Alligator Sighting on the French Broad River, Brevard, NC 7/26/06

On July 26, 2006, Brevard College Senior Aaron Motley and I did a 20-mile canoe trip from Headwaters Outfitters, in Rosman, NC to Brevard. Motley works at Headwaters and told me that a client had reported seeing an alligator on the river. On the offhand chance that we might see it, I brought my waterproof camera along. Somewhere between Barclay Bridge and Hap Simpson Park, Motley said, "Look! There's an alligator. We paddled to within five feet of it and I took the fotos below.

Alligators aren't native to this part of the world. To get here naturally, it would have had to swim up the Mississippi , Ohio , and Tennessee rivers before entering the French Broad north of Knoxville , TN. The other alternative would be to swim up the Appalachian Front in South Carolina, cross the Eastern Continental Divide and descend >1000' to the French Broad. Both alternatives are ridiculous. I'll bet if we did DNA testing on it, it would give a Florida signature. The pet critter probably bit the kid on the finger during feeding so the parents dumped him in the drink.

See the Asheville Citizen-Times article about this. The story was also picked up by the Associated Press and appeared in newspapers from Honolulu to Europe. On Monday, July 31st, the story of its capture first appeared in the Transylvania Times. The Citizen-Times ran a follow-up article on August 1st.

The alligator's eyes peeked above the surface. Motley saw it first; I missed it completely as we went by.

 

We paddled to within 5' of the animal. It was about 3' long.

 

Then he dove and swam away. He surfaced a couple of more times. I took a couple of other shots but the lighting in those pictures isn't very good and we weren't as close.

 

Here is a great foto taken by Debi Whitmire and Sid Cullipher, of Headwaters Outfitters, of the alligator on the bank before its capture. See more fotos on the Headwaters Outfitters site.

 

Sid Cullipher, Program Manager at Headwaters, took up the alligator's cause, realizing that it would either be hunted or die in the coming colder weather. On the night of July 26th, he went out with Motley and Adam Beeson, another Headwater's employee and Brevard student, and spotted the animal. At first he thought it was a caiman as did several people who saw the fotos I took in the paper. The following night Sid and another employee tried to catch the reptile but soon realized they would need a third person to be successful. Finally, on the night of July 29th, Cullipher, Motley, and Beeson went out in a canoe with a flashlight and snare. After chasing the animal around several hours, they successfully captured it at 12:37 AM. Given the late hour, the next problem was what to do with it? Motley remembered a place on the Brevard College campus where the animal would be safe until it could be handed over to authorities. They brought the captive back to campus where they put it in a large empty aquarium in a room where it would be safe and warm. After taking sand and water from King's Creek, they placed the reptile inside.

Motley called me up the next morning and I went over to see it. Laura Caldwell, a former Brevard student who is currently a naturalist on Keowah Island, SC and works with alligators, positively identified it as a North American alligator and not a caiman. The alligator measures 3.5' long. Laura estimates that it is about four years old.

 

The intrepid hunters taped the alligator's mouth closed.

 

Laura estimates that the alligator is about 4 years old,

 

Most of the time it sits quietly in the tank but thrashes wildly
when it's disturbed.

 

Once word got out that there was an alligator in the building, everyone wanted to see it. Jayne Hall took the three pictures below.

Although it looks like it's smiling, no one was willing to pat it on the head.
This foto catches the glow of the alligator's eye. It was hissing a lot at this point.
No matter how hard she tries, Jayne just can't quite mimic an alligator smile. Motley actually took this with Jayne's camera.

 

On Tuesday, August 1st, the State took control of the alligator and moved it to an undisclosed location. The alligator is a threatened species in North Carolina and automatically became a ward of the State upon its discovery. It is my hope that the State will acknowledge the College for the service it provided by giving temporary shelter to the rescued animal.