Column: The real problem isn’t the alligators - it is us

  • Posted: Sunday, June 29, 2014 12:01 a.m.
    UPDATED: Friday, July 11, 2014 2:24 p.m.

Growing up in North Augusta, I still remember what it was like to see an alligator once in a while as a child.

Back then, there was no River Club. There was certainly no Hammond’s Ferry.

I grew up on Crystal Lake Drive, a stone’s throw from what is now Hammond’s Ferry. I played as a child on the undeveloped land that is now an expensive live, work and play community. Back then, it was a pasture that led to woods, and I had to meander my way through weeds, vines and poison ivy to get to the river, or to one of many forts my brother and I built.

The land, at that time, was owned by Mrs. Haskell (now, at age 37, her first name escapes me). The land also consisted of many ponds – those that are still there today, now surrounded by homes and people.

My father told me those ponds were created by brick yard companies located there, many that predate his memory (and some his lifetime). The companies dug into the clay soil we all know too well in this area, molded the clay and fired them into bricks.

The digging of the clay created many of the ponds – hence the current name, the Brick Yard ponds. What is now used as part of a stormwater management plan in the area are these ponds.

On a lucky day, I would spot an alligator in these old ponds. I was well taught to stay away from them, and I did. But it was always a delight (and a bit frightful) to see one.

In recent days, reading the stories of the wildlife habitat in the area, how it may be affected by Project Jackson, and the many letters to the editor, I can’t help but think of those serene times – serene for me, and for the wildlife.

It hurts my heart to read what many have written; things such as “get rid of the alligators, they are dangerous to us.” The most laughable one, to me, was a letter claiming the alligators are “encroaching on our habitat.”

That way of thinking couldn’t be more wrong. The gators were there well before these developments – it is we who encroached on their habitat.

I love what Hammond’s Ferry and the River Club have brought to Aiken County and North Augusta. The jury is still somewhat out for me on Project Jackson, although I’m excited to see what it may become. I also support the City in its efforts to preserve the small bit of natural habitat that is left in the area.

And yes, I know very well the alligators are now a danger since the people – and the developments – have come.

A creature that was once held in regard as something to watch from afar has now become a creature celebrated by those who frequent the riverfront area. We have caused this problem – alligators are getting close to people because, despite all common sense, people continue to try and get close to them, feed them and think of them as part of the entertainment.

And now, people sit in wonder as they’ve noticed these alligators aren’t afraid of them anymore.

Much of the answer comes a little too late. The developments, and the people who come with it, have destroyed much of the natural habitat in the name of progress. The progress has been good, and has done wonderful things for our city.

But we can’t ignore the fallout from that progress. I still live in the same area of North Augusta, and dodge deer in the road constantly as they fight to get away from people. Those woods belonged to them first. There are plants and animals there that likely won’t survive the progress. Many of them already haven’t survived it.

My father, who still owns a pond where I grew up right outside of what is now Hammond’s Ferry, often has to deal with the gators as they flee the riverfront area to take solace in his waters. Because alligators are federally protected, he has to go to Columbia each time and secure a permit to do a live catch and release. On countless occasions, he has done just that – captured them alive and taken them to the Audubon Society area near Jackson and released them – about 20 to 30 miles away. This process still continues for him.

Alligators are territorial – generations of them have lived in that area, and now that it’s become a free lunch for them, they aren’t going to leave, even if they are removed by the City and simply relocated close by in the river. They will come back if human behavior doesn’t change.

The only solution to the problem is to examine our behavior – not the instinct of an alligator. The answer – for both the two-legged and four-legged creatures along the riverfront area, is an easy one – treat the wildlife as you are supposed to. Stay away from the gators, and eventually, many will leave and those that don’t will stay away from us. It’s actually what the gators prefer, and we should heed that instinct in them. It’s the least we can do.

Melissa Hanna is the executive editor of The Aiken Standard and The Star. Reach her at mhanna@aikenstandard.com or at 803-644-2364.

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