A woman who disappeared while walking her dogs near a Florida lake was bitten and likely killed by an alligator that was later captured, US wildlife officials say.
- Witness told authorities he saw Shizuka Matsuki walking dogs, then noticed dogs alone
- One of the dogs had a fresh injury, a gash on its side
- Trappers have spotted 3.5-metre alligator in pond in Silver Lakes Rotary Nature Park
A necropsy confirmed the alligator bit Shizuka Matsuki, 47, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) officials said in a statement.
The statement said officials believed Ms Matsuki was killed and were searching for her body.
FWC spokesman Rob Klepper said they were able to positively identify the woman from evidence collected from the necropsy of the alligator, but he would not specifically say what that evidence was.
A witness told authorities he saw the woman walking two dogs and then noticed the dogs alone, barking near the water.
One of the dogs had a fresh injury, a gash on its side, said Davie Police Detective Viviana Gallinal. The witness called police when he could not find the woman, she said.
Earlier news media reports indicated the witness reported seeing the alligator drag the woman into the water. Police did not immediately clarify the discrepancy.
Trappers have spotted a 3.5-metre alligator in the pond in Silver Lakes Rotary Nature Park, she said.
Jim Borrelli, a friend of Ms Matsuki, said she and her husband have walked their dogs in the park previously. The couple did not live in the neighbourhood, but he said she liked to find different places to walk the dogs. Residents said they often saw her walking them in the area.
Mr Borrelli said Ms Matsuki’s husband, who is out of town and trying to fly home, sent him to the park to get more information after being contacted by Davie Police. Mr Borrelli said he was also asked to break the news to the couple’s son, who is in his 20s and lives in New York.
A man who identified himself as Ms Matsuki’s brother and several other family friends gathered at the scene. He declined to talk but friends described the missing woman as a great friend who loved to cook.
Passers-by said they were not surprised to hear about an alligator lurking in the water. (AP: Wilfredo Lee)
Park ranger warns about alligators
Alligators are opportunistic feeders that will eat what is readily available and easily overpowered. Feeding wild alligators is illegal because they could lose their fear of humans.
Fatal attacks on humans remain rare, however. According to the wildlife commission, the likelihood of a Florida resident being seriously injured during an unprovoked alligator incident in Florida is roughly only 1 in 3.2 million.
From 1948 to 2017, the commission has documented 401 people bitten by alligators, including 24 fatalities. The most recent death occurred in 2016, when a two-year-old boy playing near the water’s edge at a Walt Disney World resort was killed.
The park where Ms Matsuki disappeared on Friday is near the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino — a major Miami-area tourist and entertainment attraction.
Authorities closed the park on Friday, but passers-by said they were not surprised to hear about an alligator lurking in the water.
“Any body of water in Florida, you’ve got to know at some point or another there’s an alligator,” Heather Porrata, who lives nearby, said.
The park where Ms Matsuki disappeared is near the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino — a major Miami-area tourist and entertainment attraction. (AP: Wilfredo Lee)
Sharon Estupinan said a park ranger warned her to walk her dogs farther away from the water’s edge after she saw an alligator in the pond three days ago.
“I was afraid,” she said. “Every time I walked the dogs during the day, I was like, ‘Oh, my God, I’ve got to keep away from there’. I have to call my dogs, so they wouldn’t get close to the water or any of the trees near there because he could be hiding,” she said.
Alligators and humans frequently cross paths in Florida, as people increasingly seek waterfront homes and recreation.
The large reptiles can be found in fresh and brackish bodies of water — including lakes, rivers, canals and golf course ponds — and there is roughly 6.7 million acres of suitable habitat statewide. They are particularly active during their mating season in May and June.