Man Who Lost Hand to Gator Is Charged With Unlawful Feeding

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He's facing a $500 fine and possible jail time, but this seems like a case where the guy has already been punished enough.

Wallace Weatherholt, who owns an airboat, was taking a family on a tour of the Everglades in June when they came to the part of the tour where an alligator bites somebody's hand off. According to witnesses, Weatherholt hung a fish over the side of his airboat and had his hand at the water's surface when an alligator surfaced and attacked him, biting his hand off at the wrist. (Wildlife officials were, amazingly, able to track and kill the alligator and retrieve the hand, but doctors were unable to reattach it.) The allegation is that Weatherholt was attempting to feed the gator or at least entice it to the surface so the tourists could see it, and if so, the attempt was 100% successful but was also a misdemeanor:

68A-25.001 Feeding or Enticement of Crocodilians Unlawful.

No person shall intentionally feed, or entice with feed, any crocodilian unless held in captivity under a permit issued by the Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission or otherwise provided by this Title.


Come'n'git it,

I couldn't find a legal definition of "crocodilian" but it seems pretty clear that this means anything in the order Crocodylia, which includes alligators and caimans as well as crocodiles. (Fun fact: "crocodile" comes from the Greek crocodeilos, literally "pebble-worm." They may or may not care if you taunt them by calling them that, but it's a hell of a lot safer than holding out a piece of fish.) Some version of all three types is native to Florida. According to the Commission's website, alligators are more dangerous, and in fact it says "[t]here has never been a documented bite on a person by an American crocodile." Maybe, but please note the word documented in that sentence.

Feeding a crocodilian is illegal because it causes them to lose their natural fear of humans, said David Weathers, described as "a nuisance-alligator trapper" who "often swims in the Everglades' alligator-infested waters." (The report doesn't say whether he still has all his parts.) But most likely Weatherholt is really charged with enticing a crocodilian with feed, not with intentionally feeding it. Unless there is some evidence that the gator actually got the fish as well as the hand, at least, because I don't think you could say the hand part was intentional. Luckily, no Florida court will have to struggle with that issue, because the enticement charge seems likely to stick.

But again, I don't think there's much to be gained from charging punishing this guy. Justice was swift here, and if the point is to deter others from gator-feeding, I think that point's been made.