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An Everglades City airboat captain who lost his hand to an alligator last month was arrested Friday.Wallace Weatherholt, 63, is facing a misdemeanor charge of unlawful feeding of an alligator. He has since bonded out and has a court appearance set for Aug. 22.
Weatherholt was leading an Indiana family on a tour of the Everglades on June 12 when he encountered a 9-foot alligator, which bit his hand off at the wrist.
After the attack, Florida Fish and Wildlife officers began an investigation into whether the captain had fed or provoked the alligator, leading to the attack.
In an interview shortly after the attack, FWC spokeswoman Carli Segelson said that there had been allegations of that happening.
The Associated Press reports that airboat passengers stated Weatherholt hung a fish over the side of the boat and had his hand at the water’s surface when the alligator attacked. Feeding alligators is illegal. Those who feed an alligator face a second-degree misdemeanor, with a fine of up to $500 and possible jail time.
David Weathers, a nuisance-alligator trapper and owner of several alligators, said the reason it’s illegal to feed alligators is because once the reptiles are fed by humans, they lose their fear. If the alligator in this incident had been fed in the past — either by Weatherholt or someone else — just the sight of the airboat could bring the alligator right up next to it, he said.
“Alligators have a natural fear of humans,” said Weathers, who often swims in the Everglades’ alligator-infested waters. “If they see us, they take off. They see us as these giants hovering over them. They’re not going to attack unless they’ve been fed.”
Following the June 12 attack, wildlife officials tracked and killed the alligator. They retrieved Weatherholt’s hand from its stomach, but doctors were unable to reattach it.