Gator brings out city’s Crocodile Dundees-dems-and-dose

There’s something about an alligator in the Humboldt Park Lagoon on a 90-plus-degree July day that brings out the crazy in lots of us — hundreds of whom took their turn gazing out over the water Wednesday in hopes of a sighting.

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Officer Joe Rodriguez poses with a toy alligator at Humboldt Park Lagoon on July 10, 2019.

Officer Joe Rodriguez poses with a toy alligator at Humboldt Park Lagoon on July 10, 2019.

Megan Nagorzanski/Sun-Times

Alex Ruiz stood Wednesday on the landing ofthe Humboldt Park Boathouse, fishing pole in hand, gazing out dejectedly over the lagoon where an alligator was on the loose.

“I could catch it if they let me,” Ruiz told me.

Ruiz had come to the park with plans to do exactly that, only to find police crime scene tape roping off the entire lagoon west of Sacramento in an attempt to save Chicago’s would-be Crocodile Dundees from themselves.

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“I got a giant hook, and that’s it,” said Ruiz, whose plan was to snag the alligator, then just sort of keep tabs on its whereabouts until somebody with better equipment could make an actual capture.

“That’s the only way. Hook ’em up and hold him. I won’t reel him in,” he told me.

A completely preposterous plan, of course, which must be why something similar had occurred to me. But by the time the editors asked me to join the alligator hunt Wednesday afternoon, it was too late to run home for my spinning rod, let alone ask Sun-Times outdoor writer Dale Bowman for advice on the best bait.

No, I’m not quite that stupid, but there’s something about an alligator in the Humboldt Park Lagoon on a 90-plus-degree July day that brings out the crazy in lots of us — hundreds of whom took their turn gazing out over the water Wednesday in hopes of a sighting.

Some gathered at the boathouse on the south end of the lagoon, where the alligator was originally spotted Tuesday. Others congregated at the north end, where it was observed earlier Wednesday.

Everyone asked the same question: “Have you seen it?” But only a precious few could answer in the affirmative.

An alligator swims in the Humboldt Park Lagoon on July 10, 2019.

An alligator swims in the Humboldt Park Lagoon on July 10, 2019.

Megan Nagorzanski/Sun-Times

They brought their cameras. They brought their kids. They brought their lawn chairs and umbrellas to shield themselves from the blazing sun. They brought their dogs, speaking of which …

There was suddenly a commotion near the boathouse railing. A dog had somehow slipped through an opening and fallen toward the water. Luckily for its owner, he had a good grip on the leash and pulled him back up.

“Scared me to death,” the man said, clearly having had visions that he’d almost fed his pet to the alligator.

There’s really no reason to think the alligator has an appetite for dog — or anything else right now — although the hope is that he will get hungry enough to wander into one of the traps set out by Alligator Bob.

Chicago Animal Control Officer Ricardo Aguilar

Chicago Animal Control Officer Ricardo Aguilar surveys new warningsign at Humboldt Park Lagoon.

Mark Brown/Chicago Sun-Times

Alligator Bob is the only person actually allowed to try to catch the critter. He’s from the Chicago Herpetological Society and has helped out in many such situations for Chicago Animal Care and Control and other agencies.

Bob doesn’t like to give out his full name, and nobody ever feels the need to push him too hard about it because he’s the expert and quite helpful in all other respects.

While everyone else stayed behind the police tape (except for four police tactical officers who decided to get a better view from the fishing pier), Alligator Bob paddled around in a canoe checking his traps.

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Alligator Bob, an expert from the Chicago Herpetological Society sets an alligator trap in the Humboldt Park Lagoon on July 10, 2019.

Megan Nagorzanski/Sun-Times

At about 3:30 p.m., he knocked off for a few hours to go home for dinner and get some more traps and bait.

For traps, Bob deploys long metal cages like the humane traps used to remove raccoons or possums from homes, but modified with floats. For bait he uses chicken, rats and smelt.

One of his problems was that turtles were eating the chicken. Another was that the alligator seemed to be moving around, making him harder to locate.

“The person who dumped the animal here was really stupid,” Bob said, leaving no doubt as to his desire to see the culprit punished.

Bob loaded his canoe onto his pickup, not daring to leave it behind even for the short time he planned to be gone.

“If I leave this here, everybody and their brother will be out there trying to catch him. We’ve already had quite a few so-called experts,” Bob said.

My only expertise is being called many years ago to the home of an Evanston man who said he could no longer afford to feed his 4-foot alligator and wanted help relocating him. He kept the gator in a child’s swimming pool in his basement apartment.

That’s how these things happen. Happily in that case, he didn’t just set the alligator loose.

Alligator Bob said the longest it’s ever taken him to catch the gator in a situation like this is five days. For Bob’s sake and the gator’s, I hope it’s wrapped up sooner than that.

For the rest of us, there’s worse things to occupy our attention than an alligator running loose in the city.

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