By Meredith Poston for The Island Connection
The Kiawah Island community is no stranger to alligator sightings. Island homeowners and visitors to Kiawah grow accustomed to seeing these magnificent, robust creatures sunning themselves alongside ponds and even on golf course sands. However, as familiar as these beasts may become, they remain animals to be regarded with caution and care, something many seem to be forgetting when spotting an alligator – and it is causing problems.
Most alligators on Kiawah are between 3 – 8 feet long, though gators measuring 11 feet and longer are present on the island. The largest South Carolina alligator reported as killed was taken from the Waccamaw River near Murrells Inlet in 2016 and was considered exceptionally large by state standards, measuring at 13 feet, 5 inches long. Because alligators are cold-blooded creatures, meaning that they cannot regulate their body temperature, they remain docile during the colder months and are most active during spring and summer.
According to Kiawah Island officials, there has been a considerable upsurge in alligator activity.
Over the last several months, both the Town of Kiawah and the Kiawah Island Community Association have received an increased number of reports of nuisance and aggressive alligators. In March, during a fundraiser held at the Kiawah Island River Course, what was referred to as “a dinosaur” was photographed approaching golfers.
In late July, an 11-foot alligator was euthanized by Island biologists, who were forced to take action after receiving repeated reports of the animal approaching islanders looking for food. It is estimated that the euthanized alligator was over 60 years old.
In a statement made by Kiawah Island officials, “In virtually all of these cases, the alligators in question appear to have been intentionally fed by people.” In addition to causing alligators to lose their natural fear of humans, feeding alligators is illegal. Kiawah officials are cracking down on the issue, enforcing the no-feed policy. In addition to issuing a $465 fine on July 27, the same day that the 60-year-old gator was euthanized after approaching humans in search of food, the Town has issued a $625 fine to a tourist for feeding an alligator.
Many residents object to some overstepping their bounds with their poor treatment of nature. In addition to alligators and deer being fed by humans, Kiawah residents have made other reports of animals on the island being mistreated, including sightings of people throwing rocks at and poking wildlife with sticks; large holes being dug in the sand and not filled in; people walking in the sand dunes; live sand dollars and whelks being removed from the water and placed in the sand to die; and the lifelong litter issue, which is not only an eye sore, but also detrimental to sea birds and ocean animals.
Residents of Kiawah’s Vetch Court reached out to Island Connection regarding the increasing alligator issue after the 60-year-old gator was euthanized; the couple reported personally witnessing an alligator with a “noose around its snout from being caught in a crab trap.” The couple says that they called Island security, who reportedly came to the scene while the crabber was still present, claiming that security advised that they allow “nature to run its course.” “That alligator didn’t get a noose around its snout because it was a natural occurrence,” stated Kiawah residents Julie Provenson and Gene Hutchinson. “It was caused by humans.”
Provenson and Hutchinson said that they have contacted Kiawah Mayor Craig Weaver and Wildlife Biologist Jim Jordan and that both responded, which “was appreciated.”
According to Town Wildlife Biologist Jim Jordan, Kiawah Island biologists investigate each report as received, with a decision made on the course of action to be taken based upon the individual alligator’s behavior.
As of mid-August, four alligators have been captured and euthanized following reports of aggressive behavior.
Jordan and other Island experts stress the importance of not feeding the alligators. While it is not only illegal and unsafe, it causes the creatures to “lose their fear of people and readily approach them in search of food,” states the Town. “Once this behavior occurs, it creates a potentially dangerous situation and the alligator must be euthanized.”
In an August 2017 report from the Kiawah Alligator Research Project, which has been ongoing since fall of 2016, a total of 39 alligators have been “captured and fitted with visual tags.” Of the 39 alligators, 23 are male and 16 are female; the males were tagged with blue tags, the females yellow. Last fall, 12 of the 39 alligators received VHF transmitters and in July 2017, 5 alligators received GPS tags. “This research project has been developed to better understand the behavior and movements of Kiawah’s alligators in an effort to increase awareness and safety across the island,” states the Town.
The Town asks that if you do spot a tagged alligator that you report the sighting to Town biologists with details of the sighting, including the date, time, location of the sighting, the color of the tag and the tag number, and any behavior displayed. This can be done through the Town’s online application, KiawahIsland.org/wildlife/ new-alligator-research, or by emailing Town Biologist Jim Jordan at firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you are a resident or visitor of Kiawah you can report any illegal feeding or behavior to Kiawah Security at 843.768.5566, or Town Hall at 843.768.9166.