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#06-96 April 17, 2006

Small alligators are not a problem

Most alligator complaints involve animals too small to present a threat to people or pets, according to an alligator biologist with the S.C. Department of Natural Resources.

If an alligator is causing problems, contact the nearest S.C. Department of Natural Resources (DNR) office. For an after-hours emergency, call Operation Game Thief at 1-800-922-5431. Call the following numbers if you have a nuisance alligator during normal business hours:

Of the more than 750 alligator complaints investigated by the DNR each season, more than half involve small alligators less than 5 feet in length, according to Walt Rhodes, Alligator Project biologist with the DNR based at the Santee Coastal Reserve in McClellanville. Alligators of this size feed on crawfish,Alligator aquatic insects, small snakes, frogs and turtles. The average body weight of alligators 3 feet in length is not quite 4 pounds. Four-foot alligators average about 11 pounds, while gators measuring 5 feet average only about 22 pounds. Children and dogs that exceed these body weights by a factor of several times are not in danger.

"For many out-of-state visitors and some native South Carolinians, an alligator is an alligator, and they are all viewed as a creature that does nothing but eat children and pets," said Rhodes. "Nothing could be further from the truth."

Alligators are shy animals that prefer to keep their distance from humans. However, alligators that are fed by humans lose their wariness. For this reason, it is illegal to feed alligators in South Carolina.

“Alligators are large, powerful animals,” Rhodes said, “and people should keep their distance from them as well keep their pets out of the water. We also suggest that people not swim in areas frequented by alligators, especially around sunrise and sunset, periods when alligators are active. It is important to use common sense in areas inhabited by alligators.”
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