The True Story of How a Gator Ate My Camera!
A slight ripple in the water and two eyes materialize into view. The eyes catch the reflection of the light and glow a deep amber red color. In front of me on this early December moonless night are over 100 large American alligators. Entering the breeding pond my back up Jose and I position ourselves by the waters edge. In the distance we can hear the faint on and off chatter of our co-workers who have stayed after hours for the annual holiday party, which we should be participating in. Working with wildlife for several years, especially reptiles, I have always had the desire to document their lives and behavior via photography and tonight the perfect opportunity. Crocodilians such as alligators are generally more active at night. With excellent vision that catches and reflects any available light, they hunt and ambush unsuspecting prey.
About a foot away from the waters edge we can see the alligators creeping closer to investigate us. I quietly observe the movement of the alligators and notice they are not exhibiting a feeding response or any visible aggression. Crouching by my camera and tripod I begin to set my exposure while Jose remains close by keeping an eye. I start to fire off some shots with a remote shutter. An initial blast from my flash unit illuminates the alligator’s eyes for a second, while the shutter remains open to capture any movement. I review the image and adjust for another shot focusing all my attention to the camera in front of me. The shutter is released, the flash fires, and the alligator lunges forward grabbing the camera!! I stumble backwards falling to the sand while somehow instinctively grabbing a tripod leg. Pulling with all my might the leviathan swings his powerful head to the side and I loose my grip. In a matter of seconds my camera gear is gone.
Jose and I stand in silence as I try to process what happened. The $1,300 worth of hard earned equipment is completely gone, but a tingle runs down my spine as I realize how the camera could have easily been me. Over the next couple days I accept that my camera is gone never to be seen again. I reflect on how one should never be too confident around wild animals. The image of jaws erupting from the water remains vivid in my mind.
Fast-forward 8 months to a hot August day at the Everglades Alligator Farm. The keeper is doing a routine alligator feeding demonstration for tourist. He sees a big alligator lazily coming up out of the pond. A strange object is around the gators foot, dragging in the sand. I receive a call ‘ Mario, umm I think we got your camera?” I drive to the farm and in the keepers hand is my Canon 60d white in color from all the muck and full of dents and bite marks. First thing comes to mind is “ Memory card!” With much difficulty I pop open the card slot and pull out a very dirty SanDisk 16g Extreme card. We vigorously clean the card and I let it dry for a day.
On my screen I see the glowing eyes, the sky is dotted with stars, and illuminated by the flash in the foreground are some very large alligators with a hunger for cameras. Priceless.
Gear lost: Canon 60D, Canon 16-35L (ouch!), Canon 430ex, and Induro tripod.
-Mario Aldecoa, August 27, 2013