MONCKS CORNER - An alligator bit a woman walking on a trail Monday at Cypress Gardens, but her injuries did not appear to be serious, authorities said.
The alligator was sunning itself on the edge of a nature trail when an elderly couple encountered it about 3 p.m., said Cpl. Russ Monnet, a wildlife agent with the S.C. Department of Natural Resources.
"It was a very narrow trail, about two feet wide, with water on both sides," Monnet said. "Her husband was walking in front of her. He may have startled the alligator. She doesn't know if she stepped on it or not."
The woman, whose name was not released, had a single puncture wound to her leg and another puncture wound to her hand, Monnet said. The woman fell down after being bitten on the leg, and that's when the alligator nipped her hand, he said.
Asked how big the alligator was, Monnet said the estimates varied from 3 to 6 feet long. No one except the victim and her husband had seen the creature, he said. The alligator fled quickly. "It was scared, probably just as scared as the people were," he said.
The woman was able to walk away from the encounter, Monnet said.
The visitor and her husband were walking to the park's office when a park employee spotted them and summoned an ambulance, said Dwight Williams, director of Cypress Gardens. The woman was transported to Medical University Hospital.
Williams said the encounter occurred along the park's southern nature trail and it was the first case of an alligator biting a human since Berkeley County took over the park in 1996.
Once a part of a rice plantation known as Dean Hall, the 163-acre tract was bought by Benjamin R. Kittredge in 1909. In the ensuing years, he developed the gardens by planting azaleas, camellias, dogwoods, tea olives and magnolias under a canopy of cypress trees. In 1963, Kittredge deeded Cypress Gardens to the city of Charleston, which transferred ownership to Berkeley County in 1996.
Williams said he was unaware of any similar incidents prior to the transfer.
"One of the attractions of Cypress Gardens is the opportunity to see wild alligators," Williams said. He had no idea how many are in the park. "They come and go as they please."
Durham Creek and the Cooper River are adjacent to the park, and there are acres of swamps and marshes in which the alligators roam freely, he said.
Wildlife agents and a state-licensed alligator trapper were in the park for several hours after the incident, searching for the alligator that bit the woman. "It was nowhere to be found," Monnet said.
This time of year, alligators are coming out of winter hibernation, and they are not eating, Monnet said. "They will sun themselves to try to bring their metabolism back up."
The couple did nothing wrong to provoke the alligator, but the alligator did nothing wrong either, Monnet said. "This was purely a human-wild animal encounter," he said. "The alligator was trying to protect itself."
Recent encounters between alligators and humans in South Carolina have had more serious consequences. In September 2007, a 59-year-old man who was snorkeling in Lake Moultrie had his arm bitten off by a 550-pound alligator.
In October, a 77-year-old man lost his arm when he was attacked by a alligator as he bent down to pick up a ball during a round of golf on Fripp Island.