Before this month, the only time I had ever seen an alligator was on a bayou tour in Louisiana in the mid-1990s. But that trip took place between Christmas and New Year’s Day, so the only creature of this kind I saw up close was a little fellow, six inches and safely domesticated, whom our guide affectionately labeled “Elvis.”
Comparing Elvis to the kind I saw in the Sea Pines Forest Preserve in Hilton Head, S.C., reminds me of a famous scene in the 1986 hit movie Crocodile Dundee. “That’s not a knife,” the Aussie adventurer says when confronted with a mugger’s switchblade. Then he brandishes his own longer bowie knife. “That’s a knife,” he explains.
I suppose that my brother, my sister-in-law and I might have glimpsed even more alligators had we come in the far warmer summer months, but the full-size scaly water creatures we came across in the one-hour tour of this preserve’s freshwater lakes conducted by H2O Sports more than satisfied my expectations. There were not only one to two dozen “Elvis”-style baby alligators that we could strain our eyes to see on the shore, but at least a dozen fully grown (i.e., 10-12 ft. long) gators—including mamas who were highly protective of their young.
Under a canopy of Spanish moss, we made our way, in an open, 12-passenger electric boat, through the preserve’s Lakes Joe, Thomas, Mary and Chapin. Our genial English tour guide, Nick, showed us a specimen of an American alligator’s teeth, as well as live examples of them.
The alligator in the photo I took here was male. If you want to know how the female of the species reacted upon sight of us, let me put it this way: The hiss we heard was not of the loud “I’m going to eat you—Die!” variety so much as the low but unmistakable “If you know what’s good for you, you’ll keep away from my young!” kind.
Not everybody gets the hint, though. While down in South Carolina two weeks ago on vacation, I was astonished to hear that signs had been posted for the benefit of Hilton Head golfers, advising them, in no uncertain terms, that if any ball they hit ended up next to an alligator on a course, they should simply leave it alone and walk away. I wondered how stupid someone had to be even to require such a warning.
“You’d be surprised what can happen to a bunch of guys on a golf course who’ve had a lot to drink,” I was told.