When Andrew Grande noticed an alligator scuttling towards his young daughter, he was convinced the animal was zoning in on a snack. If he failed to act, his little one might fall victim to the jaws of the almighty beast. As a result, he had little choice but to leap into action in an attempt to save her life.
Grande lives with his family in League City in Galveston County, Texas. He is the father of a little boy and he also has a young daughter, whose name is Brandalyn. Their home is situated close to a canal, and being near the water comes with a number of perks. However, it would seem that it also has its risks.
The canal behind Grande’s home feeds into Clear Lake, TX. The body of water is a popular recreational center, with one of the highest concentrations of marinas and non-commercial boats in the United States. Needless to say, the area surrounding the lake is popular with tourists.
Just as the canal behind Grande’s home runs into Clear Lake, that in turn filters into Galveston Bay. The geographical feature is America’s seventh-largest estuary and forms part of the Gulf of Mexico. It contains a mix of freshwater and seawater, providing the perfect habitat for a range of marine life – including the American alligator.
The American alligator is the biggest of all the reptiles found in the U.S. It can exceed 12 feet in length and can tip the scales at a mighty 1,000 pounds. On average, male gators are bigger than their female counterparts, but both sport armored skin, layered with hard scales known as scutes.
American alligators are found almost without exception in the coastal wetlands of the south-east United States, with a range extending from North Carolina to Florida, north to south, and as far as Texas in the west. They are most common in Louisiana and Florida and seem to prefer slow-flowing freshwater rivers. However, they can also be found in lakes, marshes and swamps.
As far as diet goes, American alligators are all-out carnivores. The animals will eat birds, fish, frogs, invertebrates and mammals. Their sharp teeth make them masterful predators, while their enormous jaws are strong enough to make short work of a turtle’s shell. They hunt mostly in the hours of darkness and often drown their prey before consuming it.
While alligators might seem somewhat ungainly on dry land, they are excellent swimmers. The reptiles use their massive tails and webbed feet to power themselves through the water. However, when motionless, they can often resemble floating logs, bobbing along on the surface.
As cold-blooded animals, alligators depend on the environment around them to keep warm. As a result, they often sunbathe or dig holes in the mud as shelter. These hideaways can also take the form of tunnels, some of which have been known to be 65 feet long. Furthermore, when temperatures dip below a certain level, the reptiles become dormant.
Usually, American alligators first breed at about ten to 12 years old. They mate in shallow water and afterwards females start constructing a nest to shelter as many as 90 eggs, using plants at the water’s edge. They incubate their eggs for roughly 65 days, and when the young alligators are ready to hatch they let their mother know by emitting a high-pitched yelp from within their shells.
American alligators may be the apex predators of their habitats, but hatchlings can be preyed upon by a variety of other animals including bobcats, raccoons, snakes, birds, fish and even other alligators. They are usually safe from predators once they’ve reached about 4 feet in length. However, they tend to stay with their mothers for roughly two years.
If they survive into adulthood, the average lifespan for an American alligator in the wild is 35 to 50 years. Throughout this time, the reptiles’ teeth wear down or simply fall out, only to be replaced by new ones. In fact, one single alligator can get through an impressive 3,000 teeth across the course of its life.
Looking at the American alligator, it’s hard to miss the reptile’s prehistoric physical characteristics; their armored bodies, muscular jaws and hefty tails are reminiscent of the distant past. Indeed, according to scientists, the species is over 150 million years old. That means that they managed to survive the extinction event 65 million years ago when the dinosaurs were wiped out.
Despite their evolutionary hardiness, however, the American alligator has nonetheless faced threats to its existence in recent years. In 1967 it was declared endangered and was even at risk of disappearing altogether. However, in the intervening decades, the reptile’s population recovered. There are roughly 1 million living in the wild today, with that number still growing. As a result, while not completely safe, the species is at least now classified as being of “least concern.”
Nevertheless, American alligators are still threatened by the loss of their habitat. Considered a keystone species of the south-east United States, the burrows they use for shelter and nesting fill with water once the reptiles vacate them. These defunct hideaways are then used by other species, who use them to drink from and as places to breed: without alligators, the wider ecosystem would suffer.
American alligators are related to the American crocodile, though the latter is much rarer, with only a few thousand to be found on the southern edge of Florida. The most obvious difference between alligators and crocodiles is the shape of their snouts. The alligator’s is round and wide, while the crocodile’s is thin and elongated. Moreover, crocodiles sport two visible protruding gnashers even when their mouths are shut.
Though they are clearly fascinating creatures, alligators have earned a fearsome reputation among humans. While they mainly eat small animals like fish and some mammals, a hungry alligator will try to eat pretty much anything. This includes pets, carrion and – on the odd occasion – even people.
That being said, alligator attacks on humans are incredibly rare. According to website Animals.net, the fearsome reptiles have been responsible for just eight deaths in the last ten years. However, when Grande spotted a colossal alligator beside his house in July 2020 he wasn’t planning on taking any risks.
The incident occurred while Grande was getting ready to go to work. As he was busy, babysitter Robin Randolph was looking after his son and his four-year-old daughter, Brandalyn. The trio had been fishing on the canal behind the Grande family home and catching crabs.
But the idyllic fishing scene was interrupted when Grande noticed an alligator lurking nearby. He had come outside to give his daughter a kiss before heading out to work when he noticed the beast, which was thought to have been almost 12 feet long. It was heading straight in their direction, and what’s worse, it seemed to have its beady eyes on little Brandalyn.
Recalling the moment he spotted the alligator, in July 2020 Grande told Houston-based channel KPRC-TV how the animal “came straight up to the bulkhead and [sank] back down.” However, before long, he claimed it “was headed straight for [Brandalyn].” Grande added, “There’s no doubt that’s where he was headed.”
According to Grande, the alligator was far too close to Brandalyn for comfort. He explained, “I happened to be standing kinda where we are right now picking something up, and I happened to look back. Not ten yards from her was a huge alligator kinda coming… right toward her.”
Given the imminent risk his little girl was facing, Grande knew he had to act fast. Speaking to the Houston Chronicle newspaper in August 2020 the 40-year-old said of the giant reptile, “It was a beast.” And he added, “I had a gut feeling it wanted my daughter as a snack.” So Grande leapt into action.
In another TV interview the same month, this time with CNN, Grande talked through his thought-process after he spotted the alligator. He explained, “When I first saw him, the only thing I was thinking of was just getting my daughter, just getting her out of the way… What his intentions were, I’m not 100 percent sure, but I wasn’t going to find out.”
Taking matters into his own hands, Grande pushed Randolph and his son through a gate back onto his property, and lifted Brandalyn over the fence. Recalling her brush with the alligator, the babysitter told KPRC-TV, “[It] was making a bee-line for us. Andrew had knocked me into the gate. Picked up Bambi and threw her over the fence.”
Even after Grande had got his son, daughter and babysitter to safety, he claimed the alligator was still apparently homing in on its prey. The animal continued coming towards him, until it was close to his feet. The moment must have been terrifying, particularly when the father surveyed the size of the reptile in front of him.
Although Grande had encountered alligators before, this one was particularly monstrous. Describing the animal, he told CNN, “He was by far the biggest one we’ve ever seen, and in fact, they have never done that before. Usually they keep their distance, just pass by… You don’t even know they’re there, but this guy’s intentions were definitely a little different.”
Even within the confines of his property, Grande still feared for the safety of his family. Speaking about the alligator to CNN, he explained, “He was just so big that if he had jumped out he would have just broken the fence. He was just that heavy.” However, after the father rescued his kids, the animal appeared to lose interest in pursuing them.
Following the close shave with Grande’s children, the alligator retreated back into the water. However, it would seem that the animal had not given up hope of munching on a snack. Apparently, when Brandalyn went outside again 15 minutes after the beast had first disappeared, it reared its fearsome head once more.
For a terrifying period, the alligator would retreat to the water before returning to Grande’s property. It did this several times. And the father later revealed, “This lasted for like at least 20 or 30 minutes.” So, after presumably feeling terrorized on his own property by the predator, Grande decided to call for backup.
As Grande described it, it was almost as if the reptile was trying to psych him out. He told the Houston Chronicle, “Alligators are common in this area but this was different. They never come to us like that… It kept going up and down. It would look straight at me. It seemed like it was playing a game.”
Given that the alligator was lurking by his property and seemingly preying on his family, Grande called a game warden. Two wardens later arrived on the scene, accompanied by a professional alligator wrangler and his wife. Grande was also pulled in to help catch the animal, as was a nearby pool guy.
Following gator hunter Thomas Reynolds’ lead, the group was able to overcome the beast. Grande told the Houston Chronicle, “As he was getting the noose ready for the alligator, it came towards him. The gator took a chomp at the noose and was caught.” But their work was not yet over. As Grande put it, “Then the battle began.”
Having spent half an hour snaring the alligator, the team then had to wrestle it out of the canal. They used rope, catch poles and slabs of plywood to heave the animal out of the water and transfer it to a nearby truck. Grande revealed, “It was three hours to get the gator out of the water because it was so big and powerful. It kept flipping and flopping and turning.”
According to the game warden, Grande’s run-in with the alligator was quite unusual because creatures usually keep away from people. When the animals display the kind of aggressive behaviour the Texan dad experienced, apparently it’s often because they have been fed by humans. And once the reptiles realize that people can provide them with food, they can no longer live in the wild.
With that in mind, the alligator Grande had encountered was moved to Gator Country in Beaumont. The self-proclaimed adventure-park-come-sanctuary claims to be the biggest of its kind in south-east Texas. It’s home to 450 reptiles, as well as a number of mammals. The facility works alongside state authorities and is the only sanctuary for so-called “nuisance alligators” in Texas.
So Gator Country was seemingly the ideal place for the beast Grande had come up against; at least, he seemed to think it was. The dad told the Houston Chronicle, “They were happy to have the alligator because they lost all of theirs during Hurricane Harvey. I was happy to have it out of my backyard.”
With the alligator in its new home, Grande and his family were finally safe from its advances. And despite her up-close encounter with the apex predator, little Brandalyn seemed unperturbed by the encounter. When asked to give her thoughts on the incident in an interview with KPRC-TV she simply seemed excited about how big the beast was.
So, as they say, all’s well that ends well. The alligator from the incident was given a second chance at Gator Country where he’ll presumably live out the rest of their days. Meanwhile, Grande and his kids can go back to fishing in the canal at the back of their home, if they so desire.
However, the story doesn’t quite end there. That’s because Grande is hoping to take his kids to Gator Country to visit their old foe. He said that the sanctuary was a “good place” and commented that they were “happy to have” the fearsome reptile. Referring to the animal, Grande added, “We look forward to visiting him one day.”