An enormous alligator removed from private property in the Lowcountry Thursday revealed some intriguing finds when a wild game meat processor examined the contents of the animal's stomach.
The 12-foot-long, 445-pound alligator was killed at the behest of a landowner along the Edisto River, which forms part of the alligator-laden ACE Basin estuary in Beaufort, Colleton and Charleston counties.
Afterward, the immense 'gator was brought to Cordray's, a meat market outside Ravenel that also butchers and processes both livestock and wild game.
In a viral Facebook post, Cordray's staff said they don't usually check the stomachs of alligators brought into their shop, but decided to make an exception for this exceptionally large animal.
What they found were stark reminders that alligators are carnivorous predators, often indiscriminate ones at that.
Alongside bizarre items including a spark plug and the metal jacket from a bullet, Cordray's also found five brass identification tags from dog collars.
On two of the tags, names and phone numbers were still legible despite the corrosion of the stomach acid. One of the phone numbers even still worked, Cordray's said.
When staff members reached the man, he confirmed he'd lost a hound dog 24 years earlier while hunting leased property near where the alligator was killed.
Other things found in this alligator's stomach were claws of bobcats and turtle shell fragments, Cordray's said.
Knowledge of alligator growth rates and size maximum suggest this alligator was quite old, assuming it ate the hunter's dog 24 years ago rather than the collar tag winding up in its stomach another way.
Conventional wisdom holds alligators grow rapidly for the first decade of their life, and continue growing at a much slower rate the rest of their lives if they remain healthy.
According to the S.C. Dept. of Natural Resources, alligators in South Carolina are known to reach over 13 feet in length, and live up to 60 years.
However, a decades-long study of protected alligators at the Tom Yawkey Wildlife Center in Georgetown County suggests the reptiles may live well past 70 years, yet stop growing after about 35 years, meaning size may not be a reliable measure of true age.
Alligators can be legally hunted in South Carolina with a permit obtained by lottery drawing. The hunting season lasts one month, and occurs in the fall.
Outside that time frame, landowners and property managers may obtain permits from the S.C. Dept. of Natural Resources to legally euthanize nuisance alligators from their property, a task they can do themselves or hire a wildlife control professional to carry out.
Nuisance alligators are those deemed as posing a threat to the life and safety of people and domestic animals either through exhibited aggression, or more commonly a habituation and lack of fear of humans often as a result of being illegally fed by people out of ignorance.
People are warned to never approach and never feed wild alligators, which may be encountered in urban settings such as neighborhood retention ponds. A mantra preached by South Carolina DNR is "a fed 'gator is a dead 'gator," referring to what wildlife control will do if they learn an alligator has been fed by humans.
Once deemed a nuisance, an alligator can only be removed by euthanasia. It is illegal in South Carolina to relocate nuisance alligators.