Early in his intriguing and entertaining new book, Killer Gators and Crocs, author Michael Garlock asks, "Why are people so afraid of alligators (and) crocodiles?" when he notes that each of us has a better chance of winning a multi-million-dollar lottery than suffering a gator or croc attack. Do we fear these animals because they are "ambush hunters?" he wonders. Or might there be a subliminal connection in our minds between our modern-day swamps - where an attack is quite possible - and the "primeval ooze" of a more terrifying prehistoric age?
In answering such questions, Mr. Garlock provides a highly readable cultural history of our multiple fears and fascinations with alligators and crocodiles. The author spans the world, profiling indigenous species from many countries, including the 15-foot black caiman of Central America; the 17-foot Nile crocodile; the 13-foot mugger crocodile of India; and the modest 12-foot American alligator. Mr. Garlock also offers dozens of hair-raising, horrifying accounts of attacks by these ancient reptiles:
"By early evening, Amy and two friends were standing in the water. Nesting birds filled the trees. . .Suddenly Amy disappeared, dragged under the water's surface by something large and powerful that no one saw or heard... Divers later recovered what was left of her body."
"At the last second, when escape was impossible, the croc surfaced next to Butel, (and) opened its jaws wide... In one horrible instant just before he died, the victim no doubt saw the gaping, tooth-filled mouth."
For all the danger, these animals are also fascinating creatures, presenting great objects for scientific investigation. In passages on biology, Mr. Garlock explains that because gators and crocs can digest bacteria-filled carrion and live in stagnant waters with no ill effects, they have become a major focus of immunological studies that could ultimately benefit humans.
Anyone interested by these incredible animals, and who also might be an outdoor adventure junkie, will find this book a non-stop thrill. The book also carries particular meaning for readers in Southern states that are home to mostly alligators (337 attacks in Florida since 1948), with the rare croc thrown in. Mr. Garlock takes a well-rounded view of how Americans and the big reptiles interrelate, addressing such issues as commercial gator farming (a viable business) and conservation efforts (essential to preserving threatened species and environments). He also offers a slew of precautions about how to behave in gator country.
Rule No. 1: Don't read this book while sitting right next to the lake (but do read it).
(Editor's Note: Killer Gators and Crocs is published by The Globe Pequot Press, which is owned by Morris Communications Co., the parent company of The McDuffie Mirror.)