Alligators are the number one fear that new hikers to Florida have. True, they’re at the top of our food chain. But we’ll take an alligator stretched across the trail over a grizzly any day.
The good news: alligators are rarely a threat to humans. The trouble happens when they’ve been fed and associate people with a food source. That means when you’re hiking or paddling, you should never, ever throw your food scraps into a body of water or near it. Pack them out or get a friend to eat the leftovers! Also, avoid filtering water at dawn or dusk, since the profile of a hiker bent over a canal or stream looks a lot like a deer from an alligator’s perspective.
It also means being careful where you hike with a dog. Never bring a dog with you, especially a small one, along if you’re hiking into a swampy area. It could attract a hungry alligator.
Most alligators move out of your way when they hear you coming. But if an alligator is on the footpath and refuses to move after you’ve made a lot of noise, don’t walk up close to it. Give it a wide berth, circling around its tail end so it doesn’t feel trapped or threatened.
It never hurts to have a hiking stick in hand when you’re hiking somewhere there might be alligators. We’ve used them (and seen other people use them) to make a lot of noise by thumping the stick on the trail until the alligator leaves, and to hold off a small alligator from getting any closer during a swamp walk.
Report nuisance alligators – the ones that come up to your yard looking for food, jump in the pool, or start walking TOWARDS you instead of away from you when you’re outdoors – to the Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission by calling 866-FWC-GATOR.