Why a Hilton Head man wrangled a 10-foot alligator by himself — and wasn't arrested
A Hilton Head man known for wearing a chicken suit to slow down speeding drivers now faces a state charge after he captured and moved a 10-foot alligator and posted a video of the rescue on Facebook.
Logan Cambron put the heart-racing, seven-minute video on Facebook Tuesday showing how he transported, treated and released a huge, tied-up alligator he found injured on a bike path on Hilton Head Island’s south end.
In the video, the angry alligator snaps, growls and roars as it whips its massive tail while Cambron frees it from the blankets and tape that bind its mouth and legs before releasing the monstrous creature back into the wild.
Cambron repeatedly advises viewers, "Don’t try this at home." In the video, he admits he's a "dumb a--" for wrangling a large alligator alone with little experience. He said the alligator appears aggressive only because it was just captured.
"If you just leave alligators alone, they will leave you alone," he said, explaining that he posted the video "to educate the public" about the Lowcountry icons.
At one point, the alligator chomps down on the blanket Cambron uses to chase the 10-foot animal back into the water.
"Go get in your pond!" Cambron bellows at the hissing creature, staring straight at him from just a few feet away.
Eventually, the alligator retreats and backs in to the pond.
Cambron yells out a "Woo!” and then shows off his battle wounds — a few lacerations and a swollen hand.
Cambron didn't think he did anything illegal when he posted the video.
Several of his friends praised him for his conservation efforts in the comment section.
But South Carolina Department of Natural Resources officials didn't. They launched an investigation after seeing the video.
"This case is a good example of someone who probably had good intentions, but what he did was illegal and very dangerous," DNR spokesman David Lucas said. "And he didn't understand the law."
And now is the time of year when everyone should.
South Carolina alligators are in prime mating season this week. DNR receives a flood of phone calls for nuisance alligators at this time of year — which is part of the reason why this man with "good intentions" but little to no experience ended up wrestling, capturing and transporting an alligator by himself — with some "approval" from authorities.
Confusion on scene
When Cambron saw emergency vehicles and first responders surrounding the gator off the side of Palmetto Road on Tuesday, he said his "vigilante" instincts kicked in. He wanted to help.
"My parents raised me to try to help out people whenever I can," he said. "I drive around for work a lot and am always pulling over to help tourists change a bike chain or whatever."
The mature alligator was likely moving between ponds looking for a mate when it ended up on the popular bike path next to a very busy, five-lane road.
The reptile had been cut by the fence. The animal was stressed out and surrounded by humans who were trying to get photos.
“People were getting too close to this alligator, and we were worried if we left the alligator there, it would go into traffic, and we saw how dangerous that is this week,” Hilton Head Fire and Rescue Deputy Chief Chris Blankenship said, referring to the mother and two children who were killed on I-95 in South Carolina Monday after hitting an alligator.
Cambron, who has volunteered with Critter Management, a DNR-certified company that removes problem gators in Beaufort County, pulled over at the scene near his neighborhood. He told first responders he could “take care of the alligator,” according to a Hilton Head Fire and Rescue report.
A deputy on scene called DNR to see if agents could relocate the alligator, but all of them were tied up at the time, Lucas and the Beaufort County Sheriff's Office confirmed.
“It would have taken hours for them to get there,” Lucas said.
In South Carolina, it’s illegal to relocate or remove an alligator without a permit. Even with one, it’s illegal to transport an alligator from one property to another, which is why DNR rarely relocates nuisance alligators, Lucas said.
But permits were not discussed Tuesday, according to Cambron and Fire and Rescue’s incident report.
Blankenship was on scene and later told The Island Packet he didn’t know a permit was required to transport an alligator.
Cambron then called Critter Management and got permission to remove the animal, Blankenship said.
“He handed me the phone, and I talked to a woman who said she’s with Critter Management and Cambron had permission to remove the alligator,” Blankenship said.
Dana Maffo, Critter Management's operator, said she told firefighters on scene that she knew and trusted Cambron but did not mention anything about a permit.
“Somehow (Cambron) convinced (authorities) that he could do this and resolve the situation,” Lucas said. “I think they did what they thought was right at the time. It was a mistake on their part.”
Cambron got a blanket from his truck and played the part of an amateur alligator wrangler. He threw blanket over its head and mounted the alligator, according to the report.
“(I) landed my whole left hand ... on the ceiling of the alligators mouth,” he said.
He said he was able to pull his hand out — miraculously — without landing on any teeth or getting his hand ripped off.
Firefighters then helped him keep the mouth shut with medical tape, the incident report said, while making sure the animal could breathe.
"Taping the alligator’s mouth was the worst part,” Cambron said.
The stressed alligator snapped at his hand a few times. A firefighter was injured while tying and loading it in Cambron’s truck, but Blankenship said that injury was minor.
Three firefighters helped Cambron load the animal. He said they tried and failed three times before getting it into the bed of a pickup.
Blankenship said he didn’t think anything was out of the ordinary about letting a bystander, who didn’t have a permit, leave a scene with a live 10-foot alligator in the back of his truck.
“I've been on several of these calls over my career, and I didn’t think it was odd,” Blankenship said.
Joe Maffo, who has owned and operated Critter Management for years, said he would never recommend anyone alone capturing, transporting or releasing an alligator of that size — even someone with years of experience.
“You need at least two or three guys to do that, who have a permit in hand,” Maffo explained.
Fueled by adrenaline, Cambron drove away, unsure where to take the alligator.
So he headed home, parked in the shade for a few minutes, checked to make sure the alligator was still breathing, and called a couple experts who told him to take the alligator to the nearest lagoon and release it.
A tale of two gators
Just a few hours before the incident on Hilton Head, an alligator made an appearance in the morning drop-off line at May River High School.
In that case, legal protocol was followed.
DNR officials were called to the scene, and the alligator was captured by a licensed control agent who determined the animal was a nuisance and killed it.
“Our control agents have criteria to look at for determining (whether) to euthanize or relocate the alligator,” Lucas said. “With these nuisance calls, the vast majority ends in the animal being euthanized when they are removed.”
DNR gets between 1,300-1,500 complaints about alligators every year.
“Most of these are from tourists who aren’t educated about alligators," Lucas said. "They will call us just when they see an alligator in a pond.”
Only about 300 of those alligators are determined to be a nuisance animals, he said.
Lucas said agents consider the size, level of aggression and distance the alligator traveled, among other factors, when determining whether the alligator should be killed.
Agents also consider their safety, Lucas said, and the risk of moving an alligator a large size. Agents who kill the alligators are allowed to harvest the meat and hide at a DHEC-approved facility and keep the money.
"Alligators will travel miles, no matter where you move them, and find their way home," Lucas explained. "So relocating a problematic alligator is really just moving the problem around."
In the Lowcountry, roughly 100 alligators are ruled as "nuisance alligators" every year.
“Of all those calls, only about five alligators are relocated,” Lucas said.
Still, alligator attacks remain low in South Carolina.
“Since 1976, there have only been 20 incidents that we’re aware of,” Jay Butfiloski, a DNR wildlife biologist, told The Island Packet last year.
There are roughly 100,000 alligators in South Carolina, the Washington Post reported.
Lucas said that, if protocol had been followed with the Hilton Head alligator on Tuesday, chances are “highly likely” the alligator would have been killed.
DNR has concluded its investigation, and Cambron will be the only individual facing charges, Lucas said.
He was fined $105. He could have been jailed for 30 days.
“Officers said Cambron meant well, but he didn’t understand the law,” Lucas said. “People need to know that you can’t do anything to an alligator if you don’t have a permit issued by us. The law is clear.”
Cambron said he’s learned his lesson but is glad his “stupid” actions likely saved the life of the alligator.
"I'll definitely never go touch an alligator again without a permit," he said.
Cambron's video remains on Facebook. He said he posted it for educational purposes.
“I want people to watch the video and see how irritated that alligator is with me. It never chased me and hardly lunged at me,” Cambron said. “It shows how these animals truly want nothing to do with us, and we can easily coexist with these creatures as long as we don’t feed them, keep our distance, and leave them alone.”
Cambron wishes the law restricting alligator relocations would change.
“I could have easily lost my hand doing this, but it would have been worth it," he said.
Cambron went to the doctor the next day and said he was lucky to not have any serious injuries.
DNR officials urge the public to keep its distance from alligators and never feed them.
If you see an aggressive or dangerous alligator in Beaufort County, contact a DNR official at (803) 625-3569.