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FL Press: Hoopla over alligator attack

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Posted by W von Papinešu on March 19, 2003 at 20:13:00:

From Desiree Wong next door in the Iguana Forum

BONITA BANNER (Florida) 19 March 03 Hoopla over alligator attack (Chad Gillis)
There's something about Florida waters and the predatory critters that subsist in them that makes the media and the public in general tumble into a frenzy.
It seems every time anyone has an encounter with a shark or alligator, the entire world reads headlines depicting the Sunshine State as a region chock full of blood-thirsty marine life just waiting for naive tourists and winter residents to step into the surf or too close to a canal.
The latest example of media-gone-wild-over-Florida-mishaps involved an Englewood lady whose arm was severed after being bitten by an alligator. The attack was a tragedy, no doubt, for the victim and her family and friends as well.
What amazed me and others in the Banner newsroom, though, was that the story was published in countries around the world, in every state in the union. A columnist in Pennsylvania wrote about the attack as if it were a daily occurrence here, painting a picture of alligators as regularly devouring humans.
That's just not the case. For the most part, alligators are extremely shy and afraid of humans. Although the cold-blooded reptiles have brains the size of a walnuts, they're not man-eating predators that roam rivers and canals in search of people. Attacks do happen, but the odds of being attacked by a dog are much greater.
Just last weekend, while eating at one of my favorite breakfast dives in San Carlos Park ó Friends and Company ó I overheard a tourist from Colorado tell his girlfriend that he's paddled rivers all over the country. She asked why he wasn't planning any trips while on vacation and he said, "because you get eaten in Florida rivers." How absurd. It took all the willpower I could muster to keep quiet and enjoy my two eggs over easy and side of grits.
The Englewood story even ran in Australia, a country that actually has large reptiles that are known to hunt down people and eat them. Aussies have long been exposed to 20-foot saltwater crocodiles that are more than willing to drag a person from the shoreline and gobble away.
But when's the last time a story about a crocodile attack in Australia ran in the local newspaper? I searched the Naples Daily News archives and didn't find a single story on crocodile attacks in any country. Then there are tigers, bears and even deadly reactions to fire ant bites and bee stings.
What about hippopotamus attacks? These unusual creatures can weigh several tons and actually kill lots of people each year. Again, we don't read of those attacks here.
The most glorious case of media overkill concerning Florida waters came two years ago during the summer of the shark, dubbed so by TIME magazine in 2001. Editors at TIME decided to portray that season as a most gruesome span of shark attacks. Initiated by a terrible attack on an 8-year-old boy in Pensacola, 2001 actually produced 13 fewer shark attacks than did 2000.
Through out the summer, people all over the world saw television footage of 100 or more sharks migrating along the Southwest coast. TV stations portrayed the event as a threat to society in general. Shark migrations happen every year, that's just part of nature.
Don't get me wrong: sharks and alligators can be dangerous animals. They're wild and they eat meat. When in their world, it pays to be cautious and respectful. It just bugs me to no end that the media jumps on every animal attack in Florida as if humans were part of the marine food chain here.
After spending countless hours in salt and freshwater environments, I have the utmost respect for both sharks and gators. Actually, I absolutely love to see sharks. I can remember every single encounter I've had with the mighty fishes, from swimming in the presence of a large bull shark off Fort Myers Beach to watching a 4-foot blacktip "inspect" my kayak in Estero Bay.
Stories should be written about predators in the rivers, bays and the gulf. But, there should be more stories about how shark populations are shrinking and how the alligator has rebounded in recent decades.
Those stories seem to get buried in the middle of a newspapers instead of making the front page all across the globe. Media outlets typically feed off fear. I guess there's no better place to spawn that anxiety than the Sunshine State. There's just something about Florida waters.

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