If you were to be asked about the wild animals that you would least like to be cornered by, an alligator would probably be near the top of the list. Yes, you’d maybe expect an anaconda, or a grizzly bear, or a hippo to be up there too, but the idea of being attacked by something that weighs up to 230kg and has 80 extremely sharp teeth to tear you into pieces with just doesn’t bear thinking about really.
Add in a spate of much-reported ‘gator-related deaths, including one in which a two-year-old boy was dragged underwater and drowned at the Grand Floridian Resort & Spa, and you can understand why people are so fearful of these powerful predators.
And given that Florida is the number one hotspot for alligator deaths, it’s likely that these kind of horror stories were at the back of one mom’s mind when she found that her daughter was stuck up a tree and surrounded by hissing ‘gators, while the family were holidaying in the state.
Jordan Broderick was floating on a raft in a creek in the Alexander Springs area of Florida’s Ocala National Forest, which is known for its natural pools and canoe runs, when an alligator appeared. Having spotted the animal, the 15-year-old knew she would be unable to reach the shoreline quickly enough and so instead scrambled up a nearby tree.
However, by now the dangerous animal had twigged exactly where she was, and there was no way it was going to let her get away. Instead, it stayed circling in the water underneath the tree, snapping its teeth, while she clung onto its branches for dear life.
After her mom was alerted to the situation, she did what any mother would probably do and dialed 911 in search of someone to help her child: “My daughter’s stuck in a frickin’ tree and there’s gators surrounding her,” the mom told the emergency operator. “We can’t get her out. Please, she’s 15.”
“Oh my god, please hurry. Hurry, hurry,” she continued, only to be told that it could take up to 20 minutes for emergency services to arrive. “Oh, my god, my daughter is going to be f****** dead” she says, progressively becoming more distressed.
Listen to her mom’s panicked 911 call in here:
About 30 minutes after the teen initially climbed up to her precarious point of safety, Mitch Blackmon, a Deputy with the Lake County Sheriff’s Office arrived, and says that she was still screaming for help and becoming increasingly tired from clinging on.
With the marine unit not having arrived yet, Blackmon, who said the animal “was approximately four feet from me, three feet from the base of the tree”, initially tried to scare it away. However, the beast then started to move towards him, leading him to fire at it with his rifle: “My presence failed to scare the alligator away and it began encroaching on my area,” Blackmon wrote in his report.
One bullet hit the alligator in the head, at which point it sank underwater and – fortunately for everyone else – did not reemerge. The girl was then able to be helped from the tree, which was presumably pretty scary in itself after everything else that had happened.
When the animal was recovered it was found to be over eight feet in length, and was handed over to Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission, with a local marine biologist called in to determine the cause of death – although, surely it’s pretty obvious, having been shot in the head and all?
Lake County Sheriff’s Office spokesman Fred Jones tells PEOPLE magazine that the animal was female and that the girl in question may have unknowingly strayed close to her nest: “It is the end of mating season and they are known to be aggressive and territorial during this time.”
As much as stories like this may be scary, alligator attacks are actually fairly rare. According to the Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission, while unprovoked attacks are increasing by about 3 per cent a year, the chances of being seriously injured in a random attack is still one in 2.4 million; for a bit of context, you’re more likely to die falling out of bed than you at the hands – or jaws – of a ‘gator.
So you can sleep easy, kinda.