Increase in human-alligator encounters spurs student research - WNCT

Increase in human-alligator encounters spurs student research

Posted: Updated:
RALEIGH, N.C. -

It's becoming more and more common these days to run into an alligator, whether near your home, in the park, or somewhere else. Now wildlife researchers in Raleigh are interested in finding out why.

North Carolina State University student Lindsey Garner spent this summer and last summer counting alligators in the swamps, rivers, and marshes of eastern North Carolina so researchers can estimate the state's current alligator population.

The Wildlife Resources Commission asked her to spearhead the project, in part, so they can better handle the increasing number of human-alligator encounters.

"There's a lot of people, a lot of pets, and a lot of alligators potentially in the same location," said Dr. David Cobb, wildlife management chief at the Wildlife Resources Commission.

No one can forget the day a 12-foot alligator snatched up an 80-pound dog in Jacksonville and ate it. These days, the Wildlife Resources Commission is getting a lot of phone calls about gators.

In 2010, biologists got 52 phone calls about gators. In 2011, they received 83 phone calls. In 2012, they received 94 phone calls. And they received 141 phone calls in 2013, according to Brad Howard, certified wildlife biologist with the Wildlife Resources Commission.

"We've suspected that there's been an increase both in distribution and abundance of alligators, but we haven't actually tried to quantify it until now," said Cobb.

Garner and dozens of researchers spent this summer and last summer counting alligators from the Virginia border to South Carolina border.

They hit up the Trent River, White Oak River, lakes in the Croatan National Forest, and many other alligator habitats.

"In the 1970s, alligators were listed as endangered species. In more southern states, the population has rebounded, but in North Carolina, we don't know what the population looks like," said Garner.

Garner's team only counted alligators during the month of June to coincide with the height of the animals' breeding season.

"We usually started about 30 minutes after sunset, so we're out there on the water in the dark," said Garner.

Garner says her team counted 115 alligators each year, most of them near Wilmington. They'll estimate of the total number of gators using a mixture of landscape and weather factors.

"If we have found their population had decreased significantly, then obviously that's concerning and so we would need to figure out why and how we can protect them even further," said Garner.

But if their population has increased, Garner says the Wildlife Resources Commission may come up with a different management strategy, including alligator hunting.

"I think it's a possibility, but it's up to them to look at our research and make an informed decision," said Garner.

Garner's thesis adviser, Cobb, says as soon as her research is done, his agency can use it to figure out better places to relocate nuisance alligators.

"The more we can know about a species, the better we can respond to inquiries from the public," said Cobb.

He says they can also use the information to tell housing developers where alligators live, so they might not build so close.

He hopes Garner's research can help the state create stronger boundaries between man and animal, so alligator attacks like the one in Jacksonville don't happen again.

Garner is planning to finish her thesis by January or February. She hopes a peer review journal will publish her research.

The last alligator census took place in the early 1980s.

  • Local NewsMore>>

  • Weekend Buzz 04/17/14

    Weekend Buzz 04/17/14

    Thursday, April 17 2014 10:55 PM EDT2014-04-18 02:55:42 GMT
    Time for your Easter edition of the Weekend Buzz. 
    Time for your Easter edition of the Weekend Buzz. 
  • MId-year teacher resignations

    MId-year teacher resignations

    Thursday, April 17 2014 10:37 PM EDT2014-04-18 02:37:23 GMT
    The largest school district in the state lost hundreds of teacher. 9OYS looked at the numbers in the East.
    The largest school district in the state lost hundreds of teacher. 9OYS looked at the numbers in the East.
  • NC Medicaid keeps shortfall at $120-$140 million

    NC Medicaid keeps shortfall at $120-$140 million

    The agency running Medicaid in North Carolina is sticking to its previous shortfall projection as unpaid claims and application backlogs remain.
    The agency running Medicaid in North Carolina is sticking to its previous shortfall projection as unpaid claims and application backlogs remain.
  • NewsMore>>

  • Transcript shows ferry captain delayed evacuation

    Transcript shows ferry captain delayed evacuation

    Strong currents, rain and bad visibility hampered an increasingly anxious search Thursday for 287 passengers, many thought to be high school students, still missing more than a day after their ferry flipped onto...
    Fresh questions arose about whether quicker action by the captain of a doomed ferry could have saved lives, even as rescuers scrambled to find hundreds of passengers still missing Friday and feared dead.
  • Obama: 8 million signed up for health care

    Obama: 8 million signed up for health care

    Friday, April 18 2014 1:01 AM EDT2014-04-18 05:01:04 GMT
    Eight million people have signed up for health care through new insurance exchanges, President Barack Obama said Thursday, besting expectations and offering new hope to Democrats who are defending the law ahead of...
    Eight million people have signed up for health care through new insurance exchanges and the proportion of younger applicants has increased, President Barack Obama said Thursday. The enrollments exceeded expectations and...
  • Texas town honors 15 killed in year-ago explosion

    Texas town honors 15 killed in year-ago explosion

    As word spread of a spiraling fire at this Texas town's fertilizer plant, volunteers raced to protect families and elderly residents who lived nearby. Then came the deafening explosion.
    Rev. Terry McElrath heard the deafening boom. The pastor spun around and saw a column of smoke billowing into the sky above his small Texas town. He immediately thought, "Somebody has died tonight."
Powered by WorldNow

3221 South Evans Street
Greenville N.C. 27834

Telephone: 252.355.8500
Fax: 252.355.8568
Email: newsdesk@wnct.com

Can't find something?
Powered by WorldNow
All content © Copyright 2000 - 2014 Media General Communications Holdings, LLC. A Media General Company.