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Monday, May 22, 2006

When Animals Attack

....or, random thoughts while driving north.

Recently, there were three fatal alligator attacks in Florida.
(O)n May 9, in southeastern Florida, when an alligator apparently attacked a woman on land, dragged her to the water, and made a meal of her arms. Five days later, a snorkeler in central Florida died after friends pulled her from an alligator's jaws, and the dismembered body of another woman was found floating in a canal in the southwestern part of the state.
Why this sudden uptick in alligator-induced human fatalities? After all, according to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission records, there are an average of about seven alligator attacks every year, yet they are rarely fatal. Since 1948, only 17 humans have been confirmed killed by the huge reptiles. Then, three in a week!

Everyone knows that poodles and other small animals have always been at high risk in Florida (where they're known as hors d'oeuvres), but there seemed to be a truce between humans and alligators. Why did they break this truce? Perhaps because we attacked first. According to Time magazine:
The state's human population has exploded. As a result, development is pushing into wetlands that were once pure, alligator-friendly wilderness, and agriculture is draining huge swaths of alligator habitat. Everglades National Park is just one-seventh the size of the historic Everglades swampland, forcing the animals to share territory that humans consider their own.

It's a familiar story. In the American West, mountain lions are getting squeezed, and lethal attacks by the big cats have become more frequent. In the Northeast, it is black bears, foraging in suburban backyards. In Florida, it's alligators. And unlike cougars and bears, which are rarely spotted, alligators are everywhere and are almost always docile. Along a path just inside Everglades park's Shark Valley entrance, for example, alligators loll along the bank of the adjacent canal, as uninterested in the people as they are in the bugs that swirl overhead. Yet park employees have seen tourists run over alligators with bikes and wheelchairs, throw rocks at them and stab them with sticks. People even put kids on the backs of the creatures for a gator photo op. "The alligator isn't the problem. It's humans," says park naturalist Maria Thomson. "We're pushing them to the limit."
Stupid humans, stressed out animals. The new meme. Remember the black bear attack? The death of the "Grizzly Man" and his girlfriend? Animals are not just on the defensive, but on the offensive. And it's our fault.

Why this train of thought? As I was driving north today, I noted several interesting human-animal interactions. First, just outside of Flint, I saw a dead deer on the highway, and the dead SUV that had run into it. A cervid suicide bomber? Perhaps.

Later, at the Mackinac Bridge, I stopped for lunch, only to be physically attacked by a herring gull trying to steal an onion ring. I felt a bit like Piper Laurie....


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