Newport aquarium official says alligator attacks are 'very rare'

Posted at 6:32 PM, Jun 15, 2016
and last updated 2016-06-15 19:33:55-04

After a 15-hour search, Florida authorities recovered the body of a 2-year-old boy from Disney’s Seven Seas Lagoon early Wednesday morning. 

The boy had been wading in the lagoon Tuesday night when he was attacked by an American alligator and dragged underwater, making his the first such death in the history of Walt Disney World.

READ: Sheriff says gator attack of 2-year-old boy at Disney World 'not survivable'

Ric Urban, who helps care for several American alligators in his role as chief conservation officer the Newport Aquarium, emphasized that alligators are typically not aggressive toward humans, but humans who knowingly enter alligator territory need to be careful.

“It’s a rare event that somebody has actually died through an interaction with an alligator,” Urban said. “But wild animals are very unpredictable.”

The American alligator typically preys on smaller animals, including birds, frogs and turtles, that approach its watery habitat; Urban said that the alligator in this case may have mistaken the young boy for another small mammal.

Although an event like this can inspire panic, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Conservation has recorded only 23 people dying from alligator attacks in the state since 1948. Urban said that aggressive alligators are the exception, not the rule, and most prefer to avoid humans.

“They are cold-blooded reptiles, so they also don’t need to eat every day,” Urban said. “They are an animal that would rather be far away from a human than real close.”

The South Carolina-based Savannah River Ecology Laboratory recommends that, to keep themselves safe, humans should avoid bodies of water with known alligator populations and, if they do encounter an alligator, refrain from approaching it. Like most animals, alligators are more likely to become aggressive when they feel scared or threatened.