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Jeff Corwin: Alligator attack on boy at Disney is 'a catastrophic, rare event'

Animal expert Jeff Corwin says the alligator attack that took the life of a 2-year-old boy at Disney World was an exceedingly rare occurrence.
/ Source: TODAY

As safety issues have been raised over a 2-year-old boy was dragged to his death by an alligator at a Disney World resort, animal expert Jeff Corwin says the attack may have been a case of being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

"I think it was an absolute catastrophic, rare event,'' Corwin told Matt Lauer and Savannah Guthrie on TODAY Thursday. "You've got to keep in mind that Disney has been open for more than 40 years.

"They've had hundreds of millions of visitors. They've never had this problem before."

The body of Nebraska boy Lane Graves was found Wednesday in six feet of water near the shore near Disney's Grand Floridian Resort & Spa in Florida. Graves was wading in about six inches of water when an alligator snatched him at 9:16 p.m. Tuesday, officials said.

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A debate has begun over whether the boy's family should have properly heeded the "No Swimming" signs near the lagoon or whether Disney did not adequately warn them of the potential dangers of alligators.

Alligator attacks are rare in Florida. At least 23 people have died in alligator attacks statewide since 1973, according to wildlife and conservation commission records.

"This is Florida, this is gator country, and these (Disney) folks have managed this successfully up to this point, but I'm sure that this unprecedented tragedy has everyone reeling and everyone thinking,'' Corwin said.

The boy's father wrestled with the animal in an attempt to try to free his son. Corwin says it's certainly possible the alligator could have attacked with minimal or no warning.

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"They've been on the planet for 60 million years practically unchanged,'' Corwin said. "Why? Because they are exquisite predators. It's a master in the water. It could sneak up to from 100 yards (away), and you wouldn't know it's there."

Humans usually scare off alligators because they are not part of the alligator food chain, which makes Tuesday's attack so rare.

"When that happens it's usually because that animal has become accustomed to people,'' Corwin said. "For example, maybe people have been feeding that alligator."

Witnesses said the gator that attacked Graves was around 5 to 7 feet long.

"That's what really shocked me,'' Corwin said. "You're talking about a gator this big, I would not normally put that into the predatory equation with a human being, but this is a child, about 2 years old, very vulnerable."

Follow writer Scott Stump on Twitter.