Please do NOT feed the alligators!

When visiting South Carolina, PLEASE do not feed the alligators!

The good news first: South Carolina is a great state to visit or retire to – droves of retirees move here every year. Why not? it’s beautiful country, inexpensive, balmy winter weather, close to the beach and water, lots of attractions and places to go with myriads of same-age friends to socialize with.

The bad news: The American alligator is native only to the southeastern United States, where it inhabits wetlands that frequently overlap with human-populated areas. Wetlands abound in South Carolina. We have them behind our house.   Occasionally we hear of them entering a home or swimming in someone’s backyard pool.

Wildlife experts estimate there are 100,000 alligators in South Carolina. These extremely powerful creatures, with cat-like quickness from the snap of their heads to the crushing whip of their tails, can be dangerous, and weigh hundreds of pounds. Most wild alligators (are there any other kind?) do not get above 13 feet in length and weigh 600 pounds. The record one is over 19 feet. Not something you’d like to step outside in your back yard and run into.

Alligators are on the shy side and normally do not chase or bother people unless their nest is provoked or you get closer than 15 feet to them. And people do that all that time. For some unfathomable reason, people may think that if they get close to an alligator, the alligator may invite them for a swim or to see their young. Not. They have good eyesight and can run very quickly to overtake a human. Sometimes alligators become disoriented when their natural habitat is compromised and have been seen swimming in lovely developments’ community swimming pools. We had such an occurrence a few miles from our home here on the east coast – a five foot alligator taking a swim in a backyard pool.

And alligators are good press copy. Recently three Critter Manaement workers removed a “monster” of an alligator — an 11-foot long, 500 pound alligator from a tiny lagoon in the Hilton Head area. And recently, too, part of a man’s arm was bitten off by an alligator as he leaned to retrieve his golf ball at a private South Carolina course, officials said this past Friday. The man, in his 70s, was bitten by a 10-foot alligator on Thursday afternoon at Ocean Creek Golf Course in Beaufort County.

Alligators eat fish, birds, turtles, snakes, mammals and amphibians. They will also eat small fish at any opportunity. As they grow, they gradually move on to larger fish, mollusks, frogs, and small mammals like rats and mice. Some adult alligators take a larger variety of prey ranging from snakes, turtles or birds to and moderate-sized mammals like a racoon or deer. Once an alligator reaches adulthood, any animal living in the water or coming to the water to drink is potential prey. Adult alligators will also eat wild boars, deer, and dogs of all sizes, and livestock including cattle and sheep.

The purpose of my article is to plead with tourists and even natives of South Carolina and all southern states: Please do not feed alligators. Dogs and cats disappear all the time from golf course communities – where at least one or two alligators reside — in the ponds on golf courses.

Never feed or entice alligators – it’s dangerous and illegal. When fed, alligators overcome their natural wariness and learn to associate people with food. Some unknowing people with small children with them have been fined for feeding alligator; the alligator could view the child as possible food. Don’t feed ANY wildlife in or near the water. Again, it may create a situation where an alligator sees these events and begins to associate people with food.

To keep the alligators at bay in South Carolina, 1,200 excited people take to the public waters of South Carolina for the annual alligator hunt. The season opens in September and closes a month later, with each licensed hunter allowed to capture one alligator. The sport is popular in the Palmetto State. The number of permits sought by enthusiasts and granted by the state has grown each year since it became legal two years ago.

Do I partake? Nope – the only alligators I ever want to see are at an alligator attraction down by nearby Barefoot Landing, a popular North Myrtle Beach tourist spot. They are contained and all I ever hope to see.

© Marie Coppola Revised February 2013