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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

Alligator kills 88-year-old woman in South Carolina

Alligator attacks, like one after which a woman was found dead near Hilton Head Island, S.C., are “rare but not surprising,” said Maj. Angela Viens of the Beaufort County sheriff’s office.

By Remy Tumin

The body of an 88-year-old woman who was killed by an alligator was discovered earlier this week in a pond in a gated community near Hilton Head Island, South Carolina, officials said. It was at least the fourth deadly alligator attack in the United States this year.

The Beaufort County Sheriff’s Office responded to a 911 call at 11:15 a.m. Monday from a Sun City Hilton Head resident who reported that a large alligator was guarding a human body. “When we got there that’s exactly what we found,” said Maj. Angela Viens, a public information officer with the sheriff’s office.

Officials identified the woman as Nancy A. Becker, a resident of Sun City Hilton Head, who they believe was gardening near the pond and slipped into the water, where she was attacked by the alligator. The alligator, a 9-foot, 8-inch male, was later captured, removed from the pond and euthanized, officials said.

Sun City Hilton Head, a residential community for older adults that has many ponds, is about 15 miles west of Hilton Head Island and covers roughly 9 square miles.

The pond in which the body was found is surrounded by houses on all sides, said Viens, noting that it was the second alligator attack in the gated community in five years. The first one was not fatal, she added.

“Alligator attacks are rare but not surprising,” Viens said of the area.

Fatal alligator attacks are rare in the United States. The latest was at least the fourth in the United States since May and the second this year in South Carolina. An 80-year-old woman was killed by two alligators in Englewood, Florida, in July; a man who had been retrieving Frisbees from a lake in Largo, Florida, was killed in May; and in June, a man was killed after being dragged into a retention pond by an alligator in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina.

Officials said there had been 18 alligator-related episodes and five deaths reported in South Carolina since 2000.

Jay Butfiloski, the furbearer and alligator program coordinator with the state’s Natural Resources Department, said that it had seen an “increased frequency” over the past couple years in alligator attacks but “it’s still a pretty rare event.”

He said the reports come amid an increase in building development and in the number of people moving into areas previously occupied by alligators.

Alligators tend to be more active at night, Butfiloski said, and come out around dusk. While mating season brings an increase in their movement around May and June, alligator movement this time of year tends to be among waterways.

“Because they’re coldblooded animals, they regulate their body temperature as best they can based on the environment,” he said. “Early in the year, when water is cooler, it’s common to see them on the banks sunning themselves. When it gets really hot in the summer, a lot of time they’ll spend time below the water, where it’s cooler.”

While he was unaware of the details of Monday’s alligator attack, Butfiloski said that such attacks typically happen when a person is near the edge of a body of water, and occur more frequently when a person is accompanied by a pet.

“It’s unlikely for them to leave the water to come after someone,” he said. “They’re not going to chase you down the fairway in these golfing communities.”

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