From: Dan Whitcomb, Reuters
Published August 19, 2005 12:00 AM

Fugitive L.A. Alligator Becomes Local Folk Hero

LOS ANGELES — More than a week after a man-sized alligator stunned authorities by surfacing in a murky Los Angeles lake, the fugitive reptile has already become a folk hero in the gritty neighborhood where he continues to outwit wranglers and elude capture.


Dozens of residents gathered on the shore of Lake Machado Thursday, sitting in lawn chairs or scanning the water with binoculars as park rangers with nets waited for the 7-foot alligator to rise out of the muck.


"We're pretty confident we'll be able to catch him," park ranger Albert Jedinak said as he stared at the calm surface of the lake. "He was actually in the net once but unfortunately we didn't have the boat ready."


Meanwhile one woman deployed her two young sons to work the crowd, hawking $10 t-shirts bearing an alligator drawing and the words: "Harbor City You Will Never Catch Me."


The alligator -- who was chased around the 53-acre lake for much of the week by a professional "gator wrangler" from Colorado -- did not make an appearance, having last been spotted Wednesday night.


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The wrangler and his crew returned to Colorado Thursday morning to secure larger nets but vowed to return next week and bag his prey.


Still waiting for that moment was animal services officer Guillermo Perea, who sat in a pick-up truck designated to drive the reptile, imprisoned in a giant green box, to the Los Angeles Zoo after it was caught.


Perea said he would not take part in the capture, adding: "I'm not that kind of guy. I get paid for dogs, not alligators."


Authorities believe the alligator was probably once an exotic pet that was abandoned when it grew too large. Alligators are not indigenous to California.


They say they were baffled to discover the reptile basking in the lake at the center of a city park, though they suspect it had been living there for about two months, dining on scraps left behind by fishermen and bread intended for the birds.


Though the creature was originally thought to be a reptile called a Caiman, the professional wrangler has since opined that it is in fact an alligator.


"I don't think you could say they didn't catch the gator for lack of effort," said local Paul Smith, who has spent much of the past two days watching the action at the lake. "They'll get him eventually. They'll figure something out."


Source: Reuters


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