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Alligators in North Carolina Workshop – A mini safari without leaving the state

Jun 6

Written by:
6/6/2012 9:36 AM  RssIcon

I’m a desk jockey. I sit at my desk for 7, 8 maybe 9 hours a day cranking out information about wildlife in North Carolina. So, when I had a chance to participate in an education workshop about alligators, I jumped at the chance. After all, it isn’t every day that I get up close and personal with animals that I write about. 

I attended the recent “Alligators in North Carolina” workshop, conducted by Coastal Outreach Education Specialist Mike Campbell at Lake Waccamaw. If you’ve never attended a workshop by Campbell, I recommend doing so. He has an engaging manner and a lecture style that make the workshop informative, funny at times, and always enjoyable. Campbell began the four-hour workshop with a discussion on alligators — their habitats, habits, human interactions, ranges, mating preferences, calls, those sorts of things — an “Alligators for Dummies,” if you will.

He told us stories about some of the stupid things people do around alligators — like feed them marshmallows and then complain about the animals being a nuisance. (Just as an FYI — never, ever feed wildlife. That’s dangerous for you AND the animal.) He played sound bytes of a male alligator during mating season (yikes!) and baby alligators shortly after being born (a-w-w-w).

He explained that many people often overestimate the size of an alligator they happen upon for two reasons: 1) that’s just what people do, particularly when it comes to gators , bears and snakes; and 2) the alligator’s preference for submersion and camouflage makes it awfully hard to discern its true size. What some person might describe as a 10-foot alligator is often a mere 6-foot gator or even smaller.

So, after a question-and-answer forum, Campbell herded everyone outside for a spatial skills test of sorts. He told us the best way to determine an alligator’s length, when you only see the head in the water, is to guesstimate the space between the top of the snout and the eye sockets. Roughly speaking, one inch equals about one foot. So, if the space between the snout and eye is four inches, the alligator is likely around 4 feet or so — give or take a few inches.

Campbell placed 10 sets of two pencils spaced randomly apart and asked participants to stand approximately 10-35 feet away and guess how many inches or feet apart the two pencils were. Several people were right on target for a few of the 10 sets; but no one was right all the time. What we learned from that exercise is that unless an alligator is tied up safely and measured closely, it’s very difficult to know exactly how long it is. So don’t believe your neighbor’s best friend’s girlfriend’s uncle who said he saw an 18-foot alligator. Probably not the case.

After the pencil exercise, Campbell took everyone around to various sites in the canals around Lake Waccamaw for a “spot the gator ” excursion. Alligators are very good at camouflage — so good in fact, that it is fairly easy to miss one, if you aren’t looking carefully. We saw several alligators during our venture around the lake, as well as lots and lots of songbirds, a few wading birds and too many turtles to count.

Workshop participants — about 40 ranging in age from 20 to 80 — asked thoughtful questions, laughed quite a bit and learned a lot.

If you’re a desk jockey like me, or if you don’t get outside much for whatever reason, I highly recommend attending a workshop like this. Heck, even if you work outside all day, you still should sign up for a workshop. After all, it’s like going on a mini-safari, but without traveling outside the Tarheel state. And most workshops are free.

If you don’t care for gators — and not everyone does — the Wildlife Commission offers many, many other workshops and programs on critters that you may like. Deer, turkeys, fish, bears, bats, snakes, frogs, toads and turtles are just a few of the animals that you can learn more about at a Commission-sponsored workshop.

Our wildlife educators are here to help you learn — and appreciate — our state’s vast wildlife resources. So take a class and get to know Tarheel wildlife better. Visit our Learning page for a list of programs and workshops offered throughout the state.

Also, for more information for what to do if you come across an alligator, see our news release.

- Jodie B. Owen, communications and outreach

Division of Inland Fisheries

4 comment(s) so far...

Re: Alligators in North Carolina Workshop – A mini safari without leaving the state

I have a guide service in Wilmington- Cape Fear River Adventures- Captain Charles Robbins. One of my favorite tours is to see the gator in the old rice canals. Its a combination history lesson and wildlife adventure. Its starts at the water front downtown and is two hr, half or full day. We have a growing population of alligators, and the largest are in the 12ft. range. I've seen some that are reddish in color. We've recently too found a wood stork rookery on the Black River on one of my 3 Sisters ancient cypress tours. I would like to see some type of penalty for the people who feed the gators. I see it, i mention to them how dangerous it is, and usually get an ugly comment. Especially in Greenfield Lake here in town. Kids out in the paddle boat,canoes,kayaks,etc., are in danger at this point. What can be done at the local level to stop this feeding?

By Charles Robbins on   7/30/2012 7:27 AM

Re: Alligators in North Carolina Workshop – A mini safari without leaving the state

Hi Mr. Robbins,
There actually is a penalty. Feeding an alligator is dangerous and illegal.
See here:

Please keep reminding folks that it is dangerous, and they are subject to penalties. Feeding the animals puts people and gators in danger.

By NCWRC blogger on   7/30/2012 9:53 AM

Re: Alligators in North Carolina Workshop – A mini safari without leaving the state

I have two small gators in my pond. Who can I call to remove them? Or should I just shoot them?

By Ken S. on   8/29/2014 3:21 PM

Re: Alligators in North Carolina Workshop – A mini safari without leaving the state

Please call 1-800-662-7137 for local Wildlife Enforcement Officer contact. You should not attempt to remove them, and feeding or harassing alligators is both illegal and dangerous. Alligators are native to North Carolina. They are common along the coast and in the coastal plain region. Alligators are listed as threatened by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Alligator hunting is prohibited by state law, as is the killing of an alligator.

By NCWRC blogger on   9/2/2014 8:48 AM

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