Untamed Lowcountry

Cypress Wetlands alligator to stay; signs going up to warn of dangers

Signs that will be posted at the Cypress Wetlands to warn visitors of alligators in the area.
Signs that will be posted at the Cypress Wetlands to warn visitors of alligators in the area. Staff photo

A large alligator in the Cypress Wetlands won't be going anywhere -- at least for now -- despite Port Royal Councilwoman Mary Beth Gray-Heyward's concerns a child could be attacked.

Last week, she urged town council to move against the approximately 12-foot alligator she says poses a danger to those walking in the area. Gray-Heyward said she received five phone calls from concerned citizens before bringing the issue up.

Reactions to the alligator vary widely in town. While some see it as a hazard, others find it fascinating. The Port Royal Police Department sits next to the wetlands, and police Detective Andre Massey is so taken with the animal that he nicknamed him "Charlie II," after the 12-foot gator that has lived at Joint Base Charleston for decades.

Town engineer Tony Maglione said at Wednesday's council meeting there are several things officials can do to make the area safer, starting with posting signs warning people the reptiles are there.

The town will create some of the signs while others will be obtained free of charge from the S.C. Department of Natural Resources. Total costs for the town produced signs is expected to be under $1,000. Installation is already underway, and Maglione expects them to be in place in two or three weeks.

"There are basic public education things we can do," Maglione said. "Don't feed it, don't harass it, don't touch it."

There are other options as well.

A 725-foot-long, three-and-a-half-foot-tall fence could be erected in areas with access to the water, but that would cost about $25,375, he estimated. Town manager Van Willis said that money could come from a special tax district.

If the alligator were to be removed, DNR policy requires it be killed, Maglione said. Alligators will travel long distances to return to home areas, so it moving it someplace else is not a solution, he said.

Further, if the alligator was removed, another one would likely take its place, he said.

The wetlands were designed to keep animals like alligators in the center of the habitat, away from the walkways and people, Maglione said. Most areas on the edges are shaded, which prevent the cold-blooded creatures from sunning, or have high grass and plants to create a barrier between people and wildlife.

"I think at this point, we do have a lot of eyes on the alligators because of all the visitors to the area, and if we see any unusual behavior, then that's the time to do something," Councilman Tom Klein said.

Council agreed to revisit the issue after the hatching period for birds in the wetlands. Now is a critical time for the birds, and even removing the alligator could upset them, Maglione said.

"As long as honestly this town can say we've done everything to prevent it, then we're safe, Gray-Heyward said. "But if not, then shame on us."

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