July 30, 2012— -- The day an alligator bit off his right hand was not the last time Wallace Weatherholt would have to pay for feeding an alligator.
Weatherholt, a 63-year-old airboat captain in the Florida Everglades, was giving a tour of the area to an Indiana family on June 12 when a 9-foot alligator suddenly sank its teeth into his wrist, severing his hand.
Six weeks later, Weatherholt faces a second-degree misdemeanor charge of feeding the alligator.
"It's a very sad situation for Mr. Weatherholt, and we wish this never happened to him, but there are laws on the books to protect people from this exact incident," said Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission officer Jorge Pino.
After the attack, the FWC began an investigation, asking whether Weatherholt had provoked the alligator by feeding it a fish.
The family aboard the airboat told The Associated Press that Weatherholt, who works for Captain Doug's Small Airport Tours in Everglades City, Fla., had been hanging the fish over the side of the boat with his hand when the alligator leapt out of the water.
Pino said that based on witness statements the FWC received that day and "photographic and physical evidence," investigators had enough information for the state's attorney to approve a charge of feeding an alligator.
FWC officers tracked down the alligator and euthanized it shortly after the attack, Pino said.
Weatherholt drove the boat back to its dock with one hand and was immediately taken to the hospital. His hand was found in the alligator's stomach but could not be reattached, Pino said.
The law against feeding alligators is intended to protect both animals and humans, Pino said. When they are fed, gators lose their fear of humans, he said, and when an alligator becomes dangerous, FWC officers are called in to kill it.
"As soon as you say there's an alligator that's not afraid of humans, that's like signing a death warrant for that alligator," he said. "The more people abide by the rules on the books, the safer the gators will be, and more importantly, the safer the humans will be."
Weatherholt was arrested Friday and faces a fine of up to $500 and a possible jail sentence. He was released after posting $1,000 bail, and is due back in court on Aug. 22.