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McClatchy Newspapers, Published June 13 2012

Doctors attempt to reattach tour guide’s hand snatched by alligator

MIAMI — The Everglades airboat tour started like most. Revved engines, six windswept tourists and an hourlong trek through the sawgrass.

But it didn’t end like others.

The tour guide’s left hand was bitten clear off by an alligator, which authorities then found, killed and slit open just outside of the national park in Southwest Florida.

Inside the beast’s belly: Wallace “Captain Wally” Weatherholt’s severed hand.

Weatherholt, 63, and his hand were taken to a hospital in Naples, where doctors said the hand was in good condition. From there, Weatherholt was transferred to Tampa General Hospital, where a medical team was attempting to reattach the hand.

Glenn Smith, manager at Captain Doug’s Small Airboat Tours in Everglades City, said his tour guide was “in good spirits.”

“The business does whatever it can to help Wally,” he said. “It’s an unfortunate incident.”

As soon as the emergency call came in at 3:47 p.m. Tuesday, Florida Fish and Wildlife officers rushed to help, spokeswoman Carli Segelson said. Witnesses helped point out the gator. It wasn’t long before the reptile was captured.

Wildlife officials suspect the animal attacked because it had been fed by the tour guide or someone else.

“It’s dangerous and illegal to feed an alligator,” Segelson said.

“When alligators are fed they overcome a natural fear of humans and they can learn to associate people as food.”

Tampa General Hospital did not provide details on Weatherholt’s condition.

Alligators — which live in swamps, lakes, rivers and wetlands — are found in all 67 Florida counties. Bites to humans are common. Since 1948, there has been an average of five unprovoked bites a year across the state.

Gators like to swallow some of their meals whole. Biologists say their teeth, as menacing as they look, just aren’t made for chewing.