LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. – Firefighters at Walt Disney World were warned to stop feeding alligators at one of the resort's fire stations two months before an alligator killed a toddler.
According to emails obtained by WKMG-TV, Reedy Creek Emergency Services admonished firefighters for feeding at least one of two alligators at a station less than a half-mile from Seven Seas Lagoon, where 2-year-old Lane Graves was pulled into the water by a gator in June and killed.
One email said employees were afraid after one gator was spotted near the parking lot and asked officials to remove it.
On April 17, Communications Captain Claude Rodgers addressed the fire command staff.
"It was brought to our attention firefighters are feeding the alligators (this is illegal)," Rodgers wrote. "As you can imagine this is making the communicators nervous because they are fearful of walking to their car and their leg becoming dinner."
Reedy Creek District administrator John Classe said Disney's animal-control department was contacted, but he did not know whether either alligator was ever removed.
A Disney spokeswoman said Wednesday that it was unclear whether the gator had been removed.
Feeding alligators is illegal in Florida.
The frequency of serious, unprovoked alligator bites has grown in Florida along with the state's population, but fatal attacks remain rare. Some things to know about alligators from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission:
More than a million alligators live throughout Florida, though the species remains listed as a protected species, because it closely resembles the endangered American crocodile.
Alligators can be found in fresh and brackish bodies of water, including lakes, rivers, canals and golf course ponds, and there's an estimated 6.7 million acres of suitable habitat statewide. Alligator bites are most likely to occur in or around water, as gators aren't well-equipped to capture prey on dry land.
Alligators are opportunistic feeders that will eat what is readily available and easily overpowered. It's illegal to feed wild alligators, because that causes them to lose their fear of humans. While gators can lunge at prey along a shoreline, there's no evidence of alligators running after people or other animals on land.
Hides, meat and other parts can be sold from legally harvested alligators. In 2014, the hides and meat from harvested gators was worth $6.8 million.
There have been 23 fatalities caused by wild alligators in Florida since 1973, among 383 unprovoked bites not caused by someone handling or intentionally harassing an alligator. Florida averages about seven serious unprovoked bites a year, and officials put the odds of someone being seriously injured by an unprovoked alligator in Florida at roughly one in 2.4 million.
Most of the eight children and 15 adults killed by alligators had been in freshwater bodies of water. Other victims include a 2-year-old girl, who wandered 700 feet from her fenced backyard, a 3-year-old boy, who left a roped-off swimming area in a county park to pick lily pads, a 36-year-old man swimming across a pond while trying to elude police, a 54-year-old woman seized by an alligator while landscaping near a pond, and an 82-year-old man killed while walking his dog on a path between two wetland areas.
If an alligator bites someone, they should make a commotion. Hit or kick the alligator, or poke it in its eyes, because alligators will retreat from prey they can't easily overwhelm.