After days on the loose, alligator that shut down Chicago park is caught
By MEAGAN FLYNN | The Washington Post | Published: July 16, 2019
CHICAGO -- After shutting down half of Chicago's Humboldt Park and evading capture for a week, an alligator who had been spotted lurking in the park's lagoon has been captured, police said Tuesday morning, ABC 7 Chicago reported.
The alligator, nicknamed Chance the Snapper, had drawn dozens of visitors since last week and earned a spot on T-shirts and in song lyrics as fans rooted for its survival in the most unlikely of habitats. After a local volunteer spent nearly a week trying to trap the reptile without luck, the city flew in an expert from Florida on Sunday and shut down the park to try to catch the gator.
Chance the Snapper will be turned over to a sanctuary or zoo where it will have a permanent home. Police are expected to reveal more details later Tuesday morning.
The alligator first appeared in the water on the morning of July 9, interrupting a Sweet 16 birthday photo shoot in the middle of Chicago's Humboldt Park.
It was first spotted lurking near the lagoon boathouse, its spiky head bobbing in the surface, so out of place that onlookers had to squint their eyes to make sure it wasn't an illusion or a log. "We thought, 'No way.' We thought it would be a toy or something," the birthday photographer, Ren Horst-Ruiz, told Block Club Chicago, a neighborhood news outlet whose initial report on the gator sent the city into a frenzy.
Soon dozens of joggers and dog walkers and curious Chicagoans arrived on the banks of the lagoon for their chance to see the unusual visitor. Thousands of Block Club Chicago readers voted on its nickname, gaining the approval of the city's Grammy Award-winning hip-hop artist Chance the Rapper. Fans watched as "Alligator Bob," a volunteer with the Chicago Herpetological Society called in to help, laid traps stocked with chicken drumsticks and rats and fish, periodically venturing out into the water in his canoe to search for the gator.
But last week Chance the Snapper wasn't interested in Bob's bait, evading capture as authorities had difficulty spotting it beneath the murky water. On Sunday, city officials had announced they were closing the entire east side of Humboldt Park to rid the lagoon of all the gawking onlookers and reporters, saying the attention had probably scared the gator into hiding.
The new expert in capturing alligators who was flown in Sunday, Frank Robb, asked for peace and quiet as he worked, said Chicago Animal Care and Control Executive Director Kelley Gandurski.
"We are just letting the lagoon calm down," Gandurski told reporters during a news conference on Monday night. "What he wants to focus on now is letting the animal relax and decompress because we do think that all the crowds and all the commotion might have altered his behavior. He's in hiding. So we wanted to pull everything artificial out of the lagoon - let him decompress."
It remains unclear how Chance the Snapper got to Humboldt Park. But last week, Alligator Bob - who has declined to give his last name for privacy reasons - said the most likely explanation was that the gator had been someone's illegal pet that had been dumped in the water. The gator is believed to be between four and five feet long, but not a threat to humans since it's probably not used to living in the wild. In this new and foreign habitat, Alligator Bob said, the alligator is probably "scared out of its wits."
"The owner might have taken him out of a bathtub, grabbed him, tied him in a knot, threw him in a blanket, put him in a box, brought him here and dumped him," he said. "So he's in shock already. He's been handcuffed and arrested and dumped in an empty pond."
At the lagoon last week, everyone from teens on bikes to elderly men in wheelchairs could be seen idling along the shores, hoisting cellphone cameras as they looked for Chance or, at least, Alligator Bob. One man tried to attract the alligator by reeling a rotisserie chicken over a bridge on his fishing pole, to no avail. A police officer played the "Jaws" theme song from his police cruiser, amusing the people lining the shore. A Latin musician composed a song called "El Cocodrilo de Humboldt Park 2019." The craze over the instantly beloved animal recalled last year's frenzy over New York's "hot duck," a rare, colorful Mandarin duck who appeared out of nowhere in Central Park, attracting hundreds of people.
And just like the duck, before long, Chance had his own Twitter accounts, where he spent his time poking fun at Alligator Bob for failing to capture him.
"Gator Bob is giving up and I'm not surprised," the fake alligator wrote in one tweet, linking to a Chicago Tribune article quoting the volunteer as saying, "We're open to suggestions."
Within hours of the first sightings of Chance, Alligator Bob and Chicago conservation officers began looking for him by scoping out the area near the boathouse where the alligator was first spotted. The hope was that, if he'd been dumped there, he would be most likely to return in search of food, like a dog waiting at the door for its owner to come home. "We're hoping he smells the chicken," Bob said Wednesday on Facebook Live. In an interview with Block Club Chicago, he compared searching for the alligator to "looking for a baseball bat that's floating in the water some place that can submerge every time you look at it."
By Wednesday, as all the bait remained untouched, authorities assumed Chance just didn't want it, perhaps because he was feeling too scared to eat.
"If he was fed well before he was dropped into the lagoon, he doesn't have to eat for several weeks or even months," Gandurski said Monday. "They're highly resilient creatures. They've been around for millions of years. They can hunker down anywhere, and he may not need to eat for a while. He may not be hungry, and he may be very nervous. He may not want to eat."
Gandurski said all the traps have since been pulled from the water. The new gator tracker, Robb, arrived Sunday and began by surveying the area and searching for alligator tracks and tail drag lines on the shore, she said. His credentials are unclear, but Gandurski said he is a native Floridian who "has a special understanding of how the alligator thinks and where he might be."
A spokesman for the Chicago Police Department confirmed to The Washington Post late Monday that police are investigating how the alligator got there but have yet to find any suspects.
Alligator Bob did not have kind words for the supposed perpetrator, whomever he or she may be. In an interview with Block Club Chicago, Bob said he would "call the person who did it ignorant and stupid."
"These things get to 10 to 12 feet long. And they live 70 to 80 years just like a human being. And what do you do with that?" he said. "That's something you have to realize."