Alligator is Not a Four Letter Word

caribbean-beach-boat-sunrise

By now, you’ve likely heard of the heartbreaking death of a child who was attacked by an alligator at Walt Disney World ad nauseam. If you somehow haven’t, here are the details. I’m not going to rehash them. The death of that young child is incredibly tragic.

It should go without saying (but probably does need to be said as I’m sure someone will misconstrue this article) that my heart goes out to the family. What happened on the beach of the Grand Floridian is awful and heartbreaking. I cannot begin to fathom the pain the parents must be feeling, especially as they are unduly scrutinized and second-guessed in the aftermath of losing a child.

With that said, I see the aftermath and reaction to this tragedy as fear winning the day over logic and common sense. This presents a problem that goes far beyond alligator attacks, with troubling responses from the media and guests. Beyond that, there’s the reaction from Disney itself as it adds fencing, closes beaches, modifies marina policies, and removes all references to alligators in attractions. I view these subsequent measures and public outcry as very concerning and worthy of discussion.

Responses similar to this are something I’ve noticed quite a bit in the travel realm in the last few years as overreactions to various world events that result in people changing their behavior and entities changing policies. For example, friends and family often inquire as to whether I have any concerns about visiting X or Y destination because “they wouldn’t go there after hearing [insert world event example].” My answer is always the same: safety never crosses my mind. While terrorism is certainly awful and grisly, the fact is that it’s a highly improbable way to die.

My response is often met with some bewilderment, as if I’m reckless for not giving these dangers serious consideration. My view is the opposite: that it would be irresponsible to worry about something so unlikely. While thinking with one’s ‘heart’ is innately human and there’s no way around that, to the greatest extent possible, I try to not let emotion cloud logic. You’re more likely to die of heart disease–by orders of magnitude–than all of the improbable causes of death people tend to fear more combined.

On the scale of heart disease to lightning strikes, alligator deaths are beyond even lightning, with a total of 24 reported United States fatalities since 1928 (until 2010) due to alligators. That’s only .06 attacks per 100,000 people per year, and the vast majority of those are provoked by attempts to capture the alligator. In the improbable event of attack, the survival rate is 96%. Suffice to say, if you are not alligator wrangling, your chances of a fatal alligator attack are close to zero.

Statistically, homicide, bus accidents, heat stroke, West Nile virus, drowning, malaria, and literally hundreds of other causes of death are far more likely in Florida than alligator attacks. In terms of animals, specifically, the most feared animals (like sharks and bears) are actually the most unlikely killers. Cows, spiders, bees, and snakes are all leading killers among animals. Even a fatal whitetail deer (also found on property at Walt Disney World) encounter is more likely, either in the form of a car collision or unprovoked attack. In fact, you are far more likely to crash your vehicle into an animal than be attacked by one (excluding insects).

I can understand why this recent alligator incident has resonated so much with people. It’s a heart-wrenching story with vivid detail, ghastly imagery, and many parents can imagine themselves in the shoes of those parents. It is quite scary to envision, provokes a deeply emotional response, and plays to our fears.

This doesn’t change the objective reality that alligators do not pose a significant threat to guests of Walt Disney World. Despite their nefarious appearance and protruding teeth, they are relatively timid creatures that fear humans. We have heard countless stories of alligators at Walt Disney World over the years, and I don’t mention that here to corroborate the myriad sensationalized “Disney Was Warned!!1!!!” headlines.

I find these headlines irresponsible. Of course there have been alligators spotted in and around numerous bodies of water in Walt Disney World. There are ~1.3 million alligators in Florida. Alligators live in all 67 counties of the state and inhabit all wild areas of Florida that can support them. The mere presence of alligators doesn’t make a location dangerous. The Florida Nuisance Alligator Program does not recommend small alligators for removal, as they are not threats to even small pets (unless the alligator is handled). This should underscore the point that in the swamps of central Florida, alligators have been around forever–certainly since 1971–and this is the first time something awful happened at Walt Disney World.

I’m not writing this to dissuade anyone on the fence about canceling a Walt Disney World vacation. That’s a personal decision. I know that overriding the emotions of a situation are easier said than done. It’s upsetting to think about what happened, and if you’re going to feel unease on vacation, the vacation is worth rethinking.

However, an isolated event that is–by any logical measure–an anomaly, should not dictate how we live our lives. Walt Disney World should not be forced to take prophylactic measures to “prevent” this from occurring again, because if it is bound to happen again, these “preventative” measures aren’t going to change that. (The only thing that will is guests ceasing to feed alligators, thereby potentially causing them to associate food with people.) All references to alligators should not be vanquished from the resort, as if it’s a four-letter word not to be uttered on property.

I can’t fault Disney too much for its response to this incident, even if I do think the subsequent measures taken are unnecessary. Disney is already facing nightmarish PR and media coverage, there have been a ton of cancellations, and innumerable irate guests have contacted Disney about their “alligator issue.” Moreover, we live in a litigious society in desperate need of reform, and some of its actions might behoove Disney from a legal perspective.

That doesn’t make any of this right. This type of response is endemic to our culture, and it’s time for us to say enough is enough with knee-jerk responses to fear mongering. Rather than responding to dramatized media accounts that play into our emotional fears and elicit ill-defined outrage, we should contemplate the real danger present. What we stand to lose to fears of alligators at Walt Disney World is insignificant in isolation, but it presents a growing trend of a willingness to ‘err on the side of caution’ and make meaningless sacrifices for an ill-gotten slice of peace of mind. You simply cannot protect people from every remote danger, and in attempting to do so, too much would be ceded in the name of “safety.” We must allow for some level of acceptable risk, or else live in a constant state of irrational fear.

If you desire things to fear, you will find no shortage if look for them. In the aftermath of 9/11, it was often said that if you live in fear, the terrorists have won. I believe this can be extended to fear, itself. It’s cliché, but Franklin D. Roosevelt’s words ring true. The moment you let fears alter any facet of your life is the moment those fears are fully-realized.

136 Responses to “Alligator is Not a Four Letter Word”
  1. Adreama Mackey-Ponte May 10, 2019
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