LUMBERTON — An Animal Control officer for Robeson County has resigned after shooting an alligator that eventually had to be put down, according to a statement from Bill Smith, director of the Robeson County Department of Health.
Smith said that Timothy Mason should have never responded on Sunday to a call about the alligator, which had drawn a crowd in the Allenton community while attempting to cross N.C. 211.
“It was inappropriate for us to be involved with a wildlife situation,” Smith said. “Rules that govern the Animal Control officers are based on rabies control and the control of dogs and cats.”
Smith said that Mason responded to a request from local law enforcement to help remove the 9-foot-long, 350-pound alligator, estimated to be about 50 years old, after failed attempts to make contact with the the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission’s Robeson County officer, Raymond Harris. Harris was reportedly off that day.
Mason then contacted a Wildlife official in Hoke County.
According to Smith, transcripts of their dialogue suggest that there was a misunderstanding between Mason and the Hoke County officer, who advised him to shoot the alligator if it was suffering from a life-threatening injury.
Mason reportedly shot the animal with a .22-caliber rifle, but didn’t manage to kill it. Harris, who could not be reached for this story, told The Robesonian earlier this week that he learned of the situation belatedly and rushed to the scene. He found the animal mortally wounded and used a shotgun to put it out of its misery.
Harris said that it would have been protocol for Wildlife officers to capture and relocate the animal. He said alligators are common in Robeson County, but typically stay in swamps and don’t encounter humans.
Smith said his staff had been advised to steer clear of wildlife encounters going forward.
“As the saying goes, the road to Hades is paved with good intentions … I do not believe the Wildlife person realized that the gator’s injuries were not life-threatening and permission would not have been given had he known more information,” Smith said. “Staff will be further educated on accepting appropriate referrals [and] to politely refuse actions that are not within their purview.”
Mason has worked for the county since 1993 and was making $35,590 a year in salary.
“Mr. Mason has developed strong support in many of our communities over the years, but he has also had his share of detractors,” he said.
Smith said that the county has three Animal Control officers who primarily respond to calls about cats and dogs — strays, bites, people relinquishing them — and threats of rabies. Smith said the county plans to fill the vacant position.
Harris said people who come across an alligator should call the Wildlife Resources Commission at 1-800-662-7137.
“They are a wild animal and can be very dangerous,” he said. “If it’s not posing any threat, leave it alone.”
Alligators are a protected species in North Carolina. They are located in the coastal regions of the state, primarily in the Southeast, but can be found as far north as the Albemarle Sound.