WILMINGTON — The North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission is teaming up with the public for a new citizen science project, aimed at answering the question, “Where do people see alligators in North Carolina?”
Coined the “NC Alligators project,” officials with the WRC are hoping to learn more about the distribution of alligators in the State.
While the American Alligator is a common sight across much of the Southeastern United States, it is less so here in North Carolina. According to ncwildlife.org, North Carolina is at the far northern edge of the species’ range.
Allen Boynton, Wildlife Diversity Program coordinator for the NCWRC, said there are three goals for the project: To identify and cultivate a better idea of alligator population and their nesting sites in North Carolina; to find out where people and alligators are interacting; and to answer questions people may have about the animals.
“We want to be able to teach people to live safely with the animals,” Boynton said. “There are over one million alligators in Florida, and there aren’t that many harmful incidents because people know about them.”
Boynton said alligators are most active from dawn to dusk. If you know you have an alligator in your area, he advises not letting children and small animals play near the water during those times.
How to report alligator sightings
Residents and visitors alike are encouraged to participate in the alligator program. Photos can be uploaded at iNaturalist.org, or on the iNaturalist app, available on both iOS and Android.
“Submitting an alligator observation is very easy,” said Alicia Davis, natural resources technician with the Commission and the project curator. “If you see an alligator and can take a picture, you simply upload the photo to iNaturalist and add it to the NC Alligators project.”
“If the picture you upload was taken with a smartphone, the iNaturalist platform automatically gathers data on when and where the photo was taken. If you take the picture with a traditional camera, you can drop a pin where you saw the alligator using the Google map on the website,” Davis said.
People who want to report observations but who do not want to use iNaturalist can send alligator observations directly to Davis at Alicia.firstname.lastname@example.org. The email should include: a photo of the animal, when it was observed (date and time), location where it was found (GPS coordinates if available), and estimation of size.
Boynton says this is an opportunity to ask questions, and encourages participants to contact the Wildlife Resource Commission with any they may have.
The NCWRC American Alligator profile page states that the American alligator ranges from coastal North Carolina to southern Florida west to central Texas. In North Carolina, they inhabit freshwater areas, mostly east of Robeson County northward to Gates County. The largest populations live in the coastal counties of Brunswick, New Hanover, Craven, Onslow and Pender. Alligators are also seen in other areas of eastern North Carolina and have even been found on coastal beaches.
The WRC asks that people exercise caution when observing alligators.
“It’s easy to get caught up in the excitement of seeing an alligator and get too close, which could be dangerous,” Davis said. “Also, we don’t want people feeding them to get a better picture. Not only is that dangerous for both the observer and the animal, but it is also illegal.”
For more information on the North Carolina Alligator Project, visit the NCWRC website.