Residents of Coastal Georgia should not be surprised to see alligators in ponds, creeks or large drainage ditches, said David Mixon, regional supervisor with Georgia Department of Natural Resources’ game-management operation.
“It’s OK to expect gators in any body of water on the Georgia coast,” he said. “We have quite a significant population of gators here.”
An Aug. 1 article in the Courier about the attempted removal of an alligator in a drainage pond at the Griffin Park subdivision prompted several people to post comments on the Courier’s Facebook page about alligator sightings or alligators that had to be removed from private local ponds.
However, Mixon said it’s not unusual for young alligators to be found in small ponds, even in urban areas. They probably were not placed there by someone as some might suppose, he said. Gators tend to relocate to other ponds in order to find water sources, he said.
“Young gators leave larger bodies of water to look for a safe haven where they’re not preyed on by larger gators,” he said. “They’re not afraid to go through the woods looking for another water source. When they find one — even if it’s in a subdivision — and it doesn’t have any large gators to flee from or compete with, they stay where they feel safe.”
He said gators can grow up to a foot each year until they’re about 8 years old, depending on their environment and food sources. He said there’s really no need to see them as a threat until they’re more than 4 feet long. Smaller alligators tend to feed on fish and small turtles, he said.
Hinesville Downtown Development Authority Executive Director Michelle Ricketson said the city had four alligators removed from its ponds at Bryant Commons a week ago. She emphasized that removing the 3- and 4-foot gators mostly was a precautionary measure as children sometimes fish in the park’s ponds. There was no specific threat, she said.
Liberty County Animal Control reported they do not respond to calls regarding nuisance wildlife, especially alligators. Instead, they usually refer callers to the DNR or a licensed trapper. Hinesville Police Officer Michael Shirley attempted to capture the 5-foot gator found at Griffin Park. He was unable to catch it, so DNR was notified. Ricketson said she recently watched a news report about a local trapper and decided to call an expert to catch the gators at Bryant Commons. She called trapper Jack Douglas of Savannah.
“All four of those gators were released back in the river because they were under 6 feet long,” Douglas said. “State law says you can’t kill one under 4 feet long, but I usually won’t kill one under 6 foot, although I did have to put down a 5 footer over near Bamboo Gardens the other morning. It had been hit by a car while crossing the road at 2:30 in the morning. Gators usually move like that at night. They like to shy away from ponds with larger gators because those old male bull gators will eat the smaller ones.”
Douglas explained that his method of capturing a gator, “snagging,” is the most humane way to catch and relocate nuisance critters, which he said usually aren’t a nuisance. However, people are afraid of gators, regardless their size, he said. He uses a weighted treble hook on a long line that snags the gator. He pulls it in, and then tapes its mouth shut. Sometimes he has to tie the gator’s legs back as well.
Douglas said he had been “running traps” for years, catching other nuisance animals like bobcats, raccoons and coyotes. The 68-year-old veteran said he started catching gators in 1989.
“I’ve always been outdoors, deer hunting, bird hunting — that sort of thing — all my life,” he said. “I served my time in the military then I came home and went back to doing what I love.”
One day, while he was hunting near Richmond Hill, he said met a man who was skinning an alligator he’d just trapped. Douglas was hooked on a new career.
According to his website, www.trapperjacksavannah.com, in addition to trapping nuisance animals in Georgia and South Carolina, Douglas offers guided gator hunts in four Coastal Georgia counties. “Trapper Jack” has been the subject of numerous newspaper articles and TV news programs. He will be featured in Savannah Magazine later this month. For more information about Trapper Jack or for assistance with nuisance animals, call 912-658-5594.