Editor's note: This story has been updated to correct the name of Union Cemetery Road.
Joe Maffo got a call from Beaufort County emergency dispatch at about 1:30 a.m. May 31. Someone saw a large alligator on Union Cemetery Road and called 911.
What Maffo, owner of Critter Management, saw upon arriving was not just a large alligator. It was the largest alligator he had ever encountered since arriving on Hilton Head Island in 1982.
"Ten guys couldn't pick it up," Maffo said. He estimated it weighed more than 1,000 pounds; was 12 feet, 8 inches long; and was probably at least 50 years old.
Maffo and his team tied it to a fence and nearby trees until a wrecker could be summoned to haul it away. They released it near Skull Creek, thinking it would head to Daufuskie or other points away from the island.
"It headed to sea and I thought we'd never see it again," Maffo said Tuesday. "Next morning, we got calls it had come back, to Blue Heron Creek."
It's mating season and gators are on the hunt for mates, he said, adding that he had received 10 gator calls by noon Tuesday.
At Blue Heron Point, the lay of the land made it impossible to haul the massive alligator back onto the wrecker. An intrepid onlooker with a WaveRunner helped out, hauling the gator around to a boat launch by Sunset Grille.
This time, Maffo's team brought the alligator to the New River near Levy and the Savannah Wildlife Refuge.
It is protocol for wildlife management professionals to kill nuisance gators, but Maffo said high-profile protests of recent gator kills made him wary.
He said in this case, the alligator wasn't being a nuisance, it was looking for a mate.