After Fatal Alligator Attack, Theme Parks Review Policies

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. (AP) -
Florida Fish and Wildlife search for a 2-year-old boy boy early Wednesday, June 15, 2016, after the boy was dragged into the water Tuesday night by an alligator near Disney's upscale Grand Floridian Resort & Spa in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. (Red Huber/Orlando Sentinel via AP) MAGS OUT; NO SALES; MANDATORY CREDIT
Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission search for a 2-year-old boy boy early Wednesday, after the boy was dragged into the water Tuesday night by an alligator in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. (Red Huber/Orlando Sentinel via AP)

It’s an unwritten rule for Florida residents: Keep your kids away from ponds and lakes because alligators are everywhere.

But after a ‘gator killed a 2-year-old Nebraska boy at a resort, attention soon turned to tourists. In a state with an estimated 1 million alligators, how should theme parks and other attractions warn visitors, and did the resort do enough?

Disney beaches remained closed Thursday after the death of Lane Graves, and the company said it has decided to add alligator warning signs, which it previously did not have around park waters.

Jacquee Wahler, vice president of Walt Disney World Resort, said in a statement that the resort was also “conducting a swift and thorough review of all of our processes and protocols.”

Local law enforcement and state wildlife officials publicly praised the company for spotting and removing nuisance ‘gators from park waters.

Disney’s wildlife management system has ensured “that their guests are not unduly exposed to the wildlife in this area,” Orange County Sheriff Jerry Demings said during the search for the child.

The dead child’s parents, Matt and Melissa Graves, who live in a suburban area of Omaha, have not spoken publicly, so it’s unclear whether they knew anything about the ‘gator threat in Florida. A statement released through a family friend thanked local authorities for their tireless work.

Most Florida residents know to keep kids and pets away from water, not to feed ‘gators and to be especially vigilant at dusk, dawn and during the June-through-July nesting season when the reptiles are most active.

State wildlife officials say they receive nearly 16,000 alligator-related complaints a year. Last year, they removed more than 7,500 ‘gators deemed to be a nuisance.

Depending on the size of an alligator, the state may send out a trapper, as happened after the ‘gator grabbed the boy at Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort and Spa, one of the world’s most popular tourist destinations.

Five ‘gators were removed from the lake following the boy’s disappearance, and trappers continued looking for ‘gators after his body was found Wednesday.

While Disney had posted “no swimming” signs at the lake where the boy died, it did not have alligator warning signs, which are common around ponds and public parks all over Florida. That has raised questions about whether the company did enough to convey the potential danger to visitors.

“They presumably know, since they have caught four or five alligators in this area, that the area has dangers that far and away exceed the danger of drowning,” said Miami-based defense attorney Scott Leeds. “So this issue of posting a sign warning of swimming or no swimming doesn’t adequately warn patrons of the known danger.”

Responding to questions from The Associated Press, Disney said it has a policy of relocating alligators that are considered a potential threat. Animals less than 4 feet long are taken to conservation areas. Larger ‘gators are removed by state-licensed trappers, the company said.