South Carolina

When Bluffton gator ‘Vinny’ was pulled from the lagoon, her fate was sealed

Vinny the alligator is removed from Bluffton lagoon after resident complaint

Vinny, an alligator popular with residents of The Villas of Old South in Bluffton, is captured and removed from his lagoon by employees of Critter Management on August 1, 2017. Joe Maffo, owner of Critter Management, said Vinny could not be reloca
Up Next
Vinny, an alligator popular with residents of The Villas of Old South in Bluffton, is captured and removed from his lagoon by employees of Critter Management on August 1, 2017. Joe Maffo, owner of Critter Management, said Vinny could not be reloca

“Vinny” was hauled out of the water and dragged onto the bank Tuesday morning, and soon the alligator’s mouth was taped shut, her legs were bound and a black strip of tape was placed over her eyes.

Plans to relocate the animal on the Villas at Old South property in Bluffton had been abandoned.

Now, Vinny was being removed from the property and, according to state regulations, would have to be killed.

Vinny would later die by a bullet to the back of the head, the most humane way, the quickest death, according to the Critter Management team that hooked and snared the animal and would later be responsible for terminating and harvesting it.

Vince “Kiki” Maffo, a member of that team, wasn’t happy about the ordeal.

He’d hoped to at least try to relocate Vinny, even though he feared that effort would fail. The property at the Villas was just too small, he said, and the 8-plus-foot alligator would make her way back to the lagoon within a matter of hours. Which would mean the problem would still exist — the lone resident who’d lodged the complaint that had triggered all of this would still feel threatened.

Maffo had talked to the complainant several times over the past month and tried to convince the man that the alligator wasn’t a threat. Those conversations went nowhere, he said. Other Villa community members said the man is wheelchair-bound and fears for his safety; while they tried to empathize with his concerns, they did not agree with his position.

On Tuesday, a reporter knocked and left a note on the complainant’s door but received no response.

Vinny, who first showed up in April, according to resident Carrie Quinn, had become a mascot of sorts to some community members.

“I have coffee with him most mornings,” Quinn said. On her first-floor balcony she’d hung a sign ahead of Tuesday’s removal: “Leave Vinny Alone! This is his home! #SAVEVINNY,” it read.

Fellow resident Linda Eastland made a sign that said, “Run, Vinny.”

Maffo, who on Monday told The Island Packet and The Beaufort Gazette that he did not feel Vinny was a threat— and that Critter Management would first try to legally relocate the animal on the premises — stood by his assessment Tuesday morning after he helped drag Vinny out of the lagoon.

Critter Management’s owner, Joe Maffo, however, had a different opinion. He felt the animal had become too comfortable around people and, given Vinny’s size and with the small area she was living in, could pose a threat.

He also said he’d seen people feeding Vinny on three occasions during the past couple of months.

Those were the factors that led him to remove the animal in accordance with state regulations, he said.

“I don’t agree with what’s going on,” Quinn said as she stood near Joe Maffo, just minutes after Vinny was taken away. “I don’t agree that Vinny’s been fed. ... But I still love (Joe Maffo), and I respect him and what he does.”

As of 3:30 p.m. Tuesday, Vinny was secured and wrapped in a tarp on the cool floor of Critter Management’s Hilton Head Island shop, according to Kiki Maffo. The alligator would be killed and harvested later in the evening. The meat would be donated, he said.

“We’re doing everything according to the law,” Kiki Maffo said.

Dean Harrigal, a wildlife biologist who’s coordinated the S.C. Department of Natural Resources’ nuisance alligator program since 1992, said the property management association at the Villas would be responsible for verifying Vinny had been removed and killed. The association holds the permit — which authorizes it to remove alligators — from the state, Harrigal explained. Critter Management is just a contractor.

The system is not perfect, Harrigal said — sometimes permit-holders don’t report what happens to alligators on their property. But they are required to apply for permits each year, and they are not issued a new one — or new tags, which document individual animals that are removed and harvested — until past tags have been accounted for. Permit-holders must submit a “harvest report” that documents where and when an alligator was removed, and whether it was buried or harvested.

On average, properties like the Villas are issued between three and seven tags each year. That number is based on historical need for alligator removal on a specific property, Harrigal said, adding that larger communities like Sea Pines might get a few more. The Villas is one property of more than 50 from Colleton County south that hold permits from SCDNR.

Last year in Beaufort County, 85 permits and 322 tags were issued by SCDNR, according to agency wildlife biologist and alligator program coordinator Jay Butfiloski. A total of 55 alligators were reported “taken,” or killed, in the county, he said, with most of those occurring in developed areas such as the Villas.

Since 1985, the first year of record, there have been just 11 alligator attacks on people in the county, Butfiloski said. None were fatal.

Vinny is not the first gator to live in the lagoon near Quinn’s and Eastland’s condos. “Gaston” and “Big Mama” were predecessors, the latter of which disappeared after Hurricane Matthew.

Quinn worries what will happen if another alligator inhabits the lagoon — will it have to be killed and removed, too?

“It’s over, and it is what it is,” she said.

“But I don’t understand how one man can complain and the alligator ends up dead.”

Wade Livingston: 843-706-8153, @WadeGLivingston