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Alligator Awareness and the Educated Paddler

The come back of the American Alligator is truly a wildlife success story. While hunted to near extinction in the past, gators are now well established in Southeastern North Carolina. Just ask any golfer who plays a course with a retention pond or two. They also inhabit many of the lakes, creeks and rivers that make for good paddling. Should you avoid these waters because you might encounter an alligator? Of course not. Alligator attacks are exceedingly rare. The only two I know about locally, occurred when the gator was provoked. Neither resulted in a fatality, though both men lost an arm in the encounter. Alligators want to avoid you, and I suspect you want to avoid the alligators. Following a couple of simple guidelines, this is easy to achieve. If you paddle long enough, you will encounter an alligator. It's where and when you encounter them that is the issue. April is mating season for alligators. This is also the month they emerge from a torpid, semi-hibernation state and need to find food. While not aggressive, this is the month they will be a bit more mobile. While the small coves and inlets in a creek or river look inviting to explore, it might be best to wait until early summer to do so. Sticking to the main channels will ensure that you won't have a close encounter with a gator that may feel cornered or threatened. Encountering an alligator in a tight, confined space will not make for a pleasant experience for you or the gator. When approaching a gator on land, they will usually drop into the water. This some times sounds like an adult doing a cannon ball off the diving board. This can be a little intimidating, but bear in mind they are trying to avoid you, not come in for a closer look. A mature American Alligator measures on average between 10 and 11 feet. The average recreational kayak measures between 10 and 12 feet. Alligators are opportunistic eaters who prefer prey smaller then they are. So you are probably pretty safe. Now what about those 16 to 18 footers you may have heard about? You might need yourself a bigger boat.

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