HOPE MILLS, N.C. -- Residents turn out to Hope Mills Lake after an alligator took up residence. The alligator was first spotted Wednesday morning.
Michelle Martinez brought her children to Clark Park in Fayetteville for an educational outing. She was surprised to see they had an alligator on display.
"Yeah, I just never would have thought I would see one here,” said Martinez. “Especially the one here in Hope Mills Lake, that is very surprising."
The alligator on display at Clark Park is to show residents what animals live in their community. Park rangers say some people are surprised to hear learn about it.
"I think some people do, but I think most us around here realize alligators a native species of North Carolina and always have been," said Neil McMillan, a supervisor at Clark Park.
Experts estimate around a few thousand alligators live in their natural habitat in North Carolina, mostly near the coast. They sometimes will live as far west as Scotland, Cumberland, and Harnett counties.
While it is rare to find an alligator in Hope Mills Lake, it is not uncommon. Scientists say as more more people move out into the alligators habitat and the number of alligators increase, it is only a matter of time before these incidents start happening more frequently.
"As population grows, we are displacing the alligators and that is what we are seeing, especially in florida and other states like that with populations moving into coastal areas,” said Dr. Ricky Langley with the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services. “It is displacing the alligators and there is more contact."
Langley has researched alligator attacks in the U.S. He says during the last 80 years, there have been 22 reported fatal attacks by alligators in Florida, two in Georgia and none in North Carolina. In fact, there have are only been two reported attacks in our state, and both people survived.
Langley says in both cases, people were messing with alligators when they should have left them alone.
As for Martinez, she says she doesn't mind seeing an alligator, as long as it's a safe distance away. "They are nice to look at, but not to have as pets," she said.
For more information...
If you would like to read the full article about alligator attacks in the U.S. by Dr. Langley, you can go to the website for the Wilderness and Environmental Medicine Journal and download the PDF.