Mario Aldecoa was attempting to get a nighttime photo showing the shining eyes of 100 alligators at the Everglades Alligator Farm when suddenly one aggressive gator came within inches of taking a bite out of him.
Aldecoa, who works at the farm putting on alligator shows, is an amateur wildlife photographer specializing in reptiles. During a holiday party for employees at the farm, he set up his camera on a tripod a foot from the water and started shooting.
"Gators started getting closer and closer and one of them lunged out and grabbed the camera," he told GrindTV Outdoor in a phone interview. "I responded by grabbing the tripod real quick, but he jerked it out of my hands. Bye bye camera."
He and others came back the next day and waded the pond while using rakes to comb the bottom to see if he could at least get his tripod back. No luck. His $1,300 camera, flash unit and tripod were lost forever.
Or so he thought eight months ago.
Fast forward to last Friday. As the alligators were being feed in front of tourists at the Everglades Alligator Farm, a keeper noticed that one gator came out of the water dragging the camera around its foot.
The keeper managed to retrieve the camera and called Aldecoa.
"So I went to the farm and saw the camera," Aldecoa said. "It beat it up, that's for sure."
Aldecoa had taken six long-exposure photographs before the alligator took the camera. He didn't expect any to survive, especially after seeing condition of the camera and card. The compartment for the waterlogged card was difficult to open and was crusted with sand, as was the card itself. But he cleaned up the card as best he could and popped it in. It worked immediately.
Of the images, only one was decent, the one you see at the top of this post, the one he risked his life capturing.
"It happened so quick," Aldecoa said. "Besides losing the camera, I had a little bit of nervous response, like, wow, that could've been me. If this animal would've grabbed me, it would not have let go. So I was actually in a little bit of shock and grateful that I'm safe, even though my hard-earned money was down the drain."
Aldecoa, 28, has since bought a new camera and is back taking photos, albeit with a more cautious approach.
"The main thing I learned is to not be overconfident with the animals that I'm dealing with," he said. "You can still get close to a certain extent, if you understand their behavior, but you can't let your guard down basically, and that's kind of what I think I did."