Kissed by a Gator - The Dangers of Alligator Photography

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Life Reflected by Phocal Art, on Flickr

The American Alligator (Alligator Mississippiensis) is my favorite wildlife subject. Many of my friends call me Gator Bait because I do things they think is crazy and will one day actually turn me into gator bait. Like in the below photograph when I crawl close to an alligator for a photograph (resulting photograph is the one above). A gator will typically hiss or outright take off into the water if it feels you are too close. When they do hiss at me (every gator is different in how close it will allow you to approach) I back off and respect their uneasiness.

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Gator Bait 08 by Phocal Art, on Flickr

I will admit that when looking thru the viewfinder and this big guy stood up to walk over to the lake (the trail has swamp on the left and to the right out of view is a lake) it not only startled me but got the adrenaline pumping. It's not often I have a gator stand up and walk while I am laying on the ground photographing him and I was not exactly sure what he was doing. This day was pretty busy at the park and the gators seemed a bit uneasy because of all the activity, especially with the bus loads of little kids running around screaming. When he stood up I fired off this quick photo while getting to feet quickly, was worried he could be heading towards me and didn’t want to be on the ground if he was.

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9 by Phocal Art, on Flickr

I honestly take very few chances around these natural born killers who are the apex predators of the swamps here in Southeast Texas. I have spent years observing their behavior in natural settings as well as reading every available bit of research I can find. While in college I had access to every scientific journal and databases full of master papers and PhD dissertations, which I took advantage of. Between my own observations and reading I feel like I know gators rather well. I also know they are wild predators who are not predictable and can and do things that are unpredictable. I am not fooling myself into a false sense of security and am very much aware of the danger involved with my activities.


Until recently my worse encounter with a gator was when this big 12 foot male kept swimming up to me and bellowing. He was being overly aggressive for the time of year, typically they are aggressive during mating season or when they have young (females are very aggressive protecting their young). I snapped this photograph of him the first time he swam up to me.

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Alpha by Phocal Art, on Flickr

Because of his location I had to go by him multiple times while moving around the park. My last time by him he actually crawled up the bank and chased me a bit down the trail, which really surprised me. It was more of a warning as far as I can tell since they can hit speeds of 35mph and he didn’t come at me full speed. I talked with a park ranger when I reported the incident and he told me they had been having problems with him the past few months and were preparing to close that section of the park (after my report they closed that section). The best guess about his behavior is that he lived in a deeper part of the swamp where visitor can’t go and ended here during the Memorial Day flood. So with no real exposure to people his entire live he didn’t know how to react other than by protecting his new territory.


I have always said that if anything were to happen to me while in the swamps it would be from a gator crawling out of the swamp and across me. I wear full camouflage and spend a lot of time lying right next to the water very still while either photographing something or waiting for a stupid bullfrog to resurface. There have been a few times that one has walked past me (within 10 feet) while heading to the water or come out of the water within 10 feet of me. These guys are silent and you will rarely hear them moving about. I was taking this photograph.

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Careful by Phocal Art, on Flickr

When my friend warned me about his guy coming up behind me.

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Gator Bait 28 by Phocal Art, on Flickr

He moved up a bank from water on the other side, thru all that vegetation, and into the water without ever making a sound. If she had not told me he was coming I would never have known he was there unless I happened to catch him sliding into the water out of the corner of my eye. I was able to snap this photograph of him after he got into the water.

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Slowly by Phocal Art, on Flickr

The park where these photographs are taken is basically a very large swamp with open areas they call lakes. You almost always have water all around you, which makes knowing which way to look for a gator impossible since they can come from any direction.

Continue the story and hear about the kiss here

Phocal
 

fadeslayer

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Oct 19, 2021
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53
oh goodness...

Very close to a different ending, but glad it went this way :)

Very nice images! I am new here, but I just marked your works as top level!
 

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