Even in the Lowcountry, many spook easily at the sight of a gator, but instances of them posing a threat are rare, according to Joe Maffo, owner of Critter Management in Hilton Head Island.
“We get lots of calls to come out and investigate each year, but we don’t remove very many,” said Maffo, who investigates, relocates, and, removes alligators in the Lowcountry.
Maffo provides his services to private citizens, businesses, property managers, homeowners associations, state and local governments, and occasionally directly to the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources. He estimates that in any given year, he might remove four or five alligators, but he receives about 15 or 16 calls a week to investigate gator sightings.
In nuisance or emergency situations, gators can either be removed or relocated, due to a recent change in state law. It used to be illegal in South Carolina to relocate an alligator.
Removal means that a gator has been put down, whereas relocation is just that. A permit is required for either course of action, and a tag is required in addition to a permit to remove a gator. Permits and tags can be acquired for free through the SCDNR.
Roughly 55 alligators were removed in Beaufort County in 2016. That is slightly less than the 64 removed in 2015.
For comparison, in nearby Charleston County, 102 alligators were removed in 2016, and 84 in 2015. Statewide, 2016 saw the removal of 251 alligators, while 294 were removed in 2015.
Once an alligator is killed, its hide and other parts can be sold if properly tagged and labeled, as can meat once it has been processed and inspected at an approved alligator processing facility. Those who removed the gators can also keep the meat, hide and other parts for themselves or give them away as gifts as long as they meet tagging and labeling requirements.
When gators are relocated, it is never over long distances, according to Jay Butfiloski, certified wildlife biologist for the SCDNR.
“They have a homing instinct,” said Butfiloski. “They try to return back to where they’re from, so they have the potential to become a problem alligator again.”
Preventing this issue is at the core of why gators are only relocated in a tight radius from where they are found, usually in the same body of water that the gator came from. Moving an alligator 10 miles away doesn’t mean it won’t come back, it just means it has further to travel.
If someone spots a gator in their yard, they could be forgiven for thinking it is an emergency. Most times, this is not the case, Butfiloski said.
Unless an alligator is posing an immediate threat, it is classified as a nuisance gator. Butfiloski gives examples of gators sitting in front of front doors, under cars in garages, or in the middle of traffic as emergencies. In those situations, SCDNR will contact an expert like Maffo directly.
If a gator is merely in your yard, then you will be expected to contact someone for removal or relocation, and to contact the state for the proper permits and tags before you do.