Student catches alligator on Florida Atlantic Boca campus

While out fishing, Zachary Hanel captured and released an alligator by Glades Park Towers.


Zachary Hanel caught a alligator on the Boca Raton campus near Glades Park Tower. Photo courtesy of Zachary Hanel.

Brittany Ferrendi, Features Editor

Florida Atlantic’s Boca campus is like a zoo; there are ducks, iguanas, feral cats, burrowing owls and more. This week a student discovered another animal for the list — an alligator.

“I was fishing in the pond outside [Glades Park Towers] when I hooked up with a bass, as I pulled him in the gator came up and ate my fish,” Zachary Hanel, a freshman studying mechanical engineering, said in a Facebook interview. “I wound up playing tug-o-war with it for 20 or so minutes before it became tired and I could get a close look.”

According to Hanel, the alligator looked to be approximately 2 to 4 years old and between 4 and 4 1/2 feet long. He met the reptile in the pond across the street from Glades Park Towers.

He added: “Just a standard American alligator and once he calmed down and realized I was helping he was very docile and didn’t struggle or hiss, just kinda laid there.”

After the alligator tired out, the student noticed that the animal had a lure sticking out on the side of its head. Hanel’s own hook was attached to the front of the alligator’s mouth, so he decided to catch the creature and remove the hooks.

“I called my friends and asked them to get me the tow rope and duct tape from my car,” he told the UP.

“After they showed up I made a slip knot in the tow rope around my fishing line to guide it over the [gator’s] jaws, then I pulled it tight and lifted the gator out of the pond and onto the bank,” Hanel added. “I then jumped on top of it and grabbed it’s jaws in one hand while duct-taping them closed with the other.”

Hanel needed to calm the alligator, so he covered the animals eyes before he removed the hooks.

“I took some pics with my friends checked the gator over for injuries then unwrapped the tape, held his head toward water, and let go of him. He sat around for a few moments before rushing back into the water unharmed.”

Hanel hooked a bass on his fishing pole, but the alligator emerged from the water and ate the fish. Photo courtesy of Zachary Hanel.
Zachary Hanel hooked a bass on his fishing pole, but the alligator emerged from the water and ate the fish. Photo courtesy of Zachary Hanel.

The mechanical engineering student caught his first alligator when he was 7 years old and caught four others since then.

“I really just improvised, I watched a lot of crocodile hunter when I was little and picked up the skills from there,“ Hanel joked.

The UP reached out to Darlene Ward, the assistant director and biological safety officer of the department of environmental health and safety at FAU. The UP was the first to notify Ward about the alligator.

“We weren’t aware of the gator on campus,” she said. “We have people out right now looking.”

According to FAU’s Health and Safety Manual, when an alligator is found on campus and poses a threat, FAU contacts the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

The FFWCC has a Statewide Nuisance Alligator Program, and will only remove alligators if they are an inconvenience, according to Ward.

“We consider them a nuisance on campus,” she said, noting that there are many students and other wild animals that could come under harm from the reptile.

The manual warns students not to feed stray animals on campus and to seek medical attention if they receive an animal bite. If a student comes into contact with an alligator, Ward encourages them to call FAU police and alert the EH&S.

According to FAU’s Public Health Manual, recreational fishing is not permissible on campus and students are not allowed to approach or feed wild animals.

Students caught fishing will be stopped by FAU police and they will file a report, Ward said. She also surmises that the student’s dean will be alerted.

Following the interview, Ward reported that no alligators were found. “We didn’t see any alligators, however we did see some iguanas out there.” According to Ward, students must be cautious not to mistake iguanas in the water for alligators.

Despite alligators being rare on FAU campus, Hanel wasn’t surprised to see one.

“It’s Florida I don’t think I’ve ever fished anywhere in the state where I didn’t expect to see one,” Hanel said. “Expecting to catch it is a whole different story though.”

Deadly Encounter

This wasn’t the first FAU student interaction with an alligator. In 2006, an FAU student was stalked, killed and eaten by an alligator.

According to an article in Sun Sentinel on May 12, 2006, Yovy Suarez Jimenez was jogging in Sunrise, Florida, around 7:30 p.m. on a Tuesday when she was hunted by the reptile.

28-year-old Suarez Jimenez was an FAU student majoring in criminal justice.

“From the injuries, the bite marks and the fractures, it’s very clear that this was an alligator attack. I’d say she died very fast. I don’t know if there has ever been a fatal [alligator attack in Broward] before,” Broward County Medical Examiner Joshua Perper told the Sun Sentinel.

The student’s autopsy report revealed extreme trauma and massive blood loss, but that she didn’t die from drowning.

The following Sunday, the Sun Sentinel reported that the gator ripped off both of her arms and dragged her into the nearby canal. Officials caught and euthanized the 9-foot-6 alligator. The contents of the stomach confirmed the reptile’s attack on Suarez Jimenez.

Since 1990, there have been 297 attacks from alligators in Florida, 15 of which were fatal, according to Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

For more information on how to report an alligator on campus, contact the EH&S by phone at 561-297-3129 or by emailing [email protected].

Brittany Ferrendi is the features editor of the University Press. For information regarding this or other stories, email [email protected] or tweet her @BFerrendi.