Girl says Gatorland visit taught her how to fend off alligator

'I put my two fingers up its nostrils,' 10-year-old alligator bite victim says

ORANGE COUNTY, Fla. – A 10-year-old girl recovering after she was bitten by an alligator Saturday afternoon at Lake Mary Jane said she is alive because of tips she learned at Gatorland.

Juliana Ossa suffered an injury to the front of her knee and several puncture wounds to the back of her knee and lower thigh when the alligator, which was 8 feet 9 inches long, bit her.

Juliana said she pried the alligator’s mouth open because she remembered what she learned at Gatorland about how sensitive alligators’ noses are.

Juliana said at first she tried hitting it so it would release her leg, but that didn’t work.

"I thought about what they taught me at Gatorland," Juliana Ossa said. "So I put my two fingers up its nostrils so it had to breathe from its mouth and it let my leg out."

Officials said the attack happened at 2:32 p.m. at Moss Park. The area was evacuated following the attack.

The alligator was captured and killed. Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission spokesman Greg Workman said that's common after an alligator bites someone.

The beach area remains closed off to the public until the FWC's investigation is complete.

FWC officials said the girl was sitting down in a designated swim area about 30 feet from shore and 10 feet from her family, and a lifeguard was on duty, when the attack happened.

"The lifeguard said that they heard the scream, and then they saw the child jumping and running," said Matt Suedmeyer, manager of the Orange County Parks and Recreation Division.

"While they are on the stand, (lifeguard) are just trained to scan the water, the swimming area, for any life-threatening, dangerous situations," Suedmeyer said.

He said the girl was waist-deep in water with about a dozen people around her when the alligator bit her leg.

A nearby patron grabbed the 10-year-old and pulled her to shore, Suedmeyer said.

Juliana was treated by lifeguard staff before she was taken to Nemours Children's Hospital, officials said. She was released from the hospital and is recovering at home.

Gatorland dean of gator wrestling Tim Williams said he was very happy to hear the girl fought back and avoided what could have been a much more serious outcome.

"She did exactly what anyone should do and that's fight," Tim Williams said. "God bless her heart, we're just so thankful.”

“The fact that she pulled on the animal's jaws probably was not going to get it apart, but the poking at it may have been enough to antagonize it to make it go, 'Hey, I'm gonna get out of here.'"

Gatorland wrestler Donny Aldarelli said alligators, like humans, don't like being touched in the nose.

"[An alligator's face] is littered with sensory organs, and they're basically little pressure sensors," Aldarelli said. "And there's a lot of them right here on the tip of the snout, so if you give ‘em a light tickle it usually triggers them to open up their mouth."

"Alligators have literally the strongest bite on the planet," Aldarelli said. "When they grab onto something, that's their means of survival."

Suedmeyer said the park has had alligator biting incidents in the past. It happened about six or seven years ago. The alligator in that incident was also killed.

There are signs posted around the swimming area warning park-goers about wildlife and reminding them that they swim at their own risk.

"Alligators don't read signs and understand buoys," Williams said. "Be vigilant and make sure it's safe, and even with your best vigilance it may not be enough. We add in the drought, add in gator mating season, all of this makes for a nice pot of boiling trouble."

About the Author:

Erik von Ancken anchors and reports for WKMG-TV News 6 (CBS) in Orlando and is a two-time Emmy award-winning journalist in the prestigious and coveted "On-Camera Talent" categories for both anchoring and reporting. Erik joined the News 6 News Team in 2003 days after the tragic loss of space shuttle Columbia.