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Alligator Attacks Woman's Inflatable Boat in Florida Wildlife Refuge

Jul 01, 2013 11:34 AM EDT

Palm Beach County authorities report that a woman whose inflatable boat was attacked by an alligator in the Arthur R. Marshall Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge was uninjured but "shaken up" by the experience, according to the Associated Press.

The boat sank as a result, authorities say, and rescue officials had to send an airboat to reach the woman due to the remote nature of the area.

The wildlife refuge is the northernmost portion of the Everglades and, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, consists of more than 200 square miles of wetlands the American alligator calls home.

A popular boating, canoeing and kayaking destination, as many as 257 species of birds may take advantage of the Refuge's diverse habitats in any given year, according to refuge officials.

The Windstar Wildlife Institute reports that are an estimated 1.5 million alligators in Florida, with some 18 million humans "steadily encroaching on their turf." As a result, the organization says, confrontations between people and the prehistoric creature whose bit can register more than 2,000 pounds of pressure are on the rise.

An article published in 2005 in the journal Wilderness and Environmental Medicine found that, in Florida alone, the number of annual alligator attacks rose from an average of just five between 1948 and 1986 to an average of 14 between 1986 and 2005.

Furthermore, according to the paper, the number of "nuisance" complaints" or sightings increased from 5,000 in 1978 to nearly 15,000 in 1998.

According to the South Carolina Department of Parks, Recreation and Tourism, alligators are naturally timid animals that won't pursue a running person, though it warns that running zigzag - an oft repeated method of defense - will only slow down the person trying to escape.

However, they explain, this innate shyness can evolve to the detriment of all.

"An important part of learning to live with alligators is recognizing that over time, these timid reptiles can become a serious threat to public safety with the wrong kind of encouragement," state park officials explained in release on alligator safety. "Unfortunately, close encounters with humans have a cumulative effect on an alligator's behavior that is usually subtle and always very dangerous."

To stay safe, the park officials warn never to get closer than 15 feet to an alligator and to back away if it hisses or opens its mouth in defense.

Additionally, they explain, alligators located at the edge of a body of water are more likely to retreat than those that are landlocked. And don't be fooled upon discovering a baby alligator, the officials add - while not capable of maiming a person, the mother is likely nearby.

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