RALEIGH, N.C. (April 25, 2016) — As the weather warms and alligator sightings become more numerous, the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission reminds the public that feeding, harassing or killing alligators is illegal in North Carolina and offers tips on how to co-exist peacefully with these large reptiles.
Alligators are found throughout the coastal region of the state in bay lakes, rivers, creeks, marshes, swamps and ponds. They are relatively shy and secretive and, in North Carolina, are rarely a threat to humans. However, as development continues to spread into the wildland used by alligators, interactions between humans and alligators have become more commonplace.
Negative interactions with alligators often occur when people either intentionally or unintentionally feed them, which causes them to associate humans with an easy meal.
“To prevent conflicts with alligators, people should never feed ducks, geese, other waterfowl and fish in areas where alligators have been seen,” said Private Lands Program Coastal Plain Supervisor Evin Stanford. “Likewise, anglers should throw away fish scraps instead of throwing them on the ground or back in the water.”
Stanford recommends the following tips to avoid negative interactions with alligators:
“Really, the most important thing people can do when they see an alligator is to leave it alone,” Stanford said. “Do not approach it or follow it, or harass in any way. Usually, it will move along on its own within a few hours to a few days.
“Simply seeing an alligator is not cause for alarm, as they are a natural part of the ecosystem in many coastal plain areas. Unless the alligator is being fed, is approaching people, and/or shows other signs that it has lost general fear of humans, there is no reason for actions to be taken to remove the alligator from the area.”
On rare occasions an alligator can cause a situation that does require immediate action, such as when it becomes trapped in a swimming pool or wanders into a public road and refuses to move. In those cases, only an authorized wildlife biologist or wildlife officer can remove it legally. However, a resolution signed by wildlife commissioners in February directed the agency to look at ways it could utilize the skills and expertise of North Carolina’s sportsmen to provide assistance in removing alligators under nuisance or depredation circumstances.
“Under no circumstances should people attempt to remove an alligator on their own, either by harassing or killing the animal,” Stanford said. “Not only is it dangerous but it is also illegal.”
While hunting alligators is illegal in North Carolina, the Commission recognized that, in some areas at least, the distribution and relative abundance of alligators has increased, along with an increased interest in hunting in areas where alligator harvest is sustainable. The Commission is creating an alligator task force, which will be charged with developing the first North Carolina Alligator Management Plan and recommending a framework for gathering public input on the plan.
Alligators in North Carolina
The American alligator is listed as “threatened due to similarity of appearance” by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, even in states with dense populations of alligators. This listing is due to their similar appearance to the American crocodile, which is critically endangered, and at risk due to the established commercial trade in alligator skins and meat in other states. In North Carolina, which is the northern extent of its range, the American alligator is state-listed as threatened.
Because of the state’s relatively colder climate, North Carolina’s alligators have a relatively short “growing season” compared to those in more southern states. Animals less than 6 feet grow about 4 inches a year while larger alligators grow about 3 inches a year. Females generally grow to less than 9 feet and males grow to between 12 to 13 feet and weigh 500 pounds or more. Adults usually are solitary but congregate together, particularly during the breeding season, which, in North Carolina, occurs in May and June. Females lay between 30 and 45 eggs and will actively guard the nest until eggs hatch approximately 60 days later. They become more active as temperatures warm in early spring and will remain active, relatively speaking, through the early fall.
They are opportunistic feeders and will eat just about anything that gets too close to their powerful jaws — from turtles and fish to birds and mammals. Humans, however, aren’t typically a part of their diet, and attacks on humans are rare.
For more information on alligators in North Carolina, read the Commission’s “Coexisting with Alligators” and American Alligator wildlife profile.
To report instances of poaching, harming, harassing or intentionally feeding alligators, call the Wildlife Commission’s Enforcement hotline, 1-800-662-7137. Instances of poaching also can be reported through the agency’s new Turn-in Poachers program.
Jodie B. Owen