HARDEE COUNTY, Fla. (WFLA) – For the third time this month, a person sustained injuries from an alligator in the Tampa Bay area.

Experts say some of the reasons involve a growth in both human and alligator populations in the area.

According to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, a 13-year old girl was bitten by an alligator Sunday afternoon near the Gardner boat ramp along the Peace River in Zolfo Springs. The girl was taken to the hospital with injuries but was stable, according to officials Sunday night.

A nuisance alligator trapper was dispatched to the scene Sunday.

FWC declined News Channel 8’s request for an interview Monday and did not provide an answer to questions about the girl’s condition and/or whether any gators were caught.

“Best case scenario is to keep your distance,” said Spencer Schultz, a reptile and amphibian specialist at ZooTampa.

Schultz points out right now is nesting and early hatching season for gators.

“The females get very protective of nests and their young. So that’s one of the few times the gator is going to be actively trying to chase people away and be very aggressive,” said Schultz.

“Alligators become more visible and active during spring and summer,” a FWC spokesperson wrote in a statement. “When temperatures rise, their metabolism increases, and they begin seeking food.”

According to FWC, Florida has a healthy and stable alligator population, which is estimated at 1.3 million alligators of every size. They reside in all 67 counties, in all wetlands where there is adequate food and shelter.

“Gators have made a comeback. So we see a lot more gators now and they’re going back to their natural habitat. We’re also seeing a lot more people come down, especially in the summer because it’s a famous vacation spot,” Schultz said.

Schultz advises people not to feed alligators, as that behavior makes them associate humans with food.

WFLA News Channel 8 learned FWC is investigating 16 gator attacks in the state. Last week, officials say a Sarasota man was injured from a gator bite on Lake Manatee. Days before that, alligators killed an elderly woman who fell into water at a Sarasota golf course. In May, another suspected gator attack took the life of a man in Pinellas County.

Trapper Dustin Hooper says there is an overlap of alligator and human population growth in the area.

“That is one of the reasons why there’s more attacks right now. It’s just more people and the alligators really don’t have any predators,” said Hooper, who owns All Creatures Wildlife Control.

More tips from FWC on gator safety:

  • Keep a safe distance if you see an alligator. If someone is concerned about an alligator, they should call FWC’s toll-free Nuisance Alligator Hotline at 866-FWC-GATOR (866-392-4286), and we will dispatch a contracted nuisance alligator trapper to resolve the situation.
  • Keep pets on a leash and away from the water’s edge. Pets often resemble alligators’ natural prey.
  • Swim only in designated swimming areas during daylight hours and without your pet. Alligators are most active between dusk and dawn.
  • Never feed an alligator. Feeding alligators is illegal and dangerous. When fed, alligators can lose their natural wariness people and instead learn to associate people with the availability of food.