Alligator Wrestler on Florida Gator Killings

This is a partial transcript of "The Big Story With John Gibson," May 15, 2006, that has been edited for clarity.

JOHN GIBSON, HOST: Three deadly alligator attacks have taken place in Florida in less than a week. The first was near Fort Lauderdale, the second outside of Tampa, and the latest was a woman killed in Salt Springs near Jacksonville.

Jane Skinner is here to try to explain what is going on.

JANE SKINNER, FNC CORRESPONDENT: Well, John, this is a strange string when you realize there have only have been 17 confirmed alligator attacks since the state began keeping records nearly 60 years ago. But before anybody overreacts, is something actually going on, as you say, or is it just terrible coincidence?

Bret Chism is not just an alligator expert; he is also an alligator wrestler. He knows these animals quite well. And he joins us from Orlando, works at Gatorland there.

Bret, what is the deal?

BRET CHISM, GATORLAND ALLIGATOR WRESTLER: Well, there could be quite a few different reasons why this has happened. First of all, my heart and my prayers go out to the families that this has happened to. But like I said, there could be a few different reasons.

One of them we haven't had any rain. Things are drying up. Lakes are getting lower and lower. There isn't a lot of room for the alligators, so they start venturing out.

Another good reason could be that it is breeding season for the alligators. And the male alligators are going to protect their territory against any type of animal that comes their way.

SKINNER: But doesn't this happen every year, the mating and the dry weather?

CHISM: It doesn't happen every year. Oh, well, not the dry weather somewhat. During the springtime, we should be getting quite a bit of rain but we — like I said, the alligators are just trying, you know, another good reason why is there are a lot of people moving into the state of Florida. There is a heck of a lot of people moving into the state of Florida. And they're encroaching onto the alligators' backyard. And more people are coming across to alligators.

And people of course, especially those from other states, don't know how to get along with them. There are a lot of myths and there are a lot of tales on alligators. So there are a few different reasons.

SKINNER: Bret, I know one of your concerns is that these alligators may be being fed by people and then are becoming somewhat, I don't know, tame for lack of a better word. Are there actually people down there who are feeding them? That seems like a really dumb idea. And what exactly are they feeding them?

CHISM: Well, what it is is when people see an alligator in their backyard, they think how cool it is to have an alligator, and they want to keep them there, so they end up feeding them, which is against the law. There is a huge fine for feeding wild alligators.

And the reason why that is is because if you feed an alligator, he begins to associate human beings with food. A few months down the road that alligator may be getting, you know, some hunger pangs, and next person he sees he might think well, you know, I could probably get food from that person. And if that person doesn't have food, that person could become the food.

SKINNER: Bret, I have to ask you about last week, this woman who was jogging. There was the theory floating around that she was actually stalked by an alligator. What exactly does that mean? And do you agree with it? There she is.

CHISM: Well, I don't know the entire circumstances around that particular alligator. My guess is since — see, alligators are scared of things that are taller than them. Even a 12-foot alligator is only going to stand about three feet tall or so off the ground. So when it sees a five-, six-foot person, it is going to think it is much bigger than them.

I got a feeling that alligator has lost its fear of man because of the fact that people around that area was feeding that animal, and the alligator probably saw this person and just kind of waited and waited and waited until he said, well, he does haven't any food, which means I'm just going to go up and grab her.

SKINNER: Scary stuff. Bret Chism from Gatorland, an alligator expert. Bret, thanks very much.

CHISM: You're welcome.

SKINNER: Best advice: Stay far away.

GIBSON: Far away. They can run fast.

SKINNER: Absolutely.

GIBSON: Outran the jogger evidently.

SKINNER: Yes, and it sounds like they are all be coming clustered, and we are driving them out. And then they are becoming concentrated, so keep away.

GIBSON: Jane Skinner with our alligator report. Thanks a lot, Jane.

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