Every so often we hear about alligator sightings well outside their natural habitat in the Charlotte region. Last month, a group of fishermen found a dead 5-foot gator in the Catawba River near Belmont. Last year, two alligators were hit and killed by cars – one in Union County and the other in York County. It got us thinking: just how did they get here?
Danny Ray is a biologist with the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission assigned to an area that includes the Charlotte and Hickory regions. He’s the one who was called in to deal with the alligator in the Catawba River. Ray has a good reason to think it was someone’s pet.
“It was a fat alligator,” says Ray. “I know alligators in the Catawba River chain in North Carolina don’t have a growing season that allows them to really get that fat. Someone was feeding it somehow.”
Alligators are found naturally in South Carolina’s portion of the Catawba River, called the Wateree River, but only as it gets closer to the coast.
It’s illegal to keep alligators in North Carolina without a permit. Those are reserved for educational institutions like zoos and aquariums.
North Carolina wildlife officers find 1 or 2 gators a year outside of their natural habitat. Alicia Davis, the NC Wildlife Commission’s alligator management plan coordinator, says residents here may be buying them in other states where it’s legal, like Florida.
“They usually start out little and cute, but then after a few years they get bigger, they require much larger enclosures and, unfortunately, if that person chooses to release it in an area outside of their natural range, it’s not going to survive a cold winter,” says Davis
That’s what Davis believes happened to the alligator found in the Catawba River.
She says there’s something else those wanting to keep an alligator as a pet may not consider.
“They can live well over 50 years. So it’s a long commitment,” says Davis.
If you’re curious about how much an alligator costs we found one company based in California selling them for $150 and they’re sold out.