Gator sought after report of possible attack in Florida park

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DAVIE, Fla. (AP) — Authorities worked Friday to capture an alligator in a Florida pond after a witness' report led police to believe the animal may have dragged a woman into the water.

Cropped File Photo: craigles75 / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

The witness told authorities he saw the woman walking two dogs and then noticed the dogs barking near the water, but he did not see the woman again, said Davie Police Detective Viviana Gallinal.

"He could not find the woman that was walking the dogs, so he called for police assistance and we're still looking for her," Gallinal said. Earlier news media reports indicated the witness reported seeing the gator drag the woman into the water. Police did not immediately clarify the discrepancy.

Trappers have spotted a 12-foot (3.5-meter) alligator in the pond in Silver Lakes Rotary Nature Park, she said.

In a Sun Sentinel report , Davie Police Maj. Dale Engle said no divers could search the water until the alligator was captured.

Meanwhile, "her dogs won't leave the pond," Engle said. "One of her dogs got bit by the gator."

Jim Borelli, a friend of the woman presumed missing, said she and her husband have walked their dogs in the park previously.

Borelli said the woman's husband, who is out of town, sent him to the park to get more information after being contacted by Davie Police.

"I'm praying that nothing happened to her," Borelli said.

Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission spokesman Rob Klepper said the report of the attack was still unconfirmed, but law enforcement officers with the agency were heading to the scene. Gallinal said the wildlife commission would take over the investigation.

The park is near the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino, a major Miami-area tourist and entertainment attraction.

Authorities closed the park Friday, but passers-by said they were not surprised to hear about an alligator lurking in the water.

"Any body of water in Florida, you've got to know at some point or another there's an alligator," said Heather Porrata, who lives nearby.

Sharon Estupinan said a park ranger warned her to walk her dogs farther away from the water's edge after she saw a 10-foot (3-meter) gator in the pond three days ago.

"I was afraid," she said. "Every time I walked the dogs during the day, I was like, 'Oh, my God, I've gotta keep away from there. I have to call my dogs,' so they wouldn't get close to the water or any of the trees near there because he could be hiding. Although, he's really big. I don't think he could really hide."

Alligators and humans frequently cross paths in Florida, as people increasingly seek waterfront homes and recreation.

The large reptiles can be found in fresh and brackish bodies of water -- including lakes, rivers, canals and golf course ponds -- and there is roughly 6.7 million acres of suitable habitat statewide. They are particularly active during their mating season in May and June.

Alligators are opportunistic feeders that will eat what is readily available and easily overpowered. Feeding wild alligators is illegal because they could lose their fear of humans.

Fatal attacks on humans remain rare, however. According to the wildlife commission, the likelihood of a Florida resident being seriously injured during an unprovoked alligator incident in Florida is roughly only one in 3.2 million.

From 1948 to 2017, the commission has documented 401 people bitten by alligators, including 24 fatalities. The most recent death occurred in 2016, when a 2-year-old boy playing near the water's edge at a Walt Disney World resort was killed.