ORLANDO, Fla. – Alligators in the wild typically avoid humans, often slipping into the water and quietly submerging as people approach.
But most alligators housed at Gatorland are attracted to people, particularly when Brandon Fisher calls out to them from one of the boardwalks inside the Orlando wildlife attraction.
"Gators! Come and get it, gators! Let's go," Fisher yells, prompting more than a dozen of the reptiles to surface and begin swimming toward his voice.
The same, unnatural scene of alligators approaching people on the shore can occur when wild alligators are fed by humans, according to Fisher.
"They're opportunistic feeders," Fisher said. "So if it's easier for them to get their food, they're going to take the easier way instead of chasing down fish or turtles that they naturally eat."
The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission recently issued a $100 citation to Paul Fortin for allegedly feeding wildlife. The Daytona Beach man was taken into custody because he refused to sign the citation, according to authorities.
In a video posted on his Facebook page, Fortin can be seen petting and feeding an alligator that approached him on the shore of a pond adjacent to his backyard.
"We don't want people feeding alligators," said Fisher. "You want to come to Gatorland or places like this to be able to feed alligators, where you can do it safely."
The American alligator is among more than 130 animals included on Florida's endangered and threated species list.
It is illegal to harass or feed any animal on the list, which includes many species also protected by federal laws.
In addition, Florida outlaws the feeding of other animals such as bears, coyotes, foxes, raccoons and nonhuman primates.
But regardless of the legality, FWC discourages people from feeding any wild animal, in part to prevent the animals from losing their ability to gather food naturally.
"We don't want anybody feeding wildlife," FWC spokesman Chad Weber said.
The alligator caretakers at Gatorland agree.
"If you're the one feeding them, one day you might not be the one feeding them and somebody else gets close, that gator or that animal doesn't know any difference," Fisher said. "They don't know the difference between human beings and who's who. They just see it as food, and they're going to keep coming closer."