by Lesley Scott
Alligators are one of my favorite creatures. However, they are not particularly good pets.
|Don't Try This!
As the city's Animal Control Officer in Goose Creek, it was not uncommon for me to pick up nuisance reptiles. I couldn't think of anywhere else to put this stray gator that I pulled out of a drain pipe, and I wanted him to be safe. The restroom at the police department seemed the best place at the time. Somehow Ernest managed to pull lose the tape from around his snout. His legs, being free to roam and explore, gave him the feeling he was loose again and he pushed opened the door.
As he rounded the corner of the doorway into the dispatch office, he scared the daylights out of the twenty - year veteran dispatcher. I hastily recaptured the wandering reptile, taped his mouth shut and stuck him back in the bathroom. That was the first time I'd ever known Gwen to be at a loss for words. I've known her to keep a cool head during a hostage situation or a shooting. All she could do was gasp loudly and point when she spied Ernest.
Wanting to enjoy Ernest more, I decided to take him home to my farm. He could stay in my old peacock cage in a large bathtub. I put in a call to the Wildlife Department and was given permission to keep Ernest temporarily. I tossed him into the bed of my personal truck and drove home with my new pet. I knew I would enjoy keeping the feisty gator for a while.
Ernest ate fish I caught in a nearby lake. The lake, full of bass and bream, provided plenty of food for a growing gator. He preferred to eat around dusk and spent most of the hot summer days in the dampness underneath the tub out of the blinding light. His favorite basking time was in the early morning and three or four o'clock in the afternoon. Gators need to recharge their batteries with sunshine.
A couple of months after Ernest became part of my menagerie, we had a real heavy frog strangling downpour. My pasture flooded and when I glanced outside, I noticed my herd of horses and mules standing in a circle, interested in something. I couldn't see what they were checking out because the whole herd of 12 assorted equines blocked my vision.
Pulling on my high topped rubber boots, I slipped outside and into the ankle deep water of the front pasture. The herd remained in a circle, still curious. I splashed over to see what they had corralled, wondering if it was a 'possum or a coon. We had a rather high population of those critters.
There I saw Ernest, surrounded by the assorted equines. Top Hat, my spotted mule, snorted loudly and tried to stomp the escapee. Ernest hissed, bowed his back, and cocked his long powerful tail, ready for a showdown. Though trapped, he did not to feel fear. Alligators aren't afraid of anything, as they have no natural predators.
Luckily, I kept a home made choke stick within reach at the barn. I fashioned the catch pole out of a broomstick.Of course, Ernest, being cranky, went immediately into the "death roll' after I slipped the noose around his neck. He spun and tangled the noose around his body. That was good for me.
Several months passed and I was packing to move to a larger farm in Whitakers, NC. The time had come to release Ernest back into his natural habitat. Since the drainpipe where I originally captured him was filled in, I had to pick a more suitable place. I decided on my favorite gator watching spot, the Santee River at Marrington Plantation.
Ernest, only about five feet long, was small enough to relocate. Alligators with some size will travel for hundreds of miles to return home. All reptiles have a magnetic homing device. Most of the extremely large alligators I've dealt with were on their way home and just happened to walk through someone's backyard or school playground. A gator I once had to move, Junior, was over twelve feet long and blocked a busy highway.
Ernest put up a fierce battle and went into his death roll after charging me didn't work. The length of the choke stick kept him away from my legs and the rope had him trussed up. I climbed on the tailgate of my truck and managed to pull Ernest up and into the bed of the pickup. Stacking bales of hay and unloading fifty pound sacks of feed on a regular basis kept me stronger than the average woman, weighing 97 pounds and standing five feet tall.
I felt worn out, as I transferred the uncooperative gator from the bed of my personal truck into the cage of the animal control vehicle. Since I had no pressing complaints to answer, I drove straight to my gator watching spot on the Santee River. When we arrived at the destination, there were two medium sized alligators schooling fish. This would be Ernest's new home.
The two gators named Holly and Tessy knew me and acknowledged me with a tip of the tail pop. At least, it felt like the girls were being friendly. Would they be friendly toward Ernest, the newcomer? Holly probably measured seven feet long and Tessy was pushing nine feet long. They were still youngsters.
I went about the exhausting task of pulling Ernest out of the truck. Since we parked near to the edge of the wide, slow river, I expected him to make a beeline for the water. Instead, he hissed so deep in his throat, I could feel the vibration though the soles of my feet! It was spooky. He snapped at me with powerful jaws and slid underneath the animal control truck. I hoped GCPD didn't notify me on the police radio, as I was a bit indisposed at the time.
For twenty five long minutes of poking, I tried to maneuver the stubborn gator so I could put the noose around any part of his body at that point. For a small gator, he had the temper of a giant reptile. A couple of times, he popped me with his strong, muscular tail, knocking me off my feet. I kept trying to persuade Ernest I was setting him free.
Finally, I managed to get my catch pole around one of angry Ernest's back feet. He pulled himself up on the tire and tried to wedge himself and jammed his body in the wheel well of the truck. I managed to drag him out with some difficulty. Gators' batteries usually run out pretty fast. He had all but given up and now I had to try to pull him down to the water's edge.
Later, I returned to the spot to check on Ernest and he had apparently made his way into the river. I noticed Holly and Tessy casually floating in the current with their eyes and noses showing. About six feet in front of the two, Ernest, using his body language, told them he was no threat. I would like to think they were welcoming Ernest to his new home.
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