Shortly before moving to Florida, I heard of three separate fatal alligator attacks. One that stood out includes a young woman out for a jog who takes a break and dangles her feet over a waterway. You can imagine what happens next. This, in my world, is the stuff of nightmares. I would rather go scuba diving with ten sharks than encounter one alligator.
A short paragraph tucked inside the local newspaper reported that a small dog had been snatched from the bank of a retention pond in a new housing development in the Daytona Beach area. I immediately called my brother who is in charge of several projects in that same area to warn him about this rogue alligator. He actually seemed bored with my news. “Barb,” he says, “alligators are everywhere. They move through the drainage pipes in the retention ponds. I see them all the time.” My first thought was how can Floridians be so casual about these creatures. My second thought was that it was only a matter of time before I would see one for myself.
It happened one day while driving around the Cape Canaveral area and discovering the Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge. Established in 1963, the National Refuge covers 140,000 acres and is home to “more than 1,500 species of plants and animals.” Within the Refuge is a scenic drive, Black Point Wildlife Drive, where, at certain times of the year you can see certain types of birds, such as Rosette Spoonbills, as well as a variety of other wildlife. It is a beautiful seven mile drive along a dirt road with designated stops along the way. It was on this drive that I saw my first free-roaming alligator. Five or six miles along the drive, I looked over at the narrow waterway. There he was, sunning himself without a care in the world. I stepped out of the car.
It’s odd the first time you see an alligator, particularly an alligator not behind a cage or fence, having open access to you. He could scramble up that bank and take me down with him in a matter of seconds. Yet, he seemed more interested in the warm sun than in me. Just in case, though, I prepared to flee back inside the open car door the second he looked or moved my way.
That wasn’t the only alligator I saw that day. And I’m sure there were many more if only I had looked for them. According to the Refuge website, there are several thousand alligators within the Refuge itself. All sizes.
Alligators are not beautiful, but the more I observe them the less ugly they become. I’m not throwing caution to the wind however. They still eat people on occasion.
I can now start my list of 50 Things to Love About Florida. Number One on the list: Alligator spying.