Gators in South Carolina: Low Risk but Real Danger

Gators and crocodiles are nothing to be trifled with. Whether in South Carolina or Florida use your common sense when encountering one.

On a website recently, a prospective tourist to Myrtle Beach, South Carolina asked if it was safe to visit because of the alligators. The person who answered did so with a pretty honest and forthright answer. “Come on down. The alligators are not crawling all over the place looking to make a meal out of the next unsuspecting tourist.”

Both visitors and residents of South Carolina should always keep in mind that they sometimes do share the ponds, lagoons, retention ponds, and occasional golf courses with gators. But that’s also true of snakes like copper heads, cottonmouths, and rattlesnakes. They were here first, and aren’t going anywhere soon.

You probably won’t find one strolling into a Denny’s restaurant on Highway 17 ordering a late-night snack any time soon. You’re not likely to find one stalking you as you try to sink a putt on your favorite golf course, but these creatures are around and require vigilance, awareness, and common sense.

I wrote a blog Summer Warning: Alligators a while back. In it I covered the potential hazards of encountering alligators mostly in Florida and even in the Caribbean while on vacation. But a disturbing incident this past week has led me to revisit the subject because alligators, though a low threat, are a reality not only along the Grand Strand of South Carolina but throughout the Lowcountry here.

Consider this. One evening on August 5, 2016, two women were astounded when they saw an alligator emerging from the surf in Myrtle Beach around 43rd Ave. The dogs they were walking were, no doubt, equally surprised.

At four feet long, the alligator was large enough to do serious harm to humans and pets, but after basking in the sand, the gator decided to go back for another dip. She then disappeared.

Just this past August 8, at Barefoot Landing in North Myrtle Beach, an alligator literally snapped as onlookers fled in terror. In effect, a bridge connecting the two sides of Barefoot Landing was being held hostage by the alligator. A dog who encountered the gator could not be found for comment. Evidently the gator lost interest in both the bridge and the paparazzi who swarmed around for a selfie.

Last June 8, 2017, Mandy Johnson-Plucinski’s dog alerted her of a guest on her front porch. When she turned on her front porch light, a seven-foot alligator was grinning back at her. With no intention of going anywhere, the gator settled down to enjoy the warm summer evening as dusk turned into dark.

Russell Cavender, the Snake Chaser, arrived on the scene a little later, and a few hours later Mandy’s house was finally liberated. Authorities would not confirm if the gator was booked for trespassing, and once again, the dog could not be reached for comment.

Unfortunately, the next story does not have a happy ending and is a good reason for anyone wishing to protect themselves from alligator attacks, provoked or unprovoked, to read my blog  Summer Warning: Alligators at https://billhegerichsr.wordpress.com/2016/06/18/summer-warning-alligators/.

On August 20, 2018, a 45-year-old woman was attacked by an alligator while walking her dog on Hilton Head Island, just south of Beaufort, South Carolina. The eight-foot alligator dragged the woman into a nearby lagoon where she died. The alligator more than likely was attracted to the dog, but something went terribly wrong during the attack.

There is no way to put a positive spin on this tragic event. Gators are common enough in South Carolina, and anyone active outdoors should understand that. While it’s not likely you’ll meet one, you should be aware of their possible presence and what to do if you encounter one.

Gators may seem exotic, and while it may be exciting to tell your friends at the bar how you met one and fed him your leftover Whopper, you’re only part of the problem. Gators are wild animals, and like bears, when exposed to humans, may attack, And if you’re not the victim when feeding one, you’re only making it that much more likely that the next person who meets it will be.

If you meet a gator, back away. Don’t feed it. Don’t even try to get close to it for a selfie. There’s a whole list of do’s and don’ts at https://billhegerichsr.wordpress.com/2016/06/18/summer-warning-alligators/. Ignore them at your own risk.

And let’s say a little prayer for the woman on Hilton Head Island who died so tragically just last week.

Stay safe out there.

            Bill Hegerich

            The Uncommon Mariner

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