A pair of alligators spotted in a waterway in the heart of Havelock has officials concerned for both the safety of nearby residents and of the federally protected reptiles.
Last week, city officials joined with a state wildlife biologist in an attempt to locate the gators in Joe’s Branch, an offshoot of Slocum Creek, in the Foxcroft area. They had no luck finding the animals.
Havelock Police Chief G. Wayne Cyrus said his department got a call about the gators near Gray Fox Road a couple of weeks ago. He said the animals were not being aggressive.
Stephanie Adams, Havelock’s animal control officer, said she saw the alligators early last week.
"I’ve just been randomly driving by just keeping an eye out," she said.
One of the calls reporting the gators came from two girls. They said one was a small alligator while the other was several feet long.
"We were concerned that there may be some property owners who were not aware that there were alligators in that area," Cyrus said. "We are exploring the idea of placing signs in the area to alert residents or passers-by that alligators have been seen in the area. It is a natural habitat for them in those areas."
Jonathan Shaw, a biologist with the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission, said residents should stay away from the alligators.
"The best advice is don’t feed them," he said. "By feeding it you make it lose its fear of people. They learn to associate people with the food. They key in on that pretty quickly. If they see people, they kind of expect to be fed."
Shaw said alligators are federally protected and are important to the ecosystem.
"They are apex predators," he said. "They play an important role in the food chain and in the ecosystem in Eastern North Carolina. They eat lots of different things. They eat muskrat, beavers, otters, raccoons, possums. They also eat a lot of turtles. They eat invertebrates, crawfish and crabs. They also eat a lot of fish, but typically the fish they eat are the slower-moving fish and slower-moving fish tend to be the non-game fish and actually may improve some of the game fisheries by having alligators.
"They also provide food for a lot of different things, raptors, fish, raccoons. Because of their nests, they lay lots of eggs. They’re hatchlings provide food for a lot of things. They play an important role in the entire ecosystem."
Shaw said the slow-moving water of Joe’s Branch and Slocum Creek makes for good habitat for the alligators. He said it is likely that the two gators sighted in Foxcroft were driven there when larger male alligators moved into the creek intent on mating with females. This is the time of the year for mating and nesting, he said.
Cyrus said nearby residents should be aware of the gators and should call police if they spot one.
"Just because the alligator is in the water or lying on the bank or a rock does not in itself indicate that the alligator is being aggressive," Cyrus said. "But if the alligator is coming on to a person’s property and approaching individuals, then we need to be notified about that immediately."
Troublesome alligators are sometimes relocated by officials, Shaw said. He said he did not recall any unprovoked alligator attacks on humans in his district.
"There are only four cases that I am aware of, and in those cases the people were trying to feed the alligator or trying to catch the alligator," he said.