MACON, Ga. — As Georgia Bulldogs fans, we love to hate them. They're the largest reptile on the planet and they usually only become dangerous when you mess with them or feed them.
Can you guess what they are?
There are upwards of a quarter of a million American alligators from Macon down to the southern border of Georgia. If you come across one, it's not as scary as it may seem.
"Their first instinct is run, fear, 'it's going to eat me,'" said Macon-Bibb Sgt. Clay Williams.
He understands humans tend to shutter when they see the scaly creatures, and it's not uncommon for the sheriff's office to field a few calls a year about alligators.
"Our average is about five a year in Bibb County," said Williams.
One alligator lives in a pond at the Ocmulgee Mounds National Historical Park, but mostly keeps to himself.
Back in 2020, a Twiggs County family found a 10' alligator lounging in their pool, and Williams says he had to wrangle with a 4' beast at Carolyn Crayton Park a few years back.
"Grabbed an old rain jacket so he couldn't see me and jumped on him and covered his legs and we just kind of taped his mouth so he couldn't bite us," he said.
Kara Nitschke is the state's alligator expert.
Gators in Central Georgia
"It doesn't take much to make an alligator happy," said Nitschke.
She says Bond Swamp -- just three miles from downtown Macon -- is the ultimate setting for a gator. But keep in mind gators typically live a bit south of the Fall Line, which runs through Columbus, Macon and Augusta.
"So if you're near somewhere wet, you're going to see gators in that range," said Nitschke.
Of course that includes the numerous rivers in our area.
"You can think of rivers as highways for gators, it's kind of like their main thoroughfare and then they'll taper off or veer off into smaller water bodies," said Nitschke.
All of this isn't a reason to panic, gators have plenty of things they prefer on their plate than people.
"They're not picky. They'll eat things that have already been dead, so they clean up that way, but they eat fish, pigs, deer, they'll eat anything – except us," she said.
There's a reason gators shun mankind. Hunters took the creatures down to near extinction levels in the 50s and 60s.
"Historically, we've been the apex predator for them and that's the sort of thing that sticks with them," said Nitschke.
So if you do see one in your backyard, call the police. If you see one in a wildlife setting, just stay a safe distance away and marvel at a species that has lived on this earth for 180 million years.
Nitschke says -- like a lot of wildlife species -- alligators are also suffering through a loss of habitat space. She calls them a conservation success story.
The population is so robust the state of Georgia has a lottery hunt for them every year.