Disney alligator attack may have been a perfect storm

Story highlights

  • The attack happened at a time and season during which alligators are most active
  • Majority of gator attacks happen in or near water

(CNN)It seems unimaginable, especially at the Happiest Place on Earth.

A 2-year-old boy is dead after he was dragged in a lagoon by an alligator while the child's father and sister stood just feet away.
    The truth is, though the horrific accident at a Walt Disney World Resort is a relative anomaly, the circumstances of the attack were anything but.
    The incident at the Grand Floridian Resort was something of a perfect storm for an alligator attack.

    Alligators are not prone to attacking fully grown humans but do feed on small animals.

    Especially out of the water, alligators are not interested in prey they can't easily overpower, and in natural circumstances, they usually avoid humans. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission puts the odds of being seriously injured in a random alligator attack at one in 2.4 million. However, they are known to eat small animals, and to an alligator, a pet or young child would fit that need.

    Alligators do not feed often and are dormant most of the winter months but become more active in the spring and summer.

    According to Paul Bedard, one of the stars of the Animal Planet show "Gator Boys," some alligators can go years without feeding and do not "go around eating and killing constantly."
    Since they are cold-blooded animals, they are mostly dormant during colder months but start to feed again in the spring. Warmer weather, like that in Florida in June, is a high point for alligator feeding activity. The months of May and June also usher in the alligator mating season, during which there is an elevated risk of alligator encounters.
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    Alligators are not much of a threat out of the water but will lunge at prey near shorelines.

    Florida is home to the most alligators in the country, but reports of "nuisance alligators" roaming golf courses or napping under cars far, far outweigh the number of reported attacks and fatalities. The boy in the Disney incident was reported to be wading in the water. According to the fish and wildlife commission, an alligator can and will attack prey that is close to the shoreline. For that reason, the horrifying narrative of a child being dragged into the water wouldn't be outside of an alligator's typical hunting habits.

    Alligators are most active at night.

    The child was reportedly attacked about 9 p.m. ET. Since alligators typically feed at night, starting at dusk, this is an especially high-risk period for alligator encounters.

    A majority of fatal alligator attacks in the U.S. happen in Florida.

    The reality is, as human populations increase around alligator populations, the risk of an alligator encounter increases. Take Florida, which is home to more than a million alligators and nearly 20 million people. Between 1948 and 2016, there were 257 attacks with 23 deaths. That includes eight children.
    Historically, Florida has had the most attacks. The next closest state in attacks is Texas.
    Unprovoked alligator attacks in Florida (1948-2016)

    257

    The number of attacks that required medical care

    23

    People who died as a result of those attacks

    8

    Number of children (16 and under) among the 23 deaths

    1977

    The year that saw the most attacks requiring medical care (13)

    1 in 2.4 million

    The likelihood of a resident being seriously injured in an attack

    Source: Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (as of April 2016)