Wednesday, September 22, 2010

The lady and the gator

I keep going back and looking at the picture. The gator is so huge it doesn't look real. It's like a plaster caricature in the dinosaur exhibit at a museum. But it is real and very dead. The blond woman crouching in the back killed it.

Her name is Maryellen Mara-Christian, she lives in Massachusetts, and hunting is her hobby. Her husband is a bear-hunting guide. They hunted gators in Louisiana on their honeymoon. But she didn't get one then. They came to South Carolina looking for a gator to kill.

They found it at Lake Moultrie, one of the two Santee Cooper lakes between Columbia and Charleston. The lakes are known for great fishing, underwater stumps that can wreck a boat, and a healthy population of gators.

Here is how you legally kill a gator in South Carolina. You can't just shoot one swimming free. You have to hook it, usually with a stout fishing rig. They hooked this gator several times. Then you're allowed to shoot it, but this gator was so big, a shot from a .22 didn't do the job. But by then, pierced and shot, the gator was weak enough for Mara-Christian to finish it off. She took a knife to the back of its neck and cut its spinal cord.

The great hunter is 5-5, about 120 pounds. The gator was 13 1/2 feet, 1,025 pounds. It's the biggest one I've ever seen, and I've seen a lot of gators.

My dad used to bass fish with a guy named Nick who was a little crazy. They'd come around a bend in the river and run up on a bunch of gators on the bank. Nick would cut off the motor, flick his fingers in the water and make a little clicking sound in his throat. Sure enough, one or two of the gators would slide off the bank and head their way.

My dad would say, "Nick, that motor better crank." But most of the time the gators lost interest. They don't mess with you unless you mess with them.

I don't get the point of hunting one down and killing it just to say you did.

Hunting to feed your family is fine, even honorable, considering how most of our meat gets to the table. I don't hunt, but most of the men in my family have at one time or another, and we all fish. But taking a big, magnificent animal off the books, just for the thrill of it, seems worse than cruel. It's a false show of dominance. It's ending a life just because you can.

Or maybe it's so you can get on TV.

It's been a week since the woman killed the gator, but I keep going back and looking at that picture. I watch a lot of nature documentaries, and the common theme is that the natural world is ruthless. To survive the first day out of the nest is a tremendous lucky break. To make it to old age, for most animals, is beating lottery odds.

Alligators live to be about 50 on average. Scientists know of a few that made it to 70 or more. They can be vicious, of course, but only when feeding or protecting their turf. This gator was so old and fat that only 40 pounds of its meat was worth saving. It survived for decades in the wild only to be killed for a trophy. Human nature can be ruthless, too.


Anonymous said...

Get a load of the legs on that thing; Her too.

Lynne Stevenson said...

This is reminiscent of Audubon killing birds, then posing and painting them for "conservation" posters and pictures. That poor aligator needed his hide a lot more than that woman ever will. The part I can't get over is the fact that she severed his spinal cord with about the same amount of remorse that she would muster opening a beer can. Something definitely wrong with this picture.

Tim said...

I knew there would be some hippy tree hugger liberal panty waste comments in this piece when I clicked it....I was right.

Get over yourself Tommy

Anonymous said...

+1000 my man

Tommy, my family has had dogs eaten by gators in Fla and Ga. That's what they do- eat stuff. Not usually people, but then again we exterminated them down to such small numbers that has not been a problem for decades.

If SC did not hunt them down MR Big Stuff might be hanging around your dock pretty soon. I wish someone would do something about the deer around Southpark!

tommy tomlinson said...

Anon 9:48, it's one thing to kill a gator that's threatening people... but it's a little different to go looking for one to kill. Don't you see a difference there?

Holley said...

It's just awful! We saw the Alligator park at North Myrtle Beach and those gators are amazing. So sad that she would kill the gator for sport. She has no heart.

Jayne said...

Thanks for the post, Tommy. This story (an another follow-up one recently) has been eating away at me for days.
While I'm glad it's not okay to just shoot a gator randomly, I don't understand why it's okay to torture the animal before killing it. Why is that okay? Hooking, shooting, stabbing... No, I don't believe it is okay to hunt for fun. Hunt out of need, fine.
Also, someone commented on the newspaper article something to the effect of "that gator could have eaten a child, good thing it was killed before that happened." That is a logic failure if I've ever seen one. The commenter has the potential to murder something, too; should we go ahead and execute him?

Anonymous said...

I eat what I hunt and that monster would not taste good! It was taken very brutally so it would also be tainted by that treatment. A good hunter kills fast and painlesly. A trophy hunter may worry about harming the exyerior surfaces, but not always. Some people hunt only for the thrill of the kill and don't eat the meat. I feel sorry for them and hope they don't look to their own kind for a thrill.

Susan Hoots said...

I couldn't agree with you more and only wished I had a venue to state my disgust as you do.

We lived on Hilton Head Island for 11 years and had a very large female "gator" in the pond off our pool and deck. And, no, she never came into the pool or on the deck.

What a magnificant creature and what wonderful nature lessons we learned while watching her raise her babies. Our 7 grandchildren learned about nature and it was not always pleasant but it was real.

Nothing should be killed just "For Fun"

Anonymous said...

Tommy, anon here, I am impressed you read comments. Thanks for responding.

However, if you wait for the 'threat' of gators think some of these gator loving posters would possibly object to killing them then??

Either you have a process to hunt or you do not. Which is it?

Look, its just a process of culling the herd. SC makes money, which goes to wildlife improvement.

That is hunting. Sometimes Bambis mom gets season of course.

BTW, this attitude of leave nature alone prevents you from killing racoons and coyotes in Meck. Esp Coyotes, which need to be shot on sight.

They exterminate anything in the food chain that cannot hide high enough, cats, birds, snakes, rabbits, etc. Good luck getting some of the gator lovers to understand the logic of that.

Thanks again Tommy.

Russell said...

Let's put euphoric feelings aside and deal with reality.I am a hunter, and no I won't apologize for it, or hide behind statements that it's okay because I eat what I kill. I enjoy hunting, just as I am sure that the author enjoys fishing. In this day and time subsistence gained from hunting is nothing more than a perk. Most people do not have to hunt to survive. The real value of hunting is that it the best tool that we have for responsible game management.I am a biologist and understand the concepts behind game management for the overall benefit of the species.It is a shame that most of the people on this blog do not. The fact is that alligators are predators,and their populations (like all animals)must be kept in check or they will suffer from disease and starvation, which is much crueler than how this animal met it's fate. Don't forget the lady who harvested this gator did so by standard legal means. It is a fact that hunters, through the purchase of licenses, leases, habitat improvement, etc. do more to benefit game and non-game animal populations than anyone else. And they do it at no cost to the taxpayer. If hunters did not control animal populations then tax dollars would have to be alotted to have professional sharpshooters do it. Another fact for you is that the alligator population in the US is greater now than it has been since game population records have been collected. The gators need to be managed, and hunting is the most feasible means of doing that. I'm sure that some people think that fishing is cruel also. If you don't want to hunt, don't do it. But don't judge or try to prevent others from doing something that is inherently natural and perfectly legal.

tommy tomlinson said...

Russell, thanks for your comment... obviously we don't agree, but I appreciate the way you made your points. It's a model for the type of discussion I hope to have on this sort of thing.

tommy tomlinson said...

Anon 11:05, thanks for your response... the distinction I would draw is between animals that pose a threat vs. ones that don't. I posted a story somewhere today about a gator that showed up in a neighborhood in Florida... well, obviously you have to do something about that. But to go looking for one to kill is different for me.

I'm also fine with taking out coyotes in urban areas. Raccoons, though... that's more of a nuisance than a threat, right?

Dr. Jimmy said...

Poor little humans, so terrified of the real world that we have to demonstrate our superiority over the lower animals so our little egos can remain intact. All in the name of self-defense or humane population control when in fact it is we who have invaded the animal's habitat. If you lose your dog or even one of your kids to a wild creature, then too bad for you. You chose to live in potentially dangerous territory but you didn't seem to want to accept the responsibility that goes along with it; being a good neighbor and providing a positive impact. If any population needs thinning on this planet it's the bozos who think they're superior because they walk erect.

Anonymous said...

Tommy, we can disagree about Gators, however my point on Coons is that they overpopulate and clear out their portion of the food chain. They have few predators and will scavenge food that would otherwise go to another animal. If coons clear out vermin, then owls have fewer rodents. Or they clear out birds nests of eggs, fewer birds for hawks or eating insects.

Just that sometimes we have to manage ecosystems, is my point. Even if we have to go 'there' before they come 'here'.

Dr Jimmy you are a first class moron. Period. Please understand you need some facts before you open your mouth. My house was here long before the deer. In 1974 deer were nearly exterminated from NC. However wildlife programs encouraged growth, and the came back big time. Now they follow the greenways like an interstate. So they are invading MY neighborhood.

I would invite your informed respone of facts and logic but no doubt I would be sorely disappointed.

Tommy, love the debate. You are a class act even if we disagree. Regards.