Warm weather prompts early alligator appearances in Myrtle Beach

Alligators are responding to the warm spring weather and making appearances earlier than normal along Myrtle Beach area waterways, according to state wildlife officials.

With air temperatures warmer than the water, the prehistoric reptiles can be seen crawling from ponds at local golf courses including The Witch Golf Club, sunning on the cropped emerald fairways and watching steely eyed as golf carts roll along winding pathways through pristine wetlands.

“We make sure we stay away,” said Don Burrell, who causally played past a juvenile gator within feet of the cart path, and another 12-foot adult gator lounging by a waterway.

“We don’t approach them at all, we’re not stupid,” said Burrell, a visitor from Middleborough, Massachusetts.

His golfing partner Bill Quinn admits that part of the charm of The Witch Club are the alligators, which was the reason they chose to play the course Friday afternoon.

Quinn joked that his partner was thinking about wrestling one of the creatures but wisely decided against it.

Hank Shilds, a golf associate at the club, said not all golfers are smart enough to keep their distance.

“If you don’t bother them, then they don’t bother you,” Shilds said. “But some guys have had a few drinks and tried to grab their tails. That’s a K.O. punch if you ever did get their tail. They would just take you in the water and drown you.”

Most golfers show good sense and leave the creatures alone, said Shilds, who noted that the population at the course has increased significantly since the October flood, now numbering nearly 20.

“Absolutely they’re out earlier this year, and with more babies,” Shilds said.

Derrell Shipes, chief of statewide wildlife programs for the S.C. Natural Resources Department, said that alligators will be sticking to the shores more until the water temperatures rise.

“Right now they are really excited about getting in some sun, just like the turtles – it makes them feel good,” Shipes said.

Shipes warned that the creatures’ increased activity means that children and small dogs should be not be allowed to swim where alligators are known to inhabit.

“Little barking dogs can be attractive to alligators,” Shipes said. “Typically, they won’t leave the water to get them, but I would not let a little dog swim in the vicinity of an alligator.”

A 100-pound alligator was captured this week and put down after killing an 85-pound husky dog on Hilton Head Island. Animal management officials suspect that the gator had been fed by humans, which Shipes said makes the reptile even more dangerous.

“The only dangerous alligator is one that’s been fed, or if you corner them,” Shipes said. “An alligator that is being fed by people in the wild becomes a dangerous alligator because they lose their fear of people.

“These animals are not that bright, and if it’s the right size child, or dog, and it’s not afraid of people, that’s a dangerous situation,” Shipes said.

Audrey Hudson: 843-444-1765, @AudreyHudson

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