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Pawleys Island: Gator’s 15 minutes of fame are its last

By Charles Swenson
Coastal Observer

Shane Boylan and his wife DuBose Griffin were headed to the beach to surf Sunday morning when a man screamed at them: “There’s a gator out there.”

“If they’re in the saltwater, they’re sick,” Boylan said. “The animal was so weak it could barely fight.”

Boylan, who is the veterinarian at the S.C. Aquarium, offered to help. It was the first time in a decade of dealing with nuisance alligators that Rachel Lankford had a vet on hand. “You tire him out a bit for me,” she told Boylan.

It wasn’t the first gator she’s taken off the beach. It wasn’t the biggest. But it might be the most celebrated. She was interviewed live on Fox News. Pawleys Island Police Chief Mike Fanning took calls from USA Today and a television station in Boston. To his friends, Fanning quipped that “the alligators are in the water to keep the sharks away.” But that theme seemed to underlie much of the online discussion.

Ray White, whose cellphone video of the capture, was part of the viral Internet buzz got calls from as far away as London. “I felt like Marlin Perkins,” he said, referring to the TV zoologist, narrating an animal adventure.

“We’ve caught hundreds of alligators like this,” Lankford said. “It’s weird that it’s been like this. I guess it’s social media.”

The alligator was spotted in the surf a couple of hours before it was landed. It tried to come in a couple of times, but turned back because of the crowd. “It was high tied and he was working hard on trying to beach himself,” Lankford said. Because of the people “he had no place to come in.”

One man told Boylan the gator had chased him.

He and Lankford agreed the most likely scenario was that the alligator was swept out of an inlet by the high tide that accompanied the full moon. While a juvenile might wander from freshwater in search of territory, that’s rare for an adult, Boylan said.

At another time and on another beach, the gator would have found its way to shore and then to freshwater. “They can smell freshwater if they’re on land,” he said.

Police, who had tracked the gator, called Lankford, co-owner of Carolina Exterminators. She hooked it with a rod and reel. “She is amazing,” Boylan said.

Officer Mackey Harris held the rod while Lankford put a noose around the gator. She gave Boylan the line. A couple of eager young boys volunteered to help her carry the gator off the beach. “The big guys were anxious to help as well,” she said.

The gator weighed in at 200 pounds. It was 9 feet long. A female. It was put down.

“The law does not allow for relocation of alligators,” Lankford said.

After reading online expressions of concern for the fate of the gator, she finally took to Facebook herself. “Don’t feed or try to interact with the alligators. That’s the best way to protect them,” Lankford said.

Many people try to attract gators within camera range by tossing food. Those are the gators that become the subject of nuisance calls and wind up dead, Lankford said.

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