Untamed Lowcountry

'New level of stupid': Visitors harass 11-foot alligator at this Beaufort County resort

Fripp Island Activity Center reported that visitors harassed a large alligator by throwing carrots at the animal Friday, April 6, 2018.  Feeding alligators is against the law in South Carolina.
Fripp Island Activity Center reported that visitors harassed a large alligator by throwing carrots at the animal Friday, April 6, 2018. Feeding alligators is against the law in South Carolina.

You never ever want to feed an alligator.

When alligators are fed by humans, they associate humans as a food resource, which makes them aggressive.

But despite state laws and efforts to educate the public, people — including tourists and locals — still continue to do it.

On Friday, Fripp Island Resort Activity Center reported that visitors threw carrots at a mature 11-foot alligator.

“This is a new level of stupid,” the resort activity center posted Friday on Facebook. “By giving these awesome prehistoric predators space, we can live along side them.”

The perpetrators who threw the carrots were lucky because the alligator didn’t respond to the harassment and “later slunk back into the water once the sun started going down,” Fripp Island naturalist Jessica Miller said.

“But, this gator could have interpreted the tossed items as food and learned people are a source of food,” Miller said. “Once that behavior is observed, the gator has to be caught and put down before that nuisance behavior turns into an attack on a person.

“That would be such a shame for this big dude,” Miller said of the large gator that is currently sharing a pond with his “girlfriend” and hatchlings from last year.

Fripp Island Resort Activity Center said this behavior of feeding or throwing food at alligators “will not be tolerated.”

“Fripp Island Security has a description of the people responsible and is on the lookout,” the Facebook post said. “The fine for harassing an alligator is $200... That's $200 per carrot in this case.”

Violators could also face up to 30 days in jail for feeding alligators if convicted, according to South Carolina state law. Only 16 tickets have been written in Beaufort County between 2012 and March 2017 for violating alligator codes, while 143 tickets throughout the state were issued during that time period. Feeding is the most common alligator code violation SCDNR officials see reported.

Miller said Saturday morning that security had not caught the people responsible. Security had to guard the gator Friday to keep people from harassing him.

Fripp Island, an island off of Beaufort, is known for its exotic wildlife, including this famous 12-foot gator that calls the resort community home.

"Many of our big gators have no response to humans other than to slink away when they get too close," Miller said. "But, the closer people get to him, the more habituated he will get to them and it will become more likely that this gator acts out of defense."

South Carolina alligators move more in the springtime, as they make their way into warmer waters after hibernating during the winter, and their movement patterns change as it gets closer to mating season. But that's no reason to worry, experts say.

"These animals are really simple," Miller said. "They like to be in their water or bask right by it. We just need to stay back. When they do move pond to pond, the big ones like this know exactly where they are going, and their destination is the only thing on their mind."

Alligator attacks are extremely rare in South Carolina. Wildlife experts say that most alligator attacks occur when humans behave irresponsibly by feeding, poking, or swimming near alligators.

“Since 1976 there have only been 20 incidents that we’re aware of,” Jay Butfiloski, certified wildlife biologist for the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources, told the Island Packet last year.

Adair Long posted cellphone video on Facebook showing an alligator sitting on Interstate 295 in Jacksonville, Florida as drivers passed by on Sunday, April 1, 2018.