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The death of an alligator

Staff column

POSTED: June 15, 2017 6:00 p.m.
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Jeff Whitten is editor of the Bryan County News.

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I can’t help but wonder what prompted an alligator to find its way to the side of Highway 17, thus sealing its fate and causing some interest on our Facebook page.

You can’t blame Bryan County deputies for their actions, because this gator was not only reportedly around 9-foot long, much too big to throw back in the water, it also reportedly had been hit by cars, so the humane thing was to end its suffering.

I also know it’s not the first alligator to find its way to a highway around here. Several years back I was headed north on I-95 when I saw a small alligator on the shoulder of the Ogeechee River bridge.

I felt bad for a creature in such imminent danger from traffic, though were our roles reversed I know it would’ve given me not a passing thought except whether I was worth eating.

One of my favorite alligator stories happened while I was in college and cutting grass to make some extra money. It involves a retired sergeant major who kept a pond inhabited by a pet gator in his yard out in the middle of Long County.

At some point that summer, the sergeant major, who I believe spent his retirement drinking beer clad only in tiny swimtrunks and sneakers, decided to wrestle the alligator, which was about three feet long. So he went and got it out of the pond. It bit the sergeant major on the nipple, and hung there as he hopped around howling and saying things I can’t print. Somehow, I got the feeling this was par for the course in that particular part of Long County.

But I am a softy when it comes to animals, would have a house full of dogs and cats if I could convince my wife. I let the moles aerate my yard and feel bad for creatures displaced by mankind, even though it’s been almost two decades now since the developers came and transformed my neck of the woods from rural to a sprawling traffic-and-litter-heavy mix of suburban and commercial.

You could tell something was up when the bulldozers began knocking down pines and live oaks down the road and kept on coming. The depredations on the land led to an almost daily flight of four-footed refugees into our neighborhood and an increase in the amount of roadkill on the nearby highway.

One morning I came out to find a fox traipsing through my yard, looking worn and thirsty. Then a possum family moved in for a short while, eating food we put out for our cats. I would go out at night and startle one of the possums, which scampered up a nearby cedar tree and look away from me, as if it couldn’t see me then I couldn’t see it.

There was a seemingly steady number of deer on the road, and raccoons and rabbits, and turtles and snakes — all God’s creatures, like us, only unlike us incapable of operating heavy machinery.

They were running from the end of their world.

No more. These days around my house, it’s mostly people you have to watch out for. Sometimes, a stray possum will still pay a call, and we have to be wary of snakes, but you rarely see rabbits and raccoons anymore, or deer or foxes.

We call it growth. I’m not always sure that’s the right word for it.

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