MARINE CORPS BASE CAMP LEJEUNE, N.C. -- Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune is home to more than just the Marines and sailors stationed there. The installation is also home to many threatened and endangered species. One may find American alligators basking near its wetlands, while its beaches are home to loggerhead turtles, and Venus flytraps hide in its grasses.
Poaching or hunting endangered creatures and plants carries varying fines, depending on the species and other circumstances.
Several members of the MCB Camp Lejeune community were fined or brought to trial for hunting and poaching threatened or endangered species throughout the area. Most notable among these are American alligators and Venus flytraps.
“I’ve been hunting here since ’79,” said Patrick O’Neal, a conservation law enforcement officer aboard the base. “Before (the recent alligator slayings,) I had not seen a single case.”
Most recently, 1st Lt. Daniel Putnam with II Marine Expeditionary Force was charged with unlawfully taking a protected species and possessing an alligator. In August, Lance Cpl. Richard Lee Mitchell and Lance Cpl. Richard Loren Salzer were cited with similar offences, according to Jacksonville Daily News.
O’Neal credits the recent spike to TV shows like “Swamp People” that depict alligator hunting in regions where it is legal, and taped during alligator hunting season.
“Before (the TV show,) the biggest problem we had was people trying to feed them,” said O’Neal.
American alligators faced extinction approximately 40 years ago. Through enforcement of The Endangered Species Act, they began to reappear and are now listed as threatened.
While people endanger the return of alligators, the reptiles can still be dangerous to humans.
Paul Boniface, the chief conservation law enforcement officer aboard MCB Camp Lejeune, cautions people to keep their distance from the alligators. While the creatures are typically slow on land, they can be very quick for short bursts of time.
Boniface said alligators are more afraid of people than people are of them, however, people should still use common sense when faced with an alligator.
“Leave it alone, don’t feed it,” said Boniface. “You don’t want the alligator to associate people with food.”
Another vulnerable carnivore is not an animal but a plant. The Venus flytrap is the object of much curiosity since its discovery.
“There are very few places where Venus flytraps grow naturally,” said Boniface. MCB Camp Lejeune is one of the places the plant grows.
In the areas on the base where the rare plants grow bald patches of grass betray where the plant was poached.
While the idea of a carnivorous plant can be intimidating, Venus flytraps are small and hide in the grass. The plant is abundant from commercial sources and can be cultivated in greenhouses, but their numbers have dwindled in nature.
Another animal in danger is the loggerhead sea turtles. The turtles do not spend all of their lives on the base many are born on its beaches and return to nest. The turtles are exposed to a lot of danger in their youth, and can be confused by artificial lights.
Patrons of Onslow Beach are not allowed to drive on the areas they inhabit during nesting times to prevent harming their habitats. Also, there are no artificial white lights allowed on the beach during that time. The information is explained to everyone who receives the beach passes by the Conservation Law Enforcement Office.
While these species are threatened or endangered, there is hope for their recovery.
Boniface cites the history of the wild turkey when speaking of endangered animals. The amount of wild turkeys in the United States increased exponentially. According to the National Wild Turkey Federation the birds’ numbers were as low as 30,000 during the great depression and are now more than 7 million.
“You have to protect (threatened species) so the next generation can experience them,” said Boniface.