Gator with injured eye removed from Bluffton golf course

'Big Al' relocation investigation continues

rlurye@islandpacket.comJune 10, 2014 

A gator with a mangled eye was euthanized Monday morning after it hunkered down at the entrance of a greater Bluffton golf course.

Ron Martin, first assistant of the Crescent Pointe Golf Club, said he spotted the 9-foot gator Sunday evening on the 18th green and tried to shoo it back into the marsh.

"He wouldn't have any of that," Martin said.

Instead, it went into a bunker. Martin said he was not concerned because gators usually make their way back to the water. But workers at the golf course found the same alligator lying at the bag drop at about 6:30 a.m. Monday.

The gator's eye was bleeding, as if it had been shot or injured by another gator, Martin said.

"We've seen them on greens, fairways, tees, never in the bag drop where we park the carts. That was different," Martin said. "It surprised a lot of people."

The golf club received a permit from the S.C. Department of Natural Resources to remove the gator and called Critter Management, which arrived by 8 p.m.

By law, Critter Management owner Joe Maffo cannot relocate nuisance gators, which pose a risk to people, pets or property. However, he said he would not have wanted to leave the injured animal, which he said seemed lethargic.

"His eye was smashed. It was sad to see," Maffo said. "It was a very recent injury and hadn't even started to heal."

DNR wildlife biologist Dean Harrigal said the injury could be from a bullet, an arrow or a bite from another gator.

"Gators do have accidents, and right now with mating season going on, he could have gotten grabbed across the eye by a bigger, badder gator," Harrigal said. "It's not something we have the manpower to investigate right now."

The department is still looking into Maffo's decision to release a 12-foot gator into the New River in Jasper County, Harrigal said. First caught May 31 near Union Cemetery Road on Hilton Head Island and released near Skull Creek, the animal returned the next day. Maffo again caught and released the gator, which he said weighed more than 1,000 pounds and was more than 50 years old.

Harrigal has said the gator -- known as Big Al in several Hilton Head communities -- became a nuisance by wandering into the road and posing problems for traffic.

Maffo said he did not consider the animal a nuisance when he relocated it and does not think it will venture outside the Savannah Wildlife Refuge.

"The alligator was such a beautiful specimen, and my idea was to see him grow old, but it was an error in judgment," he said. "He didn't need to, but he was supposed to be harvested under the protocol of the Department of Natural Resources."

Harrigal said Tuesday he did not know when the department would complete its investigation.

Follow reporter Rebecca Lurye on Twitter at twitter.com/IPBG_Rebecca.

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