The film’The Waterboy’, a teacher asked:”Why are alligators so competitive?”
The waterboy responded:”Momma tells me alligators are ornery because they have all those teeth but no toothbrush!”
Nigel Marven, the wild life specialist, wasn’t pleased with what his mother told him about alligators. He spent a year in Southern Florida in 2002 studying their ways and making films 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 which read:
“Wanted! Alligator Wrestler. Must Be Brave and a Risk Taker!!! No Experience Needed.”
The ad described Nigel exactly. Alligator wrestlers were needed because Southern Florida was in its second year of drought. Nigel commented:
“A half million alligators are getting desperate and have begun coming into town in search of water causing big problems. That’s where my particular mission will come in – dealing with nuisance alligators.”
Nigel realized that some sort 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, known as Kenny.
The Miccosukee have lived and hunted alligators in this region for centuries.
An alligator’s jaws have a crushing power of 3000lbs per square inch. Their teeth are not as sharp as crocodiles so they don’t chew their prey. They thrash their victims around till body parts are ripped off and may be swallowed whole.
Another difference is that crocodile snouts are pointed and narrow 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 hands
He then put his hands near its mouth. When it snapped its jaws closed and then opened them, he moved in quickly and closed its jaws with his left hands beneath and his right palm on top. He gripped its jaws with his thumbs on top and his fingers underneath.
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 back. It took him some time to get his courage up for his first move.
Then he moved in fast squatting on its back just behind front legs and covering its eyes with his left hand which also slammed its head towards the ground. This shut its mouth so Nigel could catch its jaws with his thumbs in addition to its upper jaw and his fingers underneath 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 didn’t enjoy this experience:
“I will hear that hissing. It’s going all through my body.”
He got off by putting down its head and then moving quickly away from its jaws.
Nigel decided he had heard enough grappling techniques and headed off to see the creatures from the wild. He was, after all, a wild life scientist as well as 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 try and swim in this pool so he punted his way in.
1 alligator came right up alongside his ship:
“They’re curious about anything new and it’s clear they are really hungry.
You may see them gliding through the water. Some are hunting.
“They have eaten all of the turtles and the fish and all there is left is each other. The smaller alligators try to keep out of the way of the larger ones by sticking to the shallows but sometimes there is no escape.”
1 huge alligator attacked an adolescent alligator:
“It is shaking it like a dog shaking a rat. They can’t chew. They can only hold so they thrash and crash until they dismember the bodies of large prey.”
Later in daytime, Nigel moved close in the shallows to a huge alligator and started tapping it on top of its nostrils until it opened its mouth wide. It clearly enjoyed using its snout rubbed.
Nigel put one hand in its mouth to point out the stubs of teeth which the alligator grips with. He was at exactly the exact same time talking to and looking at the camera!
Then he put his head in its mouth to give viewers a closer look in the throat! A camera was attached to his forehead. An alligator has no lips to seal its mouth from water so it has a false palate that seals its throat instead.
Nigel was determined to show a close up of this amazing design feature. He moved his head further and further in. Suddenly, 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, didn’t I really? Pheaw! That nearly spoiled my weekend!”
Alligators can’t survive for long outdoor water so, in times of drought, they produce their own ponds or’swimming pools’. They push mud back with their front legs and then sweep it away with their rear legs and tails. These pools assist other species to survive also.
Nigel decided to explore a pool’owned’ by a large female alligator. He entered the pool while the alligator was recharging her energies in the side of the pool at the sun. 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 eager to strike both him and the cameraman! Its jaws are made for cutting rather than 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 prior to the’owner’ reached him.
His next’adventure’ was to swim with huge bull alligators and female alligators during their mating rituals. He was advised by an expert to keep at least twenty feet away from the bulls, to maintain low in the water and to splash water towards an alligator if 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 noise of the bellow and a deeper sound below the level of human hearing, that the water’dances’ in the air over their backs.
Female alligators bellow also but in a greater more ladylike pitch. The water doesn’t dance on their backs.
Nigel entered the water, as planned, to get nearer to the beaches and sounds of the magical scene.
He was so absorbed in watching the remarkable mating ritual of one bull that he failed to notice an alligator stalking him. Luckily, he turned and saw it in time. The water was shallow and this helped him escape unscathed.
During mating the female is submerged beneath and when the pair gets carried away she might even drown. Normally, however, her eggs are fertilized and she lays them within a couple of weeks and then after two or three months the little alligators emerge.
Nigel next swam with some manatees.
They eat a hundred pounds of green stuff a day and have 150 foot long intestines to process all of the plants they eat.
They are so large that they don’t need to fear the alligators. They usually come up to breathe every four minutes or so but can remain submerged for over sixteen minutes.
At one point an American crocodile joined the swimming party. There are only about 500 American crocodiles left – all in Florida. Nigel’s reaction was typical:
“For me swimming with one is a privilege indeed.”
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. Maybe she was just snapping her jaws together to frighten him away.
He encouraged her to come towards him once more and tripped over some tree roots on his left. Luckily, he kept on his toes and lived yet again!
“Cor! That snap really got my heart beating. If they run at you they could run at twelve miles an hour. I need to be able to out run her. Wow! Come on, Mum! Wow!” Each time Nigel said’Wow!’ The alligator came .
Finally, Nigel lay low and close 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’s the best way to get to the water.”
When she went off to take one of two of her babies to the water, he examined the others to see what gender they were. Their gender is determined by the temperature they are incubated at:
“This is ridiculous! These are reptiles but I feel like a proud father. This is the first day of those small hatchling lives. They could live to fifty.”
Nigel also discovered some baby turtles at the alligator nest.
Alligator hatchlings stay together as a family for a couple of decades but only 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’t be everywhere at once especially when she’s about forty baby alligators to shield.
There is one alligator for every ten people in Florida. They can be tempted by different sorts of food such as dogs. They take about a hundred a year but it is not just pets that are in jeopardy. Alligators can turn up everywhere.
Nigel met two year old Edna Wilkes and her friend Amanda. They had been swimming 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 believed 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 pulled underwater before she had a chance to scream along with the alligator started to spin. Alligators drown their prey and twist to rip off chunks of flesh.
Her friend couldn’t’bear to see her die’ and handed her a plank 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 chased him and he let me go!”
Edna kept her left arm although it had multiple fractures.
Now it was time for Nigel to put his skills and knowledge to the test.
A nuisance alligator was 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, not surprisingly, nervous. He asked for guidance from Joe, a professional friend.
Joe advised: “Be slow, careful and deliberate. Cover the eyes and make sure that the mouth is closed before grabbing its snout. If necessary, push its head to the bottom of the pool to shut its mouth.”
Nigel’s swam up behind the alligator along its rear His first attempt to grab its closed snout failed and he came up gasping for air. On the second attempt:
“His jaws just missed me!”
Third time lucky – he swam over the alligator and grabbed the snout with the jaws closed with his left hand. He brought the alligator in near the steps into the pool. His friend Joe helped him tape the mouth closed and then lift it out of the pool
As usual, Nigel watched the positives of this terrifying experience:
“This bloke gave me a beautiful ride in the swimming pool”
Florida laws stated that a nuisance alligator over four feet long should be murdered but Nigel made certain that this one was released to an Everglades sanctuary where it could live on for many years to come. He commented:
“I just hope the people in Florida never lose patience with their prehistoric neighbours. I have enjoyed my alligator experience so much.”
My step brother emailed me this poem which shows that alligators are not necessarily the guilty party when it comes to attacks on human beings! It’s called’The Purist’ by Ogden Nash:
And sent him off to distant jungles.
Camped on a tropic riverside,
Professor Twist could not but smile.
“You mean,” he said,”a crocodile.”
Several survival and success tips can be heard from Nigel’s’adventures’.
Get training from the very best in the company. Nigel sought advice from three or more experts. He also implemented their advice although not all of it.
Keep your enthusiasm for what you’re doing even when you make mistakes. Nigel did not give up in the swimming pool.
Follow your passions. Nigel had bathed at home in his bath with young caymans from an early age. He afterwards drifted with alligators.
Maintain your childhood curiosity and sense of wonder so that you can 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 afternoon, a swing set, and a giant puddle to play ‘ All through the film Nigel was playing in giant puddles.
Knowledge and fascination can diminish anxiety and panic. Nigel’s head was so filled with his curiosity about the animals he met up with that it didn’t have room for too much fear.
Don’t give up even if you feel your life is in the grip of an’alligator’ like debt or illness.
Be prepared to take risks although I would not suggest taking Nigel as your role model. I just checked on the world wide web to see if he’s still alive. He i