for National Geographic News
One Friday evening last July, Kevin Albert Murray of North Port, Florida, wanted to cool off after a long day of lawn maintenance. So he went for a swim in a canal, the Apollo Waterway.
It was there that a 12-foot-2-inch long (3.7-meter) alligator grabbed the 41-year-old by the arm and pulled him under.
Murray surfaced once, went under again, and died. The tragedy marked the 17th recorded fatal alligator attack in Florida since 1948.
It also spotlighted a lesser-known fact: That alligators kill more people in the United States than sharks do.
The American alligator (Alligator mississippiensis) ranges broadly in the southeastern United States, covering all or parts of 10 states from Texas to North Carolina.
The animal was widely hunted in the first half of the 20th century. But in 1967 the federal government listed the reptile as an endangered species.
It has thrived ever since, even after being removed from the endangered list in 1987. And because more people live in Southeast coastal areas, human-alligator interactions are ever more frequent.
In an article just published in the fall issue of Wilderness and Environmental Medicine, Ricky L. Langley of the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services reports that most of these interactions don't involve any injury.
In Florida, there are 17,000 reports every year about nuisance alligators, and the state removes about 6,000 animals a year. Texas, Georgia, South Carolina, and Alabama remove hundreds of alligators, while other states relocate smaller numbers each year.
But since 1948, there have been 18 fatal attacksone in Georgia, the rest in Floridaand more than 350 injuries ranging from minor scratches to amputated limbs.
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