CONWAY, SC (WMBF) - Some in Conway's Ridgewood West neighborhood are grieving the loss of its popular alligator, Earl, and a Conway man has been charged with discharging a firearm in the city limits when he shot the gator.
Conway police cited him with discharging a firearm in the city limits to kill the gator.
Some neighbors say they were upset to learn that the alligator had been removed from the pond and shot without any forewarning or notice to the community that the disposal of the gator was coming. They are worried that having gunshots within the neighborhood could have injured a resident or damaged property if bullets had ricocheted from the gator or water.
Attempts by the Horry Independent to reach the man charged with the offense were unsuccessful.
S.C. Department of Natural Resources Fur Bearing and Alligator Program coordinator Jay Butfiloski said that someone removing the animal would have to essentially catch the alligator and bring it to shore before dispatching it, and that there could be potential problems with shooting firearms across water, if that occurred in this case.
"Water makes an excellent medium for ricochets," Butfiloski said.
Officials say the community had the proper permits to deal with the animal, but Bufiloski said DNR officers could investigate, if permit conditions were not followed.
Both DNR and Conway Police Chief Reggie Gosnell said the proper tags were applied for and provided to a neighborhood representative.
Property management company KS Property Management, which oversees the neighborhood, sent a letter to residents dated Sept. 15, signed by the Homeowner's Association President Charlie Brown.
The letter says that a six-foot alligator was removed from the larger common area of Ridgewood West. DNR says gators need to be at least four-feet long before they are eligible for elimination. They also look for signs that the gator has become a nuisance. For instance, if it appears to be comfortable around people and occasionally seems to be approaching them.
"The increase of alligators raised concerns and questions of potential liability for the community and the HOA," the letter states. "All HOA board members voted to make a proactive move…the HOA obtained all necessary DNR tags and elected an agent to enforce the permits. As your board, our main concern is for the safety of the residents and their families."
Resident Kim Lucas believes there were no issues with liability because a warning sign had been posted at the pond saying an alligator might be present.
Kaci Sansbury of KS Property Management chose not to comment on the matter, she said, to protect the privacy of all homeowners.
Resident Carla Hughes wondered why with liability and safety so paramount, the association wasn't more careful about the way the alligator was killed.
Andrew Grosse, alligator project leader and biologist with SCDNR, said it was up to property management to decide if the animal had become a nuisance, and they can pick whomever they wish to remove the gator.
"We make it clear that they need to be selective and make sure it's a problem animal. It's up to them who they choose to do that [dispatch the animal], and how they decide if those animals are a problem," Grosse said. "We tell them all the laws so they know the policies and give recommendations…to make that decision."
Some residents argue the alligator was not a nuisance.
"He was usually sunning on the bank, nothing to be worried about," Hughes said. "The alligator never bothered anyone. It was a source of education and entertainment for everyone out here."
"I am horrified that someone would come in and kill the alligator that has been here for the three and a half years I have lived here," said resident Mary Clothier. "It has never been a nuisance."
Ridgewood West uses the website Next Door to communicate neighborhood news, and Lucas said she had never seen any posts on the site mentioning a problem with the alligator.
"Everyone is upset that it was removed, no one stated they wanted it removed," Lucas said. "People loved walking by the pond to see if the alligator was out there. He stayed up on the banks furthest to the woods, and when he noticed people coming, he would go back into the water."
SCDNR officials say using what they call a "bang stick" is the safest way to dispatch a problem alligator. That instrument, when put directly against the back of the reptile's head, uses one charge. They say that people who are hunting alligators usually use such a device, or a knife in a similar fashion.
"It's a lot safer," Grosse said.
Grosse said the problem is that some of these animals get comfortable with people and aren't afraid to swim close to them. This usually happens, he said, because they are being fed, although residents say no one was feeding the gator and there was a sign at the pond reminding people not to feed them.
"We don't understand the purpose [of getting rid of the animal]," Lucas said. "He was like part of our family here."
Story from our news partners at My Horry News.