a pet. It is strictly against the law to do so. Alligators do not become tame in captivity and handling even small ones may result in bites. Instead, enjoy watching and photographing alligators at a distance.

alligator eye
A close-up of a young alligator's eye. The alligator's pupil appears as a slit because it is a nocturnal animal that prefers to hunt at night.
What If I Meet a Gator?

If there’s no immediate danger, the best thing to do is leave the alligator alone. Because alligators sometimes need to move great distances to meet their survival needs, they often show up in undesirable locations such as driveways, garages, backyards, or in swimming pools.

Your private property is usually a temporary resting place for the animal. More than likely the gator will leave on its own in search of more suitable habitat.

People should report only those alligators that are actively causing problems or posing a threat to public safety. They should not report an alligator that is simply sunning itself on a bank or swimming in a lake, just doing what alligators do.

Hazardous Gators

If an alligator is longer than four feet and exhibits aggressive behavior, it is classified as a nuisance and is harvested for its meat and hide by permitted nuisance trappers.

Alligators that are larger than six feet present the greatest hazard to humans and pets. Smaller gators, four feet or less in length, pose little threat to people; but they can deliver a nasty bite that should immediately be seen by a physician. The bacteria in an alligator’s mouth causes bite wounds to become easily infected.

You don't want this guy slinking towards you.
Alligators need a little rest and relaxation, just like anyone else. Don't report an alligator that is not bothering anyone.
Narrow Escape from Gator's Jaws

June 8, 2006

Michael Diaz knows that he is lucky to be alive. Not many people can say that they fought off an alligator as it was trying to bite their head off...but this 30-year old man from Apopka Florida did, and he has the battle scars to prove it.

Michael Diaz

Michael had been snorkeling alone in Rock Springs Run in Kelly Park, near Orlando, when he has attacked from behind by a four to five foot long alligator. The alligator, according to Diaz, came out of nowhere and just clamped down on the back of his head. He said that it felt like 'a boat hit him'.

"When the gator hit me in the back of the head, it bit down and I guess it didn't get a good grip because of my hard skull," Diaz said. "I then turned around and then I see this belly, this white belly of the gator and I kind of push it off me. I didn't want it to bite me anymore [and] I let it go."

Diaz fought back, pushing the gator away. However, the alligator wasn't going to give up so easily.

"It didn't bolt. It didn't run in fear like you'd figure a wild animal would," he said. "And it kind of eyed me down a little bit and I yelled at the other swimmers." With blood streaming down his face, he made it to shore, where he found a lifeguard who promptly administered first aid and called EMS.

Diaz was treated at the hospital where he received 33 stitches to the back of his head. Besides that, he was in good shape, and is looking forward to returning to snorkel at Rock Springs as soon as his injuries heal. Diaz is not afraid. But he does feel incredibly lucky.

Alligator Bite

This gator attack on a snorkeler was the second one Central Florida in less than a month. Unfortunately, the first attack on a woman proved to be fatal.

Guess Who's Coming to Dinner...

June 2, 2006

Knock, knock...Who's there? How about a six-foot long, hungry alligator...?

It may sound like the perfect set-up for a 'knock-knock joke', but this was no laughing matter for a South Carolina family earlier this month.

It's a good thing that Roslyn and Robert Loretta chose not to answer the door of their Bluffton, South Carolina home when they heard a knock the evening of June 2nd, because it turned out to be a six-foot long, hungry alligator paying them a visit.

Not only did the gator knock on their front door, but a photograph of it was taken balancing on its back legs, appearing to reach for the doorbell.

Alligator at the door

After the incident, neighbours speculated that the alligator was drawn into the area by the smell of the Lorettas' cooking teriyaki chicken in the backyard. However, Ron McGill disagrees. He says it's highly unlikely that the alligator was lured by the smell of food and believes that "it might have been the smell of a female alligator" that enticed the creature from nearby swampland.

The gator returned home soon after, a little brokenhearted, but with no harm done. The Loretta family was relieved to say, 'see ya later, alligator'!



Alligators and humans have shared the marshes, swamps, rivers and lakes of the southeastern United States for many centuries. But in recent years, these areas have experienced tremendous population growth and a surging tourism industry, particularly in Florida, resulting in increased interaction between humans and alligators.

Alligators are an important part of Florida’s heritage and play an important role in the ecology of Florida’s wetlands. An understanding of these facts and broader knowledge of alligator behavior helps ensure that humans and alligators continue their long-term coexistence.

Because of their predatory nature and large size, alligators have been known to occasionally attack pets, livestock and even humans.
Little Girl Lost

Alexandria "Allie" Murphy was a lively little girl who was more apt to run than walk and had been known to scale a fence or two, her relatives said.

"We were going to put her in gymnastics and swimming lessons," said her paternal grandmother, Marjie Murphy of Tampa. "She was going to bring home the gold."

But the 2-year-old's unusual athletic ability may have led to her death. The medical examiner confirmed that an alligator dragged Alexandria into a Polk County lake and drowned her.

Her father, Brewce Murphy of Tampa, said Alexandria climbed over a 4-foot fence separating a back yard and Lake Cannon, where her body was found about 30 minutes after she was reported missing. A 6-foot-6 alligator was found nearby and later killed.

Human hair was found in the alligator's mouth.

The child was left alone in the yard for about 10 minutes by her mother, and a grandmother when she disappeared.

Alexandria, is the 11th person killed by an alligator in the past 53 years. Five of the deaths have been children under age 12.

Authorities think lake residents fed the 100- to 150-pound alligator, which contributed to the attack on the 32-pound girl.

"He certainly wasn't shy," said Sterling Ivey, spokesman with the Polk County Sheriff's Office. "He'd almost lost all fear of humans."

Once people feed alligators, they begin associating food with people, said Henry Cabbage, spokesman for the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. It is against state law to feed the reptiles.

With a brain the size of a thumb, "It doesn't differentiate between the hand that feeds it and the hand," he said.

Never get closer than 15 feet (5 meters) to an alligator. If it hisses or opens its mouth in defense, you should back away even farther.
Areas where plants are poking through the water are common homes for alligators.
Crikey, I'm Being Attacked!

Reasons for Attack:

Defence - of territory, nests and themselves. They are highly territorial, especially males at certain times of the year and females with nests and young.

Appetite- they get hungry and can, and do eat people, though it's not a preference.

Accidental - they make mistakes, and sometimes can't tell the difference between a human and their usual prey.

Bad attitude - a few are just plain bad tempered animals and will grab anything that moves.

Methods of Attack:

Alligators like to hang around in pools, lakes and rivers safe in the knowledge that all animals need to drink. One meal can last these prehistoric beasts a long time so they don't mind waiting for the right moment. If they are looking to eat a swimmer they will wait for the target to move overhead before striking from below. They may also mistake a swimmer for a rival.

Once the prey is bitten and held firmly, the alligator rolls its body over and over - the Death Spin/Roll. On land this is fairly slow but in the water it's more like the speed of a tumble dryer. The result is that the prey becomes totally disoriented.

If the part held by the reptile is a limb, there is a good chance of dislocation or complete severance. The rolling continues until the prey is dead by drowning or blood loss. The death roll is effective and works on quite large animals.

If An Alligator Attacks You:

Run away in a straight line. An alligator will outrun you for about 10 metres after which they will need a bit of a lie down. They will outswim you all day long.

If An Alligator Grabs You: 

Hit it repeatedly on its relatively sensitive nose, poke it in the eyes and scream. Gators don't like resistance.

Don't try to pry the jaws open. You won't be able to.

Play dead. They stop shaking their prey when they think that it's dead, wedging the body in their pantry for later consumption. This is when you escape. Hopefully.

3 Deadly Gator Attacks in One Week
Trapper Todd Hardwick typically got about four nuisance alligator calls each day, but in May 2006, after an unprecedented burst of three deadly gator attacks in one week, he started receiving 15 a day. "People were shook up," Hardwick said. "It's like the citizens of Florida had declared war on alligators. People were really going crazy."

Before the attacks, only 17 deaths had been recorded in Florida since 1948, according to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

Although Florida had never before such a concentration of deaths in so short a time, wildlife officials said there was no pattern or common element to the attacks.

One victim was a homeless woman found dead and dismembered on a Sunday morning, while a Tennessee woman was killed Sunday afternoon swimming with friends in Juniper Run in Ocala National Forest. That incident came just five days after a South Florida woman out for a jog went missing near a Broward County canal.

Officials with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission said the increased number of alligator attacks happened for several reasons, including warmer weather and humans encroaching on alligator territory.

"The bottom line is, yes, the trend is increasing," said commission spokeswoman Joy Hill.

Alligator Habitat

The body of homeless woman Judy Cooper of Dunedin was found -- with her right arm sheared off, officials said -- in a canal in East Lake Woodlands, just north of Tampa Bay.

Cooper, 43, suffered "upper body trauma" from alligator bites, including severe wounds to both shoulders, the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office said.

Sheriff's investigators said Cooper had been in the water for about three days when she was found. The Medical Examiner's Office found no obvious trauma that would have been a result of a homicide, but did find alligator bites.

The medical examiner said the alligator "did play some part in the victim's death."

Gary Goodrich, Cooper's brother-in-law, said officials told them her purse was found near the water. "They don't know how she died. They know there was drugs involved. They found drugs at the scene," Goodrich said. "I guess she had rolled in the water. The alligator got her and took . . . [one of] her arms and part of her back."

Kelly Ferderber, 45, first saw the body Friday but thought it was garbage floating in the canal behind her home.

Sunday morning at around 7:30, her daughter, Ashley, 18, and son, Evan, 16, went to check out the floating mass. They used a boat pole to pull it closer. Then they saw a brown ponytail, a white ear, blue jeans with the pockets sticking out and a dark sneaker. "I found out it was real, and I freaked out," Ashley Ferderber said.

Dannette Goodrich said Cooper had two children, an 11-year-old daughter and a 23-year-old son.

Cooper's daughter was hoping she would hear from her mother Sunday, Dannette Goodrich said. "I thought, it's a mistake; it has to be a mistake," she said. "My poor 11-year-old niece.?

The discovery of Cooper's body shocked officials who had just been investigating last week's death of Yovy Suarez Jimenez, 28, in Broward County. Her dismembered body was found by construction workers the Wednesday before in a canal near Fort Lauderdale. Authorities captured a 2.7-metre alligator Saturday and found two human arms inside its stomach.

A medical examiner concluded that the Florida Atlantic University student was attacked near the canal bank and dragged into the water.

Adding fuel to fire, investigators became more shocked when they heard of another attack on Sunday afternoon that killed a woman swimming in a spring in Ocala National Forest.

Annmarie Campbell, 23, died before friends could pry her from the jaws of an alligator in a spring-fed stream that feeds Lake George, near their rented cabin seven miles south of Salt Springs in Marion County. Campbell, of Paris, Tennessee, and three friends had rented a cabin on Juniper Run, a waterway that feeds Lake George.

Annmarie Campbell

The four were snorkeling in about 3 feet of water when Campbell and friend Jackie Barrett were separated from Barrett's husband, Mark, and friend James Edward.

Jackie Barrett couldn't find Campbell in the water so she went back to the cabin. She then yelled to the two men to look for Campbell.

When the men found her in the water in the alligator's jaws, they gouged its eyes and pounded on its snout with their hands, said wildlife commission spokeswoman Kat Kelley.

One of the people in the party ran about a mile from the cabin to State Road 19 where they could get cell-phone reception and called 911, Kelley said.

"I understand they were gouging at eyes and trying to pry open the jaws," Kelley said. "These people are pretty much in shock. The guys had cuts or scrapes on their hands."

The men were told they should get checked at a hospital because of the potential for infection.

Angela Stefancik goes to Juniper Wayside Park every weekend with friend Dawn Beavers and four children. They swim and cook outdoors at the park -- a place they always felt safe because they could swim without fear of drowning or snakes.

"I don't think we're going to be coming here any more real soon," Stefancik said. "And it used to be you didn't worry about alligators."

Added Beavers: "But not anymore."