For residents near Surf City’s canals, the sight of a crocodile floating in the water can be intriguing, but also frightening.
This is likely why a person was killed after becoming too friendly with people, according to experts. Officials from the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Authority (NCWRC) are investigating an August incident in which a 5 1/2-foot female reptile was hit in the head. He was probably about 10 to 12 years old.
Barbara Smith, the lead officer with the National Center for Women’s and Children’s Rights, said the body was found shot dead in the marsh, near the end of the Sixth Street Canal. Interviews were conducted with nearby residents to find out what happened.
“I think someone shot her just because she was around,” she said. “We’ve dealt with calls from that area. But that’s their natural habitat. They’ll be in those channels.”
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Smith said a lot of people come to places like the Canals for weekend getaways, who don’t like alligators for whatever reason.
“Of what I collected, half of them and half of them,” she said. “Half the people there love them and half the people there hate them.”
Alligators are considered a threatened species according to state laws and harming, harassing, or killing is strictly prohibited, unless in self-defense. Only certified professionals can remove them.
For Smith, this is the first time he’s investigated a crocodile murder in the Surf City area. Usually, there are one or two cases in the case of catching a poaching alligator.
“Unfortunately, this is already happening,” she said.
Too much food?
Wildlife officials emphasized that people should not feed the crocodile because it would become a major problem. When they are fed by people, they begin to associate humans with having an easy meal. Smith said that many people who visit the area may inadvertently feed them by cleaning fish and dumping scraps in the water.
The biologist at the National Center for Livestock and Plant Welfare added that ducks, geese, turtles and fish should not be fed in areas of water where the crocodile is present.
Here are some tips that NCWRC District 2 wildlife biologist Chris Kent has for people in the area.
“People have been feeding alligators in these canals all summer,” Kent said.
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Since May, Kent said he has received reports of a couple of alligators swimming to people’s sidewalks and dumping fish carcasses or other types of food at them. This is against the law, as well as being a federally protected species.
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“We want these animals to remain wild and we want them to remain shy,” he said of a collective relief with the people. “We don’t want them to get close to people and have behavior like that.”
Part of his job is to work with the crocodile, especially from April to October. In 50 years, Kent said, there have been only a handful of incidents where people have been injured by alligators in North Carolina.
“The few people I know who were bitten by an alligator in our state were all primarily responsible for their injury, because they were bitten while trying to catch or feed a crocodile,” he said. “Both activities are illegal. We are the northern part of the American alligator’s native range. They have been in our areas for millions of years.”
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He added that North Carolina is significantly lower than states such as Florida, Louisiana or Mississippi.
“When I have to go and catch them, these animals, even if they are twice my size, I usually chase after them to catch them,” he said while advising people not to cause trouble with food. “They’re trying to get away from people.”
He believes that doing so can avoid problems.
“They weren’t going to swim in the canal and go up to the docks and hang out with people on the boats,” Kent said. “This isn’t just typical behavior of a crocodile that hasn’t been fed by people. This really gets people into trouble.”
Kent continues to provide education about what to do and what not to do when they see an alligator.
“Apparently, someone felt like he was going to take his hand and take out the problem, and I really hope we catch up with those people,” Kent said.
Anyone with information is asked to call the irregularity number at 1-800-662-7137, ext 1. Callers can remain anonymous.
“They don’t have to give their names and that really helps us a lot and could be an important prize for someone willing to provide information that leads to an indictment,” Kent said.
Reporter Chase Jordan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.