June 8, 2014

Hilton Head Islander speaks up for the seized gargantuan gator

Douglas N. Skelly wants to put some flesh on the mammoth alligator recently removed from Hilton Head Island.

He says if everyone knew "Big Al" as well as he has for the past decade, they would be upset the gator was bothered.

Skelly's company manages the condominium complex where the gator that measured at 12 feet, 8 inches long lived. He stayed in a large lagoon bordering a Port Royal Plantation golf course, where Skelly has observed the rotund gator "doing his gatorly things without getting into trouble."

The gator suns itself and keeps its distance from residents and golfers nearby, he said.

"We've had no complaints on him," Skelly said. "You don't get to be 50-plus years old like Big Al if you're aggressive."

Skelly said he doesn't tolerate aggressive gators. He's had plenty of them destroyed.

He also says Joe Maffo of Critter Management should not be criticized or punished for sparing Big Al's life. Maffo said he released the gator in the New River rather than destroy it.

Big Al is legendary at The Legends complex on Union Cemetery Road. Skelly said people liked to stare in awe at his "extraordinary size, his barrel chest and wonderful armor."

You don't destroy an animal like that because it crossed the road looking for love, he said.

"I see it from the humanitarian point of view," Skelly said. "Here's an animal that has been around from about the time Charles Fraser started developing this island and somehow survived it all. In my opinion, sparing its life was the right thing to do."


Big Al had his own Facebook page five years ago when he ambled across the street and residents thought he might be destroyed.

But it's hard even for a gargantuan gator to make a splash in the deep lagoon of Lowcountry alligator legends.

The Elvis of alligators on Hilton Head is Albert. His legend lives on in a statue in the Compass Rose Park. Albert was cajoled into coming out of a lagoon 52 years ago when the Saturday Evening Post snapped a picture of him with Charles Fraser strutting at his side. It was a quirk that helped the young developer draw attention to Sea Pines when he couldn't afford advertising.

According to the cocktail circuit, Albert left the island in disgrace after an incident with a dachshund and spent his last years in exile at the Atlanta zoo.

More recently, a picture of a gator standing on its hind legs, appearing to ring the doorbell at a Sun City Hilton Head home, went viral.

A gator once knocked on the door of the St. Luke's church, testing the faith of all within.

One of my favorites is the legend of "Bestie," the orange alligator. So stunning was the sight at the edge of Lake Best in Hilton Head Plantation that we ran a picture of it on the front page -- before we could print in color.

The gator looked spray-painted when Leah Arthur spotted it. She zipped over to the Plantation House, where she told the activities director, "Arlene, I swear I'm not drunk, but there's an orange alligator out there, and you have to see this."

Todd Ballantine solved the mystery. He said the gator hibernated in a type of mud known as Ridgeland soil that is sandy and yellow. When the damp material was exposed to air and sun, the iron in it rusted. And we got orange gators.

We've seen gators lassoed in the ocean, and prowling the shores of the May River.

And then there was the day that Ted Carousso hit his golf ball off to the left of a Spanish Wells fairway. It bounced off a tree, ran down a lagoon bank and into the mouth of a 7-foot gator.

He took a penalty stroke for unplayable lie, but said: "In a sense, I got a hole in one."


Big Al lived because he minded his own business.

It's a shame people cannot be that smart.

The biggest problem is that people feed alligators. That makes them aggressive. It was outlawed in 1984.

The other problem is people moving in on alligator habitat and then wondering why they're here.

The most important thing we've learned about living with gators is to keep ourselves and our dogs away from water's edge. Gators are brutal on dogs. I have spared you the horror stories.

Before the state allowed nuisance gators to be removed and shot by people licensed to do it, hundreds of gators were hauled off to the New River or the Savannah Wildlife Refuge.

They used to tag the gators when they were moved. That proved that gators like to ramble. An alligator captured on Edisto Island and released in the Savannah Wildlife Refuge was found a year later on Hilton Head. Gators were known to travel 40 miles or more to get back home.

Maybe Big Al is headed back this way.

Like it or not, we share the same home with gators, and a lot of other wildlife.

We need to be like Big Al and keep our distance.

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