SEE YOU NOW
T H E R E A R E G A T O R S I N O U R M I D S T
BY S I MON GONZAL E Z
IT’S a beautiful, sunny Friday in April. The day dawned
on the chilly side, but it’s quickly warming up. It is
going to be a perfect, pleasant early spring day in
In normal circumstances, the Swamp Park in Ocean Isle
Beach would be teeming with school children on field trips
and tourists enjoying the adventure park and swamp boat
tour. But these days are far from normal. The statewide
stay-at-home order because of COVID-19 is in effect. The
park is closed indefinitely.
Only people with essential jobs are supposed to be
reporting to work. That includes George Howard, the
general manager of the Brunswick County attraction.
The park might be closed, but the gators still must be fed.
There are 15 American alligators at Swamp Park, ranging
from Max, a 3-foot juvenile female, to Leroy, Nubs and Big
Mama, mature adults who are about 9 to 11-feet long.
Some of the gators are in the water, eyes and snouts
barely breaking the surface. Others are sunning themselves
on the banks and ridges. Just like they do in the wild —
and not so wild — areas of coastal Carolina.
This isn’t a zoo, but rather a rescue sanctuary. The
reptiles on display were relocated from ponds, neighbor-hoods
and even homes in and around the Cape Fear region.
It is a stark reminder that if you live in southeastern North
Carolina, you share your habitat with one of the most
fascinating and fearsome creatures on the planet. There are
gators in our midst.
“Alligators have been in North Carolina for millions of
years,” Howard says. “They were here long before we were.
We live with alligators.”
Anyone who has lived in these parts for a while likely
knows it is not necessary to go to the Swamp Park to see
gators. If you’ve spent much time outdoors, chances are
you’ve see one. Or several.
They thrive in our swamplands and creeks, and along
the banks of the Cape Fear River and its tributaries. They
are also in Greenfield Lake in Wilmington, frightening to
unwary kayakers. And at the golf course at Sunset Beach,
sunning themselves on a rise overlooking a fairway. And at
the USS North Carolina, where a 13-footer named Charlie
and his family are almost as big a tourist attraction as the
famous battleship. They have been spotted in neighbor-hood
retention ponds, on area beaches, and walking the
streets of Wilmington. Several dozen have been counted
at Orton Pond in Brunswick County.
WBM june 2020