A South Carolina woman died in an alligator attack: How rare is that? What to do if you see one

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A woman was killed in an alligator attack Monday in South Carolina, officials confirmed, in what has become an unusual year for alligator attacks.

It was the fourth death from alligator attacks this year after a man was killed looking for Frisbees on May 31 in Floridaanother man was killed near a retention pond in South Carolina on June 24 and an 80-year-old Florida woman was killed along a golf course.

They aren't the only run-ins people have had with the creatures. A 43-year-old man was attacked by an alligator and treated for a "serious injury in his arm" on July 20 and a 34-year-old man was bit on his face during a swim in a Florida lake on Aug. 4.

Florida is known to be the home of alligators, and residents have numerous run-ins with the reptiles near their homes, golf courses or roads.

Still, attacks, especially fatal ones, are rare.

"With how many people there are and how many alligators there are, it's really surprising it doesn't happen more often," Frank Mazzotti, professor of wildlife ecology and member of the "Croc Docs" at the University of Florida, told USA TODAY.

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An alligator swims in the Florida Everglades on May 04, 2022 in Miami, Florida. Florida is home to one of the largest populations of alligators in the country, with a population over one million.
An alligator swims in the Florida Everglades on May 04, 2022 in Miami, Florida. Florida is home to one of the largest populations of alligators in the country, with a population over one million.

Where are there alligators in the US?

Alligators are found throughout the Southeast and wetlands, with their range stretching as far west as eastern Texas, and as far east as coastal North Carolina, according to The National Wildlife Federation.

The creature is most abundant in Louisiana and Florida, with each state having a population of over 1 million alligators.

"Anywhere there is standing water, an alligator might be found," The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission said in a statement to USA TODAY.

Gator attack: A Florida man thought a 7-foot alligator was dog on long leash. Then, the gator bit his leg.

How common are alligator attacks?

Alligator attacks are very rare, even in Louisiana and Florida.

The Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries says licensed hunters remove over 1,000 nuisance alligators – which are any ones deemed a "threat to pets, livestock or humans" – a year, and attack reports in the state are usually just encounters.

The Florida conservation commission said in November 2021 there were 442 unprovoked alligator bites in Florida from 1948 to 2021, averaging six a year. Of those bites, 26 were fatal, meaning there was one fatal injury nearly every three years in the state.

Nationally, between 1948 and August 2004, 376 injuries and 15 deaths as a result of alligator encounters were reported in the U.S., which means one reported death every three to four years, according to a 2004 study in the peer-revieWilderness & Environmental Medicine journal. However, the study at the time cited the need for a "uniform reporting system among states" to get more complete information on alligator encounters.

The Florida commission says the chances of a Florida resident being seriously injured in an unprovoked alligator attack are in one in 3.1 million. For reference, you have a better chance of getting attacked by a grizzly bear in Yellowstone National Park. Mazzoti said you're more than likely to drown in water than be attacked by an alligator.

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What should I do if I'm near an alligator?

While rare, attacks do happen.

Alligators typically breed and look for new habitats in the spring and summertime, meaning there could be an increase in alligator activity.

The good news for humans: Alligators have a natural fear of humans and usually will retreat when approached, Texas Parks and Wildlife says. Mazzoti added alligators "don't perceive humans as either a threat or as food."

However, alligators may be more inclined to approach humans if fed by one, which is why it's illegal to do so in many states. Alligators only attack when threatened or cornered, but if a human is in water with alligators, it may entice them.

"Splashing in the water will attract an alligators interest, and if it perceives at that point in time that there's something smaller and weaker in the water, it might attack it," Mazzoti said. "Anytime you show up next to water, you're assuming some risk... Don't tempt it."

What to do if an alligator attacks

Texas Parks and Wildlife says a safe distance away from an alligator is at least 30 feet, and while extremely rare for them to chase humans, they can run up to 35 mph for a short period of time.

Experts from the University of Florida say to run in a straight line if an alligator is chasing you. If an alligator attacks, experts say to poke at its eyes and punch and kick it around the head. You can induce a gator's gag reflex by jamming objects in the back of its mouth, and when it tries to reposition prey in its mouth, that's your chance to escape.

"If you should be attacked, fight like your life depends on it because it does," Mazzoti said.

Follow Jordan Mendoza on Twitter: @jordan_mendoza5.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Florida alligator attack: How rare are attacks? What to do around one