Alligators and snakes are everywhere in the Lowcountry, and unfortunately sometimes that means your yard.
The best way to keep them at bay is with a sturdy, well-built fence, according to experts. That said, there is no solution that works 100 percent of the time.
“There’s no fool-proof way to keep any critter out of your yard. Wildlife has an uncanny way of getting in places where you don’t expect them to be,” says Dean Harrigal, wildlife biologist with the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources. “I’ve seen pictures of gators climbing fences, and snakes can get through the tiniest crevice.”
Many homeowner’s associations in the Hilton Head Island area don’t allow fences, leaving many to turn to more unconventional methods to keep gators and snakes out of their yard. A quick google search turns up some intriguing alternatives. But, do any of them work?
Harrigal says that single-strand electric fences have the most potential as far as keeping alligators at bay.
“We routinely use electric fences to keep domestic animals in and wildlife out,” said Harrigal. “An electric fence properly run and a couple inches from the ground could be a reasonably good deterrent to gators in certain situations.”
Josh Skinner, territory manager with electric fence manufacturer Gallagher North America, recommends a higher voltage fence to keep gators out. Gallagher makes warning signs to place on fences, but if someone accidentally encounters a fence, they should be alright.
“It’s not going to feel good, but it’s not going to hurt you physically,” said Skinner.
Electric fences are low impedance, meaning that energy runs through them in pulses. Those pulses are sufficient to keep unwanted animals out, but since the flow is not constant, anyone who runs into one has time to get away between pulses.
While the electrified barriers show promise with keeping alligators out of yards, they are not nearly as effective against snakes.
“They are usually single strands, which is not going to be terribly effective for things like snakes,” said Will Dillman, herpetologist for the SCDNR. “They are most likely going to just go right under or right over it and never encounter it.”
If fences of any kind are not an option for your gator deterring needs, you may find an ally in plants.
“Heavy vegetation barriers in some cases, placed at the edge of a pond, may deter some alligators from crawling up and sunning on the edge of the pond,” said Harrigal.
As a solution, shrubs and such are a double-edged sword. While they may be effective at keeping gators away, they present an enticing habitat for snakes, who are naturally drawn to the seclusion and cover that plants can provide. So, by erecting a barrier for one predator, you may be providing refuge for another.
“As far as snakes go, seeing things is always better, and if you start putting things up that may block your vision it’s going to impair your ability to actually see them,” said Dillman.
One of the stranger suggestions for keeping alligators at bay is to make your own alligator repellant, with one website suggesting a recipe made from ammonia and human urine. Harrigal refused to dismiss it completely, but saw some issues that may arise from using it.
“It may work. If you want to try it, I’m not going to knock it,” said Harrigal. “But if you mix urine and ammonia, you’re going to have a smelly yard, and your neighbors are not going to be real happy with you. It may work for the gators, but what about the neighbors?”
An online search for commercially available alligator repellants turns up nothing, but snake repellents can be easily found. It would be a mistake, however, to conflate availability with effectiveness.
“None of that stuff has even been shown to work,” said Dillman. “If it really did work and you put a ring around your yard, you can’t be sure you’ve gotten every snake out of your yard. You’ve just trapped them in close proximity to your house.”
Trapping alligators without the proper permits and tags is illegal, so unless you’ve filled out all the paperwork, don’t do it. There are other problems, too.
“You’ve got a live alligator in a trap. How are you going to get him out,” said Harrigal. “It’s not a good idea unless you have the proper authority and you know what you’re doing.”
You won’t run afoul of the law for trapping snakes, but Dillman recommends against that as well.
“If you trap them, you’ve got to deal with a snake that is caught and put yourself in harm’s way,” said Dillman. “You see people using things like glue traps, and most of time snakes die horrible deaths. So, the traps are absolutely something we recommend against.”
Most snakes in the Lowcountry are not venomous, so Dillman suggests coexisting with them if possible. The benefits outweigh the risks, as nonvenomous snakes prey on rodents and even other snakes, and removing them can create the opportunity for less desirable critters to move in.
An ounce of prevention beats a pound of cure
Some of the best things you can do to keep your property unenticing to gators and snakes are simple.
For snakes, keep your yard mowed and free of clutter. Don’t give them places to hide.
For gators, keep potential food sources out of your yard, keep your barbecue grill in the garage when not using it, and don’t feed them, because it will give them incentive to stick around.
The other important thing, according to Harrigal, is to adjust your expectations.
“If you move to the Lowcountry of South Carolina, you have to learn to live with some things,” said Harrigal. “Snakes and alligators are part of that. It’s that simple.”