Alligators

May, 2008 visitor to a driveway… (No parking, please)

 

 

Sadly, this was an obituary photo – since he was fed by people and lost his fear of us, he had to be destroyed.

By: Bo Petersen of The Post and Courier Staff

Originally Published on: 4/14/04

Coastal populations of humans, dinosaur-like reptiles surging and intersecting

As gators go, the 3-footer looked testy. It crouched in a corner of the cage, its slit black eyes glaring.Trapper Roark Ferguson snatched the reptile by the nape and picked him up. It settled on Ferguson’s arm, the webbed, clawed feet dangling. “The reality is that alligators are docile animals, and if left alone, they will leave us alone,” said biologist Dean Cain of the S.C. Department of Natural Resources.

Tuesday was “Please Don’t Feed the Alligators” day at the department’s Marine Resources Center on James Island.

With temperatures rising, some 100,000 of the reptiles and their offspring are coming up from the bottom of rivers to sun on marsh banks across the Lowcountry. Their numbers have doubled since they were listed as a federal Endangered Species in the 1970s. At the same time, the human population along the coast has more than doubled. As a result, more people are bumping into more alligators. That includes relative newcomers whose closest previous experience with the dinosaur-like reptile has been watching crocodiles kill water buffalo on television. Now they find the half-submerged eyes of an American alligator staring from their subdivision’s water retention pond. DNR gets 500 to 700 gator complaint calls per year, but only about one in five of the reptiles pose a threat to residents or their pets. “Of the 23 species of crocodilians, it’s the pussycat,” said Walt Rhodes, DNR alligator project supervisor.

Each year, wildlife officers remind people:

— It’s illegal to feed an alligator.

— It’s illegal to harass an alligator.

— Only DNR-approved trappers are permitted to catch alligators.

— There never has been a fatal alligator attack on a human in South Carolina.

Although the density of alligators in South Carolina coastal wetlands rivals the density found in Florida or Louisiana, there have been only eight attacks on humans in this state in 28 years of reporting. Nearly all were provoked by people trying to feed or catch one of the reptiles. In one case, a child stepped on an alligator while crossing a canal.

Most calls about alligators involve juvenile gators 3 to 5 feet long that were pushed from their habitat by larger alligators and are searching for territory. Rhodes compared them to teenagers — naturally curious and too inexperienced to drop immediately to the bottom when people get near.

“To the untrained eye, a 3- to 5-foot gator just looks like a gator. But they have a much different mindset than the larger (gators),” Rhodes said.

It takes an alligator bigger than 7 feet long to catch a dog of any size. Alligators smaller than that feed on turtles, snakes, frogs and the like. A healthy fish can out-swim them.

Bigger gators shy more readily. That’s how they lived to be so big. Experts say that it’s a myth that alligators will chase people across the lawn. Neither Rhodes nor contract trapper Johnny Williamson, who has trapped more than 2,000 alligators in 17 years, has had a gator that wasn’t cornered move aggressively toward him.

Most alligators trapped as nuisances are 6 feet or longer. They are killed and sold for meat or hides to cover a portion of the removal cost and because they won’t stay put if moved.

Alligators have an uncanny homing instinct. A 6-foot alligator was trapped in a pond near Beaufort and released on Bears Island in Bull’s Bay more than 30 miles and five river basins away. It was caught again in its home pond 14 years later — as a 10-footer.

DNR and its contract trappers have removed gators from under cars and from rose bushes, tool boxes, swimming pools, a hospital parking lot and a Goose Creek car dealer’s showroom.

The area around Goose Creek Reservoir is a hotbed for alligators because its large expanse of wetlands is a self-sustaining habitat, and its weeds are a habitat for food sources.

Still, most alligator complaints involve animals that are too small to be a threat. Most are left alone because they are in or alongside their natural habitat.

Their numbers have recovered enough that they no longer are an endangered species, but they still are protected.

DNR officials warned residents not to swim or allow children or pets to swim in water where large alligators live, especially at dawn, dusk or after dark, when the creatures are active. Ask any Goose Creek Reservoir nighttime boater what it feels like to be in the water surrounded by numerous sets of glowing eyes.

“Use common sense,” Cain said. “Leave it alone. It’s in its own habitat. It has its own environment.”

Anyone with questions or concerns about alligators can call the DNR radio room at 1-800-922-5431.