Alligator awareness

LAUDERDALE COUNTY, Miss. (WTOK) - An investigation is continuing into an alligator attack that has left a Florida woman dead. Authorities say the woman was walking her dogs last Friday morning when she was killed. News reports in South Florida reveal that an Alligator Warning had been issued in that area two days before the attack. Although there is not such a warning within the twin states at this time, local wildlife officials say it's always important to practice safety.

"The first thing I thought is what a horrible and tragic event," says Scott Payne with the Army Corps of Engineers. He says last week's deadly attack is disturbing, and a good reminder about alligator awareness.

"Keep in mind that the alligators are here," says Payne. "The larger alligators can take a small animal and small children, and obviously they can take an adult if they don't feel threatened."

At last count there were an estimated 50 alligators on Okatibbee's property. The largest one harvested at Okatibbee was 12 feet long. Payne says the important thing is to remember is that alligators are wild animals, and they should be treated as such.

"Alligators and most wild animals have a natural instinct to fear humans," says Payne. "Once they're being fed, and they start losing that fear of humans and associating humans with food, then that's when they become a nuisance. They think every time they see someone near the water that they have a sandwich, a potato chip, or anything that they're accustomed to eating."

Payne says it's important to realize that not feeding alligators cannot only help keep you safe, but also others.

"They don't know you by name, says Payne. "All they know is that there is an object that I have received food from in the past."

According to the Army Corps of Engineers, there has never been a a fatal alligator attack in Mississippi. In fact, agency officials say the only attacks of this nature that have occurred involved people who were trying to capture or agitate the animal.