500-pound alligator wrested from Hilton Head lagoon

July 28, 2010 

Local animal rustlers trapped a "monster" of an alligator near a busy Hilton Head Island thoroughfare Wednesday as hundreds gathered to watch.

Three Critter Management workers removed the 11-foot-long, 500-pound alligator from a tiny lagoon just north of Pope Avenue, near the Coligny area, at about 1 p.m., company operations director Billy Karijanian said.

A crowd had gathered to gawk at the massive animal, which had parked itself underneath a well-traversed foot bridge over a lagoon near Holy Family Catholic Church, Karijanian said.

"It's a big sucker," he said. "He was like a frog in a puddle. He was way too big for that pond."

At about 10 a.m., pedestrians notified church staff, who called town officials, who notified Critter Management. Town officials were concerned a passer-by would get too close to the alligator, Karijanian said.

"He was just in a bad spot," he said.

This was the second highly visible gator captured this month on the island.

On July 13, a 9-foot alligator emerged from the ocean on Coligny Beach. The gator had been spotted by swimmers and lifeguards at about 1 p.m., forcing hundreds out of the water.

Most alligator encounters occur between early March and July, during the animals' breeding season. They usually are more visible this time of year as they get out of the water to warm up in the sun, said Joe Maffo, Critter Management's owner.

"He probably just found a lagoon where he felt comfortable," he said.

It took Critter Management staff an hour to trap it. About 15 onlookers tried to help hoist the gator out of the lagoon, but the beast was so heavy, a truck was employed to pull it from the lagoon's muck, Maffo said.

"I was pushing on his tail and 15 others were pulling, and we still couldn't get him up," Maffo said.

The animal's head measured about 13 inches wide and it stood at about a foot and a half tall, he said.

The alligator population in the state and across the Southeast has recovered in the past two decades under federal Endangered Species Act protection. In 1995, the state began allowing the removal of "nuisance" gators under an individual permit system.

The state opened its first public gator hunting season in 2008. The 2010 open season runs from Sept. 11 through Oct. 9.

There are more than 100,000 alligators in the state, according to the S.C. Department of Natural Resources.

South Carolina law requires nuisance alligators to be killed after they are captured, so the animal captured Wednesday will be harvested, Maffo said. Its meat will be processed and virtually every other part will be used for various alligator leather items such as touristy knick-knacks.

"Every part of the gator is used and they don't go to waste, but it's a tough job," Maffo said.

Based on its size and other characteristics such as tail length and girth, Maffo said the male gator was 35 to 40 years old.

"He seemed to have a good, full life," he said.

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