'I Was Attacked By An 8ft Alligator in Florida'

I live in Port St. Lucie, Florida and every morning at 9am I take my dog Rex out to walk in the local wetlands. On Sunday September 13, we were out for our regular walk. It was a beautiful day with clear blue skies.

We were walking towards the canal, back to my house which is situated on the bank. When we were about ten yards from the water, I looked over to my left and I saw an alligator in the distance. This alligator had it's head up out of the canal water, so you could see its eyes and nose. But it wasn't particularly surprising, since we have sharks, stingrays and alligators here in Florida. I just hooked Rex back on his lead and we continued down the canal towards home.

Then, when I looked back a few moments later, the alligator was coming at me, and it was coming fast. I've lived here my whole life and I've never seen an alligator move that fast—this one was making waves and splashing as he approached. I immediately unhooked Rex and hollered at him: "Go home!" He's very obedient, and we were only 80 yards from my home at that point, so he ran right back to the house.

When I turned back, the 'gator was right there. The water was low that day, and there was a little mud bank. I was wearing Crocs, and suddenly my left foot slid in the mud. Within seconds, this 'gator was two feet away and lunged right at me. He knocked me down to the ground, and clamped his jaw down on my right leg, just above my knee. Once an alligator clamps their jaw down, there's very little you can do to pry it open.

This alligator still had half of his body and his tail was still in the water, and he began to try and pull me back into the water, using the power of his tail and his back and front feet. At the same time, I was trying to pull back away from him, too. Because when an alligator has its grip on you, their next move is to try and do a death roll. They'll back up into the water and start rolling while they're locked onto you. If that happens, you're not going to escape. Once you're in the water, they'll drown you.

Normally people would be out on their patios drinking coffee, but that particular Sunday morning, there was nobody out. Not a soul. It was just the mud and grass shoreline, me and the alligator.

As we were pulling against each other, I remember that our eyes locked. He had these beautiful green eyes, and we were just staring at each other. It was probably only four or five seconds in total, but of course, time loses all meaning in these situations.

I started to feel the 'gator's grip getting tighter and him pulling even harder. You really only have seconds to make the right decision in these situations. A weapon would have been no use. It would have been in my back pocket and I wouldn't have been able to reach it. And if I had been carrying, say, a knife and started stabbing the 'gator, he would have gotten even more mad. Not to mention, their skin is rock hard.

So, as I was looking right in his eyes, I lifted my hands up, pointed my index fingers and poked his eyes, hard. He immediately opened up his jaw and that was my chance to get my leg out and escape. But he could have easily gotten aggressive and come back at me.

Alligator attack, Alligator, Florida
The alligator is a large crocodilian that lives in swamps in the south eastern states in the U.S. Getty/iStock

I don't know if I felt relieved. I was still very angry at him for attacking me. The whole time we were struggling, I was cursing at him. I was more mad than anything. How dare he do that! I've lived in Florida my whole life, and I was not going to let an alligator take me out. I would have thought it was more likely that I would be bitten by a water moccasin or a rattlesnake while walking in the woods with Rex. Never in a million years would I have thought I would be attacked by an alligator.

As I walked back towards my house, I saw, looking down at my leg, that there was blood everywhere. The 'gator had clamped down on the fatty part of the back of my leg, about a half inch from the muscle. As I approached the house, my wife was sitting outside on the patio and she asked me if I'd seen the 'gator. She hadn't heard anything that had happened but she'd seen the 'gator go past in the canal earlier on. Then she saw my leg, that I was bleeding profusely and I explained the alligator had attacked me.

We drove to the local emergency room, where I must have received more than 60 stitches in my leg and my left hand. From the ER, I called the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission to report a nuisance alligator. I'm 6 foot 1inch and probably 240 pounds, and he still almost managed to pull me into the water. If it had been a teenager or a young kid, that 'gator would have lunged and got them, and in a second, they would have been gone.

On the Tuesday afternoon following the attack, a local trapper from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission called and told me they had caught the alligator who had tried to kill me, I believe it was then humanely euthanized. I asked how big it was. I had thought it was around 7 feet long but he told me the 'gator was 8 feet 6 inches long. I just started crying—that's a huge animal. I can't believe I survived.

I have thought about the attack every day since it happened, and that's why I want to paint it. I'm a wildlife painter and I've painted my whole life. But for the past 25 years I have painted commissioned wildlife art work. It's not like there are any photographs of what happened, and I've got this talent to paint on canvas and allow everybody to see what I went through. I think that's pretty unique.

I have the canvas stretched and ready and I want to depict the exact scene of me with my leg in the alligator's mouth, my left foot stuck in the mud and both of my index fingers close to the 'gator's eyes. I just keep remembering those eyes, they were so pretty and green.

Alligator attack, Alligator, Florida
Mark Johnson with his dog, Rex, pictured after he was attacked by an alligator in Florida on September 13. Mark Johnson

I started the painting on Friday. I'm the kind of painter where once I get the image in my head, and I get going, I can complete a painting in a week or two. At the moment, I'm planning to auction off the painting. It's such a great story.

For me now, it's about the "what ifs?" There are so many things that could have gone wrong. He could have damaged my muscle or started tearing and began the death roll. I remember thinking, "what's my next step if the eye poke doesn't work?" I would have probably somehow gotten on top of him, still poking his eyes, and just tried to wrestle him.

You're fighting for your life, what else is there to do? You cannot give up. Poking the 'gator in the eye was just instinct. You see the eyes and you know that if someone poked you in the eye it would hurt, and an alligator is the same. Thank god it worked.

Mark Johnson is a wildlife artist who lives in Port St. Lucie, Florida with his wife. He is recovering well from the alligator attack. You can find out more about his artwork at markjohnsonartworks.com.

All views expressed in this article are the writer's own.

As told to Jenny Haward.