SWANSBORO | Swansboro resident Marilynn Cullison has seen alligators large and small around the local waterways, but it’s not their presence alone that concerns her.
Cullison lives along Deer Island Road and alligators make their home around Hawkins Creek and Dennis Creek.
“I’ve seen baby alligators and I’ve seen big ones maybe 7 or 8 feet long,” she said.
She’s also seen an apparent lack of fear of humans among the alligators that she believes is from people feeding the animals, whether they are doing so intentionally or not.
That’s the reason she attended a Wednesday night community meeting held by the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission.
“My concern is that there needs to be an education component to wildlife management,” Cullison said. “I was glad to hear they will go to schools (as requested for educational programs).”
Cullison was one of about 35 people who attended the meeting held to receive public input as the WRC and the North Carolina Alligator Task Force begin work to develop an alligator management plan for the state.
The danger of feeding alligators was discussed as the group considered potential actions that can be taken when calls come in about problem alligators.
“One of the biggest challenges we have is feeding the alligators,” said WRC Private Lands Program Coastal Plain Supervisor Evin Stanford.
Feeding alligators is illegal in North Carolina. Whether feeding alligators directly or by feeding ducks or other wildlife in areas where alligators are present, it can create a situation where the alligators associate all humans with an easy meal.
About half of those who were present indicated that education can help to address such issues while about 30 percent of those in attendance indicated in the computer survey taken during the course of the presentation that there should be greater penalties for violations.
Stanford said there is no one way to identify a “problem” alligator, and it varies widely by public perception.
That showed during discussions among the group. A couple from Pamlico County said they have concerns about the safety of their children and grandchildren because of the presence of alligators around where they live and would rather they not be there.
Another person indicated he likes seeing the alligators.
Stanford said that seeing an alligator isn’t necessarily a reason to be alarmed, but there are situations when there may need to be a response to an interaction.
Stanford said that when they receive calls about an alligator sighting or interaction they first assess whether it’s an emergency or non-emergency situation. Situations requiring immediate action may include an alligator that has shown a loss of fear of humans; one that has wandered onto a roadway and isn’t leaving; or one stuck in a swimming pool a garage or another place outside of its natural habitat.
When there is a threat, most agreed that the alligator should be relocated.
From 2014 to August of this year, there were four alligators relocated in Onslow County, two in Jones County, 17 in New Hanover County and 45 in Brunswick County.
The number of reports made to WRC and relocations that occur correspond with the more urban areas and the southern coastal counties where most of North Carolina’s alligators are found.
However, WRC officials said more research is needed on the alligator population in North Carolina, particularly their reproductive life in North Carolina.
Allen Boynton, Wildlife Diversity Program Coordinator, said alligators are sexually mature when they reach about six feet long — it is believed that is about 15 to 18 years of age in alligators in North Carolina. However, the data they have is limited and there are alligators in Gulf states said to reach sexual maturity at 6 to 10 years.
“I think this is one of the most important things we need to study: to find out how quickly alligators here can reproduce,” Boynton said.
About 80 percent of those in attendance indicated they believe hunting could help in the conservation of the alligator population, though the issue of an alligator hunting season was not discussed at length.
Boynton said that if there is a proposal for limited alligator hunting, those rules would be adopted through a different process.
The draft of the alligator management plan is to be completed by the spring.