By Susanne Kappler, Fort Jackson LeaderApril 1, 2010
FORT JACKSON, SC -- In his 25 years on Fort Jackson, Randy Bundrick, game warden with the Directorate of Emergency Services, has seen an abundance of wildlife on post, but never came across an alligator.
He said he's heard second-hand accounts from several people who have had encounters with the reptiles, but nobody in his office has come across an alligator - until recently, when one of his colleagues happened upon one of the animals near a lake in the northwestern part of the installation.
"That's a lot of years for a little bit of sight," Bundrick said. "They're not just laying up all the time where people can see them."
Col. Ronald Taylor, director of emergency services and provost marshal, confirmed the encounter.
"One of our game wardens happened to be walking around, just checking the area, and he came across the alligator," Taylor said.
The discovery was not surprising to him, he said.
"With any fresh water in South Carolina, there's a probability of having alligators in it,"
Taylor said. "You could have alligators in additional ponds on the installation and just don't know about it."
About 27 ponds and lakes are spread across Fort Jackson. Taylor said that DES has started putting up signs near bodies of water to alert fishermen and other passers-by to the potential of coming across an alligator. At this point, he said, the animals are not considered a nuisance to the community.
"If the numbers grow to the extent where they are uncontrollable or if they got into the training areas, they'd have to be removed," Taylor said.
In fact, Doug Morrow, chief of the wildlife branch of the Directorate of Public Works' environmental division, said alligators are a valuable part of the eco system.
"They are an indigenous species to the South and Southeast," Morrow said. "They are predators. The smaller ones feed very heavily on turtles, snakes and amphibians like frogs and other reptiles. They keep things in balance as a predator. In any natural eco system you have to have a healthy predator-prey balance to keep the wild populations in check."
Though there have been several alligator sightings, Morrow said, in his opinion, people are seeing the same one or two animals - which are all located in the same general area - each time.
Morrow said he has seen what he thinks is the same alligator several times throughout the past 10 years.
"I saw it last year, got a pretty good look at it and I estimated it's probably about 7, at the most 8 feet, in length," he said. "I've never seen more than one -- that doesn't mean there might not be more than one."
Taylor said that although the presence of alligators on Fort Jackson is no cause for panic, people should follow safety precautions. He said he discourages members of the community to look for alligators.
"I would recommend that people don't go alligator hunting or sightseeing. Stay away from them," Taylor said. "If you want to see an alligator, go to the zoo. Don't go to the pond and look at them, because you just put yourself in danger of something happening. ... If you do see them, turn the other way and walk away. Don't approach them."
Bundrick said that he and the other five game wardens are always on the lookout for potentially harmful animals and advises outdoor lovers to do the same.
"When we go around the ponds, we make sure we're looking at all times for not only alligators, but water moccasins and copperheads, so we're alert at all times," he said.
ALLIGATOR SAFETY TIPS:
- Do not feed alligators. By feeding alligators, they come to associate humans with food.
- Keep your distance.
- Never disturb a nest or small alligators. The nesting season starts around June.
- Keep your pets or children away from alligators.
- Don't swim in areas that are known to have alligators.