Hunting alligators

We hope a proposal to allow alligator hunting in South Carolina doesn't result in the wholesale slaughter of the reptile.

Some state lawmakers think that alligators are becoming a nuisance in some waterways, especially in the Lowcountry. The alligator who consumed a man's arm in Lake Moultrie last month did not help the cause of his fellow gators.

Alligator hunting was banned in South Carolina in 1964, largely as a conservation measure to halt the decline of the gator population here and across the South. But seven other Southern states have allowed public alligator hunts in recent years, and South Carolina lawmakers are thinking about approving hunts "in any game zone where alligators occur."

While alligators still are considered a threatened species, the state Department of Natural Resources estimates there are 100,000 of them in the state. And, with booming development along the coast, people are running into gators more frequently.

We think limited hunting is reasonable, especially when problem gators are involved. People should be permitted to defend themselves, their families and their pets.

But as we encroach on alligator habitat, encounters naturally will increase. And caution and common sense can reduce the danger considerably. For example, people who feed gators or purposely taunt or torment them are asking for trouble.

The judicious harvesting of alligators has worked in other states. South Carolina's proposal would resemble laws in states where licensed hunters snare alligators and then shoot them.

But hunting will not be a panacea. If people plan to live near the water in the deep South, they need to learn how to coexist with alligators.

And the best way to do that is to leave them alone.