As It Happens

After fending off alligator by poking its eyes, Florida man plans to paint the attack

After barely escaping from an alligator attack with his life, Mark Johnson, a Florida artist is coping in a very on-brand way — by painting a grisly portrait of the beast that tried to bite off his leg.  

'I was more mad than anything that he did that,’ says artist Mark Johnson

An alligator is seen at the Gator Park in the Florida Everglades May 17, 2006, in Miami-Dade County. (Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

WARNING: This post contains graphic images.

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When Mark Johnson took his dog Rex out for a walk, he did not anticipate fighting a 2.6-metre alligator.

After fending it off by poking its eyes, the 61-year-old Florida artist is coping in a very on-brand way — by painting a grisly portrait of the beast that tried to bite his leg off.

"It tells my story. Everybody can see it," Johnson told As it Happens host Carol Off. 

"Him looking at me with my leg and his mouth and my foot hanging out, and probably my left leg stuck in the mud, and both fingers going toward the eyes."

Johnson, a wildlife artist in Port St. Lucie, Fla., walks his dog twice every day. On the morning of Sept. 13, he says he and Rex went for a walk around the wetlands behind his property.

As they headed back, Johnson says he spotted the alligator in a canal that ran close to his house.

"The water's clear. I could see his head. I really didn't think anything of it," he said.

He unleashed Rex and ordered the dog to go back to the house, he said.

"I looked back to my left, and the gator — it's like a submarine … they use their tail for a rudder. And he was actually splashing water, moving that fast," Johnson said.

"In a split second, he lunged. That's a two-foot lunge from where he was."

Wildlife artist Mark Johnson says he was attacked by an alligator near his home in Port St. Lucie, Fla. on Sept. 13. (Submitted by Mark Johnson)

Johnson was wearing Crocs that day. His left leg was stuck in a mud bank by the canal, making it difficult for him to move quickly.

"With a split second, he had my leg. The front of his nose was at the very top of my knee. He tore my shorts. And my right foot was sticking out the very end of his mouth," Johnson said.

He says he was knocked down and felt the alligator starting to pull on his leg.

Growing up in an area with alligators, Johnson knew that once they clamped on, there was no way to pry open their mouths.

"You're not going to open that mouth. The jaw is so big you can't pry it open with the pry bar. They won't release," he said.

Johnson suffered nine puncture wounds from the alligator’s teeth and had to get 66 stitches, he says. (Submitted by Mark Johnson)

With no people, rocks or tree limbs nearby to assist his escape, he chose a technique commonly used to fend off sharks.

Johnson says he remembers the next five seconds vividly.

"He was staring right at me. I had both hands free. I poked him in the eyes and he immediately opened up," he said.

He says he took his leg out and looked back to see if the alligator was coming back to grab his leg again.

"Apparently, my left index finger hand had six stitches. It went down to the first knuckle. That's how far I pushed the eyes in. He felt that, because he left," Johnson said.

Johnson walked back to the house without taking a good look at his leg, he says.

"I just kind of looked down. There was blood all down my leg. I didn't really feel any pain," he said. "I'll be honest with you — I was still very angry that I had that happen to me."

Johnson suffered nine puncture wounds from the alligator's teeth and had to get 66 stitches, he says. Two days after the attack, he says a trapper called him report that the alligator had been caught and would be relocated.

Now his response to the trauma is to paint the encounter.

Once the work is completed, he predicts that in a community full of nature lovers and collectors, someone will buy it.

Written by Tahiat Mahboob. Interview produced by Chloe Shantz-Hilkes.

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