LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. – Wildlife trappers have captured and removed at least 226 nuisance alligators from Walt Disney World property since a toddler was killed by an alligator at a Disney resort nearly five years ago, state records show.
Lane Thomas Graves, 2, was building sandcastles on the beach outside Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort on June 14, 2016, when an alligator lunged out of the Seven Seas Lagoon as the toddler bent over to scoop up water with a bucket, a state investigation concluded.
Over the eight years prior to the child’s death, state-contracted wildlife trappers removed an average of 23 alligators from Disney property, according to records from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.
In 2016, the year of the fatal attack, 83 alligators were removed from the resort. The following year, 57 alligators were captured.
About 33 alligators were harvested in 2018 and 2019, state records show.
In 2020, another 46 alligators were plucked from Walt Disney World waterways. Nearly half of those removals occurred between late March and early July while the resort’s hotels and theme parks were closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“In keeping with our strong commitment to safety, we continue to reinforce procedures related to reporting sightings and interactions with wildlife, and work closely with Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission to remove or relocate certain wildlife from our property in accordance with state regulations,” a Walt Disney World spokesperson said.
To address complaints about potentially dangerous alligators, FWC administers the Statewide Nuisance Alligator Program.
If an alligator at least 4 feet in length is believed to pose a threat to people, pets or property, the agency issues a permit to a state-contracted alligator trapper. Nearly 7,700 alligators were captured statewide under the program in 2019. Although some of those reptiles are sold alive to alligator farms, animal exhibits or zoos, most nuisance alligators are euthanized. FWC does not relocate nuisance alligators because the reptiles often try to return to their capture site, and remote locations generally have healthy alligator populations, according to the agency.
According to FWC, the removal of nuisance alligators does not have a significant impact on Florida’s population of about 1.3 million alligators.
Trappers, including those who work on Disney property, receive a $30 stipend from FWC for each nuisance alligator captured. Many sell the alligators’ meat and hide to make additional money. FWC has granted Walt Disney World special permits that allow the company to contact a trapper directly to remove nuisance alligators. FWC must later be notified of the number and sizes of alligators captured. Under Disney’s Targeted Harvest Area permits, which were originally issued in 2009, two designated trappers are allowed to remove up to 500 alligators through April 2023.
“The FWC takes public safety seriously and uses Targeted Harvest Area (THA) permits as part of a comprehensive effort to achieve alligator management goals,” said FWC spokesperson Tammy Sapp. “THA permits allow a managing authority to work directly with a designated FWC-contracted nuisance alligator trapper, making the process for removing nuisance alligators more proactive and streamlined. THA permits, which have been in use for two decades, define the area’s boundaries, effective dates and how many alligators can be removed.”
Days after Graves’ death, Disney began installing fences and piles of large rocks along many of the resort’s lakes to prevent visitors from getting close to the water. The company also posted signs warning guests about alligators and snakes and urging them not to feed wildlife, while reinforcing employee training regarding wildlife sightings. A sculpture of a lighthouse was installed near the Grand Floridian Resort beach in 2017 to spread awareness of the Lane Thomas Foundation, a nonprofit organization established by Graves’ parents to support families of children in need of organ transplants.