Gator causes stir in Midlands neighborhood

COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS)  A 6-foot alligator had to be removed from a Northeast Columbia neighborhood after hanging out under one resident's truck for a few hours.

Bill Sipowicz thought his neighbor was playing a joke on him Thursday morning when he pulled up to his Hillridge Way home to see Bill Cannon standing in his front yard.  Cannon was staring at what was under Sipowicz's late model Toyota pickup parked in the driveway.

As Sipowicz got out of his car, Cannon said, "there's a gator underneath your truck."  Sipowicz, thinking his friend was joking, thought Cannon had put a stuffed alligator underneath his truck, "until I pushed the creature with an 8 foot pole," Sipowicz said.  The gator moved and Sipowicz knew he had much more than a joke on his hands.

Earlier that morning, Cannon got a call from another neighbor about the reptile.  He said he dropped everything and headed to Sipowicz's house to check it out.  As he pulled up he saw a 6 foot gator staring at him from under his neighbor's truck.

Cannon immediately called the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources (DNR), but the closest DNR officers available were out on a boat on Lake Murray and would take a while to get there.

As Sipowicz and Cannon waited for the authorities to arrive, a small crowd had gathered to take pictures and video of the 6 foot intruder.  The gator held its ground under the truck.  During the hour or so it took DNR to respond, "he moved his head up and down a couple of inches," Sipowicz said.

To the delight of the crowd, DNR officers Charles Ruth and Jay Butfiloski pulled up ready for action.  Using just a couple of catch poles and some electrical tape, the officers had the alligator out from underneath the truck and under control in just minutes.

The men approached the pickup from both sides, sliding their catch poles slowly under the vehicle.  The crowd collectively gasped as the gator's siesta was seemingly coming to an end.  The gator hissed and squirmed as Ruth positioned his catch pole around the reptile's neck.

Ruth tightened the pole down and the beast violently spun its body around and around until coming to rest in the grass.  Butfiloski then tightened his pole over the gator's mouth and the two were eventually able to wrap tape around the reptile and haul it to the back of their truck.

Butfiloski believes the gator may have come from a lake in the Clemson Rd. Extension Service.  "This time a year, it tends to happen a fair amount.  It's breeding season for alligators.  You get a lot of movement across land when, at other times of the year, you don't get so much of it."

DNR experts say the gator that was caught Thursday may have been searching for a mate or may have been forced out of the lake by other, larger male alligators.  "Larger male alligators may have forced him out.  Larger alligators will actually eat smaller ones."

The DNR duo did not know immediately what would happen to the gator.  "We've got a lot of alligators and not a lot of places people want them," said Butfiloski.

As the uninvited guest was being driven away, Sipowicz was just glad it was all over.  "This is only one incident and we've been here 12 years.  No big deal," Sipowicz said.

According to DNR, More than 100,000 alligators live from the Midlands to the coast of South Carolina and the population is not threatened with the regulated removal of a number of alligators.

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