State Department of Natural Resources regional biologist Dean Cain said it’s natural for lake visitors and those who live on the lake to be curious about gators.
He said it’s natural for the youngest of the cold-blooded reptiles to be curious about humans.
“But they’re naturally afraid of us,” Cain said. “And we like to keep it that way. It keeps people safe.”
He said even one instance of feeding a gator can ruin that natural-born fear.
“A lot of the calls we get where there has been a gator bite or incident, we are able to trace back to when someone fed the gator,” Cain said. “Even just once, it can take away that fear, and then when the gator sees another human, it expects to be fed.”
Generally, Cain said gators will avoid humans, even those thrashing around in the water.
“We’re a lot bigger than what they might typically eat, like raccoons or young deer in the water,” Cain said.
He said boaters or kayakers have little to fear from the animals.
“If they’re in the water and you pass them, they will typically freeze in place, or they’ll swim away,” Cain said. “If they’re on land and you encounter them, even if they’re sunning, they will typically get back in the water to avoid you.”
He said lake-dwellers should be more cautious of one of the region’s more dangerous reptiles – water moccasins.
“Really, what I’d be more afraid of is a water moccasin,” Cain said. “If you happen to be in an area where a water moccasin is, it’s pretty easy to sneak up on one and not know it. I’d be much more concerned about these snakes than with any problem situation with an alligator.”
Cain said water moccasins can be found near any body of water, but typically hide in brush or cover near the water.
“If you have a clear yard at your lake home or property they’re not likely to come in that clearing,” Cain said. “But in the morning or evening, you could see one anywhere down by the water’s edge. And if you see one before you get up on it, it’s best to avoid that area and just get away.”
Cain said the lake rarely has incidents with either animals, but it’s best to be cautious.
“In 98 years of keeping records in the state of South Carolina on this matter, we’ve never had a natural fatality of a human with an alligator,” Cain said. “There’s never been anyone that’s been struck and died on the edge of the water.”
Cain said typically the larger alligators are “large for a reason.”
“The ones you see that are 10- and 11-feet long, they’re probably 30 to 35 years old,” Cain said. “They didn’t get that old by being stupid. If they haven’t been fed by a human before, they’re going to stay away.”