Living with alligators: Lake Waccamaw residents learn to manage

Wildlife biologists are keeping an eye on the interactions between alligators and people who live around Lake Waccamaw, near Wilmington.

Living with alligators

LAKE WACCAMAW — The town of Lake Waccamaw is no stranger to alligators.

“We actually had an alligator named Charlie, that you could clap your hands and Charlie would come right up to the bank and you could feed him off a stick,” said town commissioner Matt Wilson. “But we don’t do that anymore.”

The words alligator comes from the Spanish word “el lagarto,” which means lizard. Lake Waccamaw’s alligators are usually five to seven feet long. Some get up to 10 and 12 feet long.  

Should there be a hunting season?

Not everyone in the town is comfortable with their reptilian neighbors. Some are even pushing for a hunting season. 

“There’s a certain group, you know you’ve seen them in the newspapers on television, that is pushing for tagging season and to sell tags that allow people to hunt alligators,” said town manager Harry Foley. “It is my personal, and the town’s position…we don’t favor that.” 

But for Matt Wilson, who lives on the lakeshore, a hunting season would help control what he sees as a growing alligator population. “We’ve had gators here in the backyard, attempting to come into my yard for my dogs,” he said. 

“People hunt deer, turkey, bear,” he said. “They have a chance to come in and take an alligator like they do in Florida and South Carolina, Georgia. So, you know, I think that would kind of put Lake Waccamaw on the map, so to speak, a little more.”

More information needed

But biologist Ed Corey has a different view. He estimates there are about 750 alligators in North Carolina and about 200 in Lake Waccamaw, but says it’s not clear whether the population is growing or even stable.

“Because we don’t really have the necessary knowledge of population size and a lot of the natural history elements, we’ve not yet opened up a hunting season in North Carolina,” he said. 

Corey said people and alligators can co-exist, as long as residents recognize reptiles are wild animals, not leathery pets.

“When you’re behaving like you shouldn’t; if you’re in the water at night swimming around in gator rich areas, approaching them, or feeding them, that’s when gators can become more problematic, and that’s when it can result in either injury or death,” he said.

So people are advised to take proper precautions while in alligator inhabited areas. And before any next steps are taken regarding the alligators, more information would be needed on the specific population here in North Carolina.

This story was produced by students from the UNC School of Media and Journalism: 

Producer: Alex Kellogg
Associate Producers: Lucy Banny & Emma Karlok
Scriptwriter & Narrator: Bronwyn Bishop
Camera/Video Editor: Bob Gunter
Executive Producer: Dr. Tom Linden