Cyclists in Houston discovered this weekend that bypassing a gator requires more than riding fast
While riding in Houston’s Brazos Bend State Park this past weekend, a few cyclists were surprised by a living road block: a large, scaly alligator.
The incident, which prompted plenty of “why did the alligator cross the road?” jokes, also brought out the Fort Bend Emergency Medical Service, which helped direct cyclists away from the 12-foot gator.
The alligator didn’t seem to be bothered by the commotion, and lazily made his way across the road on his own timetable. Wherever he was going, he wasn’t running late.
“This is not an uncommon situation on paths or roadways through wetlands,” Dr. Kent A. Vliet, an alligator behavior expert at the University of Florida, says.
If you’re ever faced with a gator situation in the middle of a ride, Vliet has a few tips useful tips—though he stresses that appropriate safety practices around alligators are often situation dependent. “Alligators are generally quite peaceable, shy, and retiring, but there are situations or individuals that can be troublesome,” he says.
1. Assess (to the best of your abilities) the alligator’s mood and temperament.
The alligator in this situation could be described as quite clearly laid back, Vliet says. He can tell because the alligator’s body is flat on the ground, its mouth is closed, its legs are folded back against its body, and it’s “not doing anything to cause the apparent ruckus except being there.”
When should you worry? “If an alligator is lifting itself off the ground, arching its back, gaping its jaws, possibly hissing, then some additional caution must be taken,” he cautions. “Just because many alligators are accustomed to people and will allow you to approach closely does not mean that you should!”
2. Make the call: Pass or turn back?
Pass: This is appropriate in most circumstances, Vliet says: “If a cyclist can pass a non-threatening alligator with some distance between them—for instance, those in this photo that are in the opposite lane—there should be no problem.”
Turn Back: If passing would put you between a gator and a body of water, Vliet says, that’s when an alligator might be in a bad mood. “Water is refuge for an alligator. If an alligator is caught out in the open on land, it naturally feels somewhat vulnerable and threatened. One should not try to pass between that alligator and the water, as that is the direction the alligator is likely to take off if disturbed,” he says.