TARRANT COUNT (CBSDFW.COM) - While many waited in horror for divers to recover the body of a toddler that an alligator snatched from a Disney resort beach, North Texas wildlife experts insisted that alligator attacks on humans are extremely rare. Although the gators are an uncommon sight in North Texas, they have been spotted in area waterways: and here recently, a few feet from John DeGroat's lakeside backyard!
"I look out there and I see an 8 foot to 10 foot alligator," says DeGroat, who lives on Lake Worth, "swimming from one dock to my dock." DeGroat grew up on Lake Worth and is a self-described 'lake rat'. So a lake rat knows better than to mess with an alligator.
"I don't have dogs. I don't have kids… so, it's not a big scare—but people around here do, so a lot of them are afraid."
DeGroat and wife, Dottie, decided to watch the gator from afar. So they invited friends over, took plenty of pictures from their patio and watched as the creature lurked beneath the surface for about three hours, trying to snap its powerful jaws around an unsuspecting duck.
Over the years, DeGroat says he's heard about gator sightings along Lake Worth: but, never one so big, nor quite so close—telling CBS 11 that he's walked along that shoreline "many times… we're out there all the time."
Signs have been posted near the lake shore to remind some—and warn others—that the animals could be nearby.
"Maybe early in the morning, you'll see something floating in the water," says Douglas Stott, who today was standing waist deep in the murky water fishing. "Gators are basically shy, as long as you don't bother them, they basically leave you alone." Stott spent time in Florida, so gators are nothing new. Still, experts warn that the normally shy animals can turn dangerous—even for adults.
"Females make a giant mound to lay their eggs and they stay with them until they hatch," says Bradley Lawrence, reptile and amphibian expert at the Dallas Zoo. "And they'll protect that mound from anything -- getting between a mom and a nest creates a very dangerous situation."
Lawrence also warns that alligators should never be fed in the wild. "Once you feed an alligator, it's like a bear in Yellowstone: once that animal loses its fear of humans, then that's when that becomes a problem. They start associating humans with food and as a food source and that becomes a dangerous situation."
And when you're aware that a gator could be nearby, experts say avoid shallow murky water, especially at dusk and dawn when they are most likely to be hunting. Even so, they say, adults have little to fear.
"This is a recreational lake," says DeGroat, "do you really want to be in there with a gator that's this big?"
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