Kiawah Island Digest June 2020 - Page 6

ISLAND WILDLIFE Living With Kiawah’s Prehistoric Predator You should never approach an alligator. On the golf course, the USGA’s rules of golf allow for relief under the Dangerous Animal Condition (16.2). are near pond edges, interpreting them as prey. Imagine the world 150 million years ago and you’re probably going to think of one thing: dinosaurs. Some recognizable names from that epoch are the 80-ton Brachiosaurus and the earliest known bird ancestor, Archaeopteryx. Another name from that period is even more familiar to residents and visitors to the American southeast: alligator. Look around the Lowcountry today and you’ll see American alligators haven’t changed all that much from their ancient ancestors. Alligators are ectothermic: they depend on an outside source for their body heat. As a result, an alligator’s activity level varies with the outside temperature. The spring, summer and late fall are when alligators are the most active, as their bodies are warm enough for more movement. People often see them lying in sunny spots, immobile. This can make people assume they are lazy or slow, but they are neither. Alligators are efficient predators, and these carnivores prey on any animal that is available. According to the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources (SC DNR), juvenile alligators (less than 4 feet) eat crustaceans, snails, and small fish. Sub-adults (4 to 6 feet) eat fish, crustaceans, small mammals, and birds. Adults (greater than 6 feet) eat fish, mammals (including deer, cats and dogs), turtles, birds, and other alligators. Due to strength and speed, alligators can attack pets that Alligators generally begin courting in April, followed by mating in late May and early June. During this time, you may hear the males bellowing in ponds, signaling to the females that they are ready to mate. In June and July, female alligators are laying eggs and creating nests in secluded areas. All of these behaviors can lead to increased alligator activity, such as crossing roads and leisure trails. While it’s always important to put distance between you and an alligator, please be especially mindful in April through July. The American alligator is a protected species and, in South Carolina, it is illegal to harass, feed or relocate an alligator. Limited hunting and euthanasia of nuisance individuals is allowed with the oversight of SC DNR. KIAWAH AND ALLIGATORS Living with alligators requires vigilant awareness, respect and caution. Kiawah was intentionally developed to integrate closely with our incredible natural surroundings and wildlife, and with that, precautions must be taken. Alligators are naturally fearful of humans and will retreat in close proximity, unless they have been fed or harassed. Alligator attacks are rare, with only three known fatalities ever reported in South Carolina, but these animals must be treated with caution. Never approach an alligator, whether on a path or on a golf course. Keep children and pets away from pond edges. The town and community association share the responsibilities of alligator management in a coordinated effort. Over the last decade, Kiawah’s alligator population has remained relatively stable, which indicates a healthy ecosystem with balanced 6 | KIAWAH ISLAND DIGEST