Kids are always smarter than they look. Their instincts haven’t been dulled by decades spent navigating society and the internet, and in outdoor or survival situations, they’ll often make smart choices. Adults, on the other hand, can be problematic, forcing buddies or kids into situations they aren’t comfortable with, which can sometimes result in experiences that scar kids for life.
“Scarring” is the right word for what could have been the outcome of an impromptu family photo session with an alligator in Everglades National Park. An unknown bystander captured the encounter on camera, and the footage was posted to social media on Friday by Instagram account Tourons of National Parks.
The footage shows various members of a family standing inches away from an alligator on the side of a bike path. The parents direct the children to pose next to the alligator, its mouth wide open with sharp teeth on full display. The children don’t want to pose next to the alligator, which qualifies them as the most responsible park visitors in the group. But the parents insist, at one point even dragging one of the children into the frame.
Meanwhile, as the kids squirm, the alligator widens its jaws. This behavior isn’t exactly a sign of aggression — alligators open their mouths to regulate their temperature, like panting dogs. But the fact that the alligator isn’t retreating into the weeds is a sign that it’s unafraid of the humans and holding its ground. Nothing would have been less surprising than the gator whipping around and biting one of the kids.
When it comes to dangerous behavior around wildlife, there’s a big difference between Brad and Chad drunkenly smacking a moose on the ass outside a bar near Yellowstone and a family presumably trying to enjoy their vacation by capturing memorable moments with their kids. One involves a complete lack of sobriety and sense, while the other most likely involves a lack of proper situational awareness. The age-old saying that you can’t fix stupid is true. But you can make safety information accessible for those willing to heed it, something that the National Park Service has clearly tried to do in areas where dangerous wildlife encounters might occur.
But park rangers can’t be everywhere at once, and neither can signs warning against getting too close to wildlife. At some point, people need to be responsible for their own behavior and recognize when they’re putting their children and themselves at risk. Whether this family ever learns that lesson, we’ll probably never know. In the meantime, the Tourons of National Parks account (run by the same person who manages the famed Tourons of Yellowstone account) will undoubtedly continue to have plenty of fodder for the 2024 tourism season, much to the outrage of their hundreds of thousands of followers.