The film’The Waterboy’, a teacher asked:”Why are alligators so aggressive?”
The waterboy replied:”Momma tells me alligators are ornery because they have all those teeth but no toothbrush!”
Nigel Marven, the wild life expert, New York City Opossum Removal wasn’t pleased with what his mother told him about alligators. He spent a year in Southern Florida in 2002 studying their manners and making movies about them.
A group of his experiences on film are known as’Nigel Marven’s Alligator Adventure’. Nigel, back in England, had noticed an ad that read:
“Wanted! Alligator Wrestler. Must Be Brave and a Risk Taker!!! No Experience Needed.”
The ad described Nigel exactly. Nigel commented:
“A half million alligators are getting desperate and have begun coming into town seeking water causing big problems. That’s where my special mission will arrive in – dealing with nuisance alligators.”
Nigel realized that some kind of training would help him to survive and to succeed in his job. He chose to train with an experienced alligator wrestler, a Miccosukee Indian, called Kenny.
The Miccosukee have lived and hunted alligators in this region for centuries.
An alligator’s jaws have a devastating power of 3000lbs per square inch. Their teeth are not as sharp as crocodiles so that they don’t chew their prey. They thrash their victims around until body parts are ripped off and may be swallowed whole.
Another distinction is that crocodile snouts are narrow and pointed whereas alligator snouts are wide and round.
Kenny waved his hat in front of the eyes of a ten foot alligator to get it to open its mouth. He tapped above its snout several times with his hand
He then put his hands close to its mouth. When it snapped its jaws closed and then opened them, he moved in fast and closed its jaws with his left hands beneath along with his right palm on top. He finally gripped its jaws with his thumbs on top and his fingers underneath.
He moved closer bending the alligator’s neck back with his left knee. He then moved anticlockwise round the left side of the alligator stepping first with his right leg, holding its jaws shut with his left hand alone until he could sit on its back pulling back its head with both hands. Again his thumbs were on top and his fingers underneath.
It was Nigel’s turn next. He had a go at a five foot alligator. What it lacked in size, it would make up for in speed. He approached it from the rear. It took him a while to get his courage up for his first move.
Then he proceeded in fast squatting on its back just behind its front legs and covering its eyes with his left hand which also slammed its head to the ground. This closed its mouth so Nigel could catch its jaws with his thumbs in addition to its upper jaw and his fingers beneath the lower jaw.
To tie up its jaws he would need to bend its neck back before the alligator’s closed snout could be held in a clamped position under his own chin! The alligator did not enjoy this experience:
“I can hear that hissing. It’s going throughout my body.”
He got off by putting down its head and then moving quickly away from its jaws.
Nigel decided he’d learned enough grappling techniques and headed off to find the creatures from the wild. He was, after all, a crazy life scientist in addition to an alligator wrestler!
That day he travelled to a small pool filled with alligators. He could see orange red eyes and feel the tension in the atmosphere. It would have been suicide to attempt to swim in this pool so he punted his way in.
One alligator came right up alongside his boat:
“They are curious about anything new and it’s clear they are really hungry.
You may see them gliding through the water.
“They’ve eaten all the turtles and the fish and all there is left is each other. The smaller alligators try to stay out of the way of the larger ones by sticking to the shallows but sometimes there is no escape.”
One huge alligator attacked a teenager alligator:
“It’s shaking it like a dog shaking a rat. They can’t chew. They can only grip so that they thrash and crash until they dismember the bodies of large prey.”
Later in daytime, Nigel moved close from the shallows to a large alligator and started tapping it on top of its nostrils until it opened its mouth wide. It clearly enjoyed using its snout rubbed.
Nigel place one hand in its mouth to point out the stubs of teeth which the alligator grips with. He was at the same time talking to and looking at the camera!
He then put his head in its mouth to give viewers a closer look in the throat! A camera has been attached to his forehead. An alligator has no lips to seal its mouth from water so it has a false palate which seals its throat instead.
Nigel was determined to show a close up of this amazing design feature. Unexpectedly, the alligator lost patience and snapped its jaws twice.
Nigel narrowly escaped without losing his head or his arm not to mention the camera!
“Wow! Wow! I needed to be fast there, did not I really? Pheaw! That nearly spoiled my weekend!”
Alligators cannot survive for long outdoor water so, in times of drought, they produce their own ponds or’swimming pools’. They push sand back with their front legs and then sweep it away with their rear legs and tails. These pools help other species to survive as well.
Nigel decided to explore a pool’owned’ by a large female alligator. He entered the pool while the alligator was recharging her energies at the side of the pool at sunlight. He estimated that this would take about half an hour.
He managed to unearth a salamander and an aggressively vicious snapping turtle that was just too keen to strike both him and the cameraman! Its jaws are made for cutting and not grinding. A sting could snip off a finger or thumb.
Through the program, Nigel was filled with excitement. He was thrilled to discover some of the most horrendous looking creatures that most people would pay good money to avoid.
He only just escaped the pool before the’owner’ reached him.
His next’adventure’ was to swim with enormous bull alligators and female alligators during their mating rituals. He was told by an expert to maintain at least twenty feet away from the bulls, to keep low in the water and to splash water towards an alligator when it moved towards him.
He ignored some of the advice and got within six feet of a huge bull alligator. The bulls lift their heads and tails high from the water and bellow as part of the courting ritual.
They vibrate so much with the sound of the bellow and a deeper sound beneath the level of human hearing, that the water’dances’ in the air over their backs.
Female alligators bellow too but at a higher more ladylike pitch. The water does not dance on their backs.
Nigel entered the water, as intended, to get nearer to the sounds and sights of the magical scene.
He was so absorbed in watching the amazing mating ritual of one bull that he failed to notice an alligator stalking him. Fortunately, he turned and watched it in time. The water was shallow and this helped him escape unscathed.
During mating the female is submerged underneath and when the pair gets carried away she might even drown. Normally, however, her eggs are fertilized and she places them within a couple of weeks and then after a couple of months the small alligators emerge.
They consume a hundred pounds of green things per day and have 150 foot long intestines to process all of the plants they consume.
They are so large that they don’t need to fear that the alligators. They generally come up to breathe every four minutes or so but can stay submerged for over sixteen minutes.
At one point an American crocodile joined the swimming party. There are only about 500 American crocodiles abandoned – all in Florida. Nigel’s reaction was typical:
In the next’adventure’, Nigel drew away a eight foot mom alligator from her hatching eggs so that he could get close enough to do some research. He was thrilled to hear the babies chirping as they hatched.
As he came close, she turned and snapped at him with stunning speed. But he backed off with equal speed. Maybe she was just snapping her jaws together to frighten him away. She snapped again.
He encouraged her to come towards him and tripped over some tree roots on his left. Fortunately, he kept on his toes and lived yet again!
“Cor! That snap actually got my heart beating. If they run at you they can run at twelve miles an hour. I should be able to out run her. Wow! Wow!” Each time Nigel said’Wow!’ The alligator came at him.
Eventually, Nigel lay close and low on the ground watching entranced as she assisted the baby alligators to hatch by rolling the eggs around in her mouth:
This gets the blood coursing through my veins. The baby alligators walk towards their mum. They know that she is the best way to reach the water.”
When she went to take one of two of her babies into the water, he examined the others to find out what gender they were. Their sex is determined by the temperature they are incubated at:
“That is ridiculous! These are reptiles but I feel like a proud father. This is the first day of those small hatchling lives.
Nigel also discovered some baby turtles at the alligator nest.
Alligator hatchlings stay together as a family for two or three decades but just a few will make it to maturity.
From day one they catch food for themselves but they’re also hunted by predators such as otters. The Mother alligator can not be everywhere at once especially when she’s about forty baby alligators to shield.
There’s 1 alligator for every ten people in Florida. They can be tempted by different kinds of food like dogs. They take about a hundred a year but it isn’t just pets which are in jeopardy. Alligators can turn up anywhere. Fortunately attacks on humans are extremely rare.
Nigel met fourteen year old Edna Wilkes and her friend Amanda. They were swimming at night in a lake when Edna was attacked by an alligator. She had never seen alligators in that lake wasn’t scared about swimming there.
She thought her friend Mark was squeezing her arm and said:”Mark! Stop playing around!” Then she saw a snout. Her arm was in the alligator’s jaws.
She was dragged underwater before she had an opportunity to scream along with the alligator began to spin. Alligators drown their prey and spin to rip off chunks of flesh.
Her friend could not’bear to see her die’ and handed her a board that Edna got her upper body onto. Edna used her free right arm to try to open the alligator’s mouth and to ‘mess’ with him:
“I guess I irritated him and he let me go!”
Edna kept her left arm although it had multiple fractures.
It was time for Nigel to put his knowledge and skills to the test.
A nuisance alligator had been spotted in a swimming pool. It was big and on the bottom of the pool. Nigel would have to swim underwater to capture it with his bare hands.
He was, unsurprisingly, nervous. He asked for advice from Joe, a professional friend.
Joe advised: “Be slow, careful and deliberate. Cover the eyes and make sure the mouth is closed before grabbing its snout. If necessary, push its head to the bottom of the pool to close its mouth.”
Nigel’s swam up behind the alligator along its back His first attempt to grab its closed snout failed and he came up gasping for air. On the second attempt:
Third time lucky – he drifted over the alligator and caught the snout with the jaws closed with his left hand. He brought the alligator in close the steps into the pool. His friend Joe helped him tape the mouth shut and then lift it from the pool
As usual, Nigel saw the positives of the terrifying experience:
“This bloke gave me a gorgeous ride in the swimming pool”
Florida laws said that a nuisance alligator over four feet long should be murdered but Nigel made certain this one was released to an Everglades sanctuary where it could live on for several years to come. He commented:
“I just hope the people in Florida never lose patience with their prehistoric neighbours. I’ve enjoyed my alligator experience so much.”
My step brother emailed me this poem that indicates that alligators are not necessarily the guilty party when it comes to attacks on human beings! It is known as’The Purist’ by Ogden Nash:
I give you now Professor Twist,
And sent him off to distant jungles.
Camped on a tropic riverside,
One day he missed his loving bride.
She had, the guide informed him later,
Been eaten by an alligator.
Professor Twist couldn’t but smile.
“You mean,” he said,”a crocodile.”
Several success and survival tips may be heard from Nigel’s’experiences’.
Get training from the very best in the company. Nigel sought advice from at least three experts. He also implemented their advice although not all of it.
Maintain your enthusiasm for what you are doing even if you make mistakes. Churchill defined success as going from one failure to another without losing your enthusiasm. Nigel didn’t give up in the swimming pool.
Follow your passions. Nigel had bathed at home in his tub with young caymans from an early age. He later swam with alligators.
Maintain your childhood curiosity and sense of wonder so you may enjoy your experiences on this awesome planet.
Chrissy Ogden wrote:’Keeping in touch with childhood memories keeps us believing in life’s simplest pleasures like a rainy day, a swing set, and a giant puddle to play in.’ All through the film Nigel was playing in giant puddles.
Knowledge and fascination can lessen anxiety and panic. Nigel’s mind was so filled with his curiosity about the creatures he met up with that it didn’t have space for a lot of fear. Keep learning new things and your life will be less anxious and less fearful.
Don’t give up even if you feel your life is in the grip of an’alligator’ such as illness or debt.
Be prepared to take risks although I would not suggest taking Nigel as your role model. I just checked on the internet to determine if he’s still alive. He i