June 3, 2014

Whopper gator found Hilton Head so nice it came back twice

Joe Maffo got a call from Beaufort County emergency dispatch at about 1:30 a.m. May 31. Someone saw a large alligator on Old Cemetery Road and called 911.

What Maffo saw upon arriving was not just a large alligator. It was the largest alligator he had ever encountered since arriving on Hilton Head Island in 1982.

"Ten guys couldn't pick it up," Maffo said. He estimated it weighed more than 1,000 pounds; was 12 feet, 8 inches long; and was probably at least 50 years old.

Maffo tied it to a fence and nearby trees until a wrecker could be summoned to haul it away.

"We moved it to Broad Creek," he said. "I thought it would go to Daufuskie. It headed to sea and I thought we'd never see it again.

"Next morning, we got calls it had come back, to Blue Heron Creek."

Maffo said Tuesday it's mating season and gators are on the hunt for mates. He said he had 10 gator calls so far Tuesday.

At Blue Heron Creek, the lie of the land made it impossible to haul the massive alligator back onto the wrecker. An intrepid onlooker with a WaveRunner helped out, hauling the gator around to a boat launch by Sunset Grille.

This time, Maffo's team brought the alligator to the New River Levy at the Savannah Wildlife Refuge and put it back in the water.

It is protocol for wildlife management professionals to kill nuisance gators, but Maffo said high-profile protests of recent gator kills made him wary.

He said in this case, the alligator wasn't being a nuisance, it was looking for a mate.

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