South Carolina kill policy for nuisance alligators creates controversy
It used to be that nuisance alligators weren't killed. They were removed to remote places such as Bulls Bay islands or Wambaw Swamp.
That changed as the coast populations grew of both alligators and humans, and more of the menacing-looking reptiles came snout-to-face with more people.
Alligator? Call help
Here are the numbers to call if you have a nuisance alligator:
- 953-9856 for Berkeley, Charleston and Dorchester counties.
-(843) 844-8957 for Beaufort, Colleton, Hampton and Jasper counties.
- 1-800-922-5431, after-hours emergency, Operation Game Thief.
The policy became to kill them. An alligator found on the Isle of Palms beach Sunday was killed according to that policy. Readers reacted sharply to it in comments and on social media after The Post and Courier published the story.
The reason for the policy shift was simple: With more than 100,000 alligators already out there — and a lot more people — finding an isolated spot to put a gator that's already caused trouble for humans has become a lot tougher.
-- To harass, feed or entice alligators.
-- Have, sell or transport alligator meat or parts.
-- Keep an alligator without a permit.
Source: S.C. Department of Natural Resources
Alligators battle for turf, and they don't stay put.
“For whatever reason, gators sometimes like to get up and walk somewhere,” said wildlife biologist Jay Butfiloski with the S.C. Department of Natural Resources. Even if it means crossing interstate highways, or settling in someone's backyard to snatch the dog.
Alligators have an uncanny homing instinct. A 6-foot alligator was trapped in a pond near Beaufort a number of years ago, under the earlier policy. It was released on an island in Bulls 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.
“I understand the feelings (of people who oppose the killing policy),” Butfiloski said. “Sometimes it puts the department in a tight spot with what to do with these animals.”
But there's no sure way to keep a relocated gator from heading off again. Putting one back where it came from is next to impossible: You rarely know exactly where that was, he said.
In 2012, DNR issued nearly 400 permits to remove and kill nuisance alligators. Hundreds more gators were killed in public and private land hunts — particularly the larger, more “menacing” reptiles.
Some say the policy might need to be refined.
“I'm not sure it won't be long before we're back to protecting them, because we're killing the hell out of them,” said Ron Russell, of Gator Getter Consultants, an alligator management and nuisance removal company.
The Isle of Palms gator is a good example, he said. It was very likely swept toward the saltwater beach by currents and unlikely to return if put somewhere else.
Russell culls alligators by removing the younger middle sizes, leaving the larger, older reptiles, he said.
“That 9-footer could be 30 years old. We can't replace him, not in my lifetime. This is not a white-tailed deer. This is an animal that takes a long time to mature.”
Alligators are ambush predators. Provoking an attack can be as simple as splashing. Their girth belies the quick snap of their strike.
A golfer lost an arm while retrieving a ball on Fripp Island in 2009. A snorkeler lost an arm in Lake Moultrie in 2007.
Last week, a 12-foot alligator snatched and ate an 80-pound husky as the dog was being walked by its owner in Jacksonville, N.C. The alligator was captured and killed.
Think that's vicious? An 8-foot gator was found on Hilton Head Island this month with both its eyes shot out by bow-hunting arrows and one shaft still sticking out. It had to be put down.
Alligator do's and don'ts
-- Don't feed. Providing food for wild animals makes them bolder and encourages them to seek out people.
-- Do keep your distance. Alligators are extremely strong and can move with a startling burst of speed on land over short distances. A safe distance from an adult alligator is about 60 feet.
-- Don't disturb nests or small alligators. Some female alligators protect their young and may become aggressive if provoked.
-- Do keep pets and children away from alligators. Large alligators do not recognize the difference between domestic pets and wild food sources.
-- Don't swim in areas that are known alligator habitats. Splashing can attract alligators that think a prey animal is injured or attract a female animal that is protecting its young or eggs.
Wayward gators tend to find way to Isle of Palms beach
Stray gators aren't strangers on Isle of Palms. In fact, the beach here once hosted a crocodile.
A beleaguered 4-foot long gator washed ashore in July 2012 in rough surf near the pier, staggered out of the wash and laid down beside some beach chairs and an umbrella. An 8-footer was captured in the surf in June 2011.
Gators occasionally wash up on a lot of Lowcountry beaches. But Isle of Palms is just prone to it. Why? The waters flush them out. Alligators haunt the vast marshes behind the island, nearby Dewees and Capers islands and others. They will move island to island, and if they swim at the wrong time, they get caught in powerful rip currents at Dewees and Breach inlets. Swept to sea, they swim along the coast until the current lets swim in, Ron Russell of Gator Getter Consultants said.
The real oddity for beachgoers here was a 6-foot crocodile snared near the pier in 2008. It had shown up earlier in a pond in Mount Pleasant. Native only to southern Florida, the croc likely was captured by someone then released. But crocs are powerful swimmers, and there's a small chance it could have worked its way up the coast.
Reach Bo Petersen at 937-5744, @bopete on twitter or Bo Petersen Reporting on Facebook.