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See ya later, Humboldt Park alligator

A crocodile expert caught the 5-foot reptile early Tuesday. Some onlookers were disappointed with the end of alligator watch, which gripped Chicago for a week.

Later, gator.

One fishing rod cast from the shoreline of the Humboldt Park lagoon from a distance of about 25 feet.

That’s all it took for alligator hunter Frank Robb early Tuesday to hook and reel in the reptile that’s captured the city’s attention since it was discovered July 9.

“It was one cast and done,” said Robb, 39, owner of Crocodilian Specialist Services in St. Augustine, Florida.

“Everybody’s got different blessings. This is my blessing,” he said of his ability to catch gators — a task a volunteer with the Chicago Herpetological Society known as “Alligator Bob” could not get done in the preceding days with baited traps.

The gator, which weighs about 40 pounds and measures 5 feet, 3 inches long, put up “a little bit” of a fight, said Robb.

After days of gator headlines, Mayor Lori Lightfoot, decided enough was enough and decided to hire Robb, who arrived in Chicago Sunday night. After checking into a hotel, he headed to the lagoon.

The hook on the end of his fishing line snagged the gator on the tail about 1:30 a.m. near some lily pads in the northwest end of the lagoon.

Chicago Animal Care and Control will house the reptile at its South Side headquarters until it can be placed at a sanctuary or a similar place, probably in Florida.

The carnival-like atmosphere that’s surrounded the lagoon, which has been flush with curiosity seekers all week, was not lost on city officials who staged a news conference Tuesday morning that seemed more like a grand finale than a simple gathering to update the public.

Dozens of news media and curious onlookers eagerly waited as city workers pulled up to the lagoon in a white van and removed a black plastic bin with a yellow top.

After brief summary of the catch before a bank of news cameras, Animal Care and Control Executive Director Kelley Gandurski said, “Without further adieu, I think we will reveal.”

Robb opened the plastic bin and lifted the gator by its tail into his arms for all to see. City officials placed red bow tie collar around its neck. The gator’s mouth was taped, and it whipped its body from side to side for a moment before it sat motionless.

Gandurski petted the gator as Robb showed him off.

“It was just a matter of finding him,” he said of the hunt.

“We needed quiet and we needed to have the place shut down for awhile and let the animal relax so he would give us an opportunity.”

After days of nearly unrestricted access to the lagoon, the city shut down part of it Sunday so Robb could do his work.

“When we first saw him, he went down for a minute and then he vocalized and popped back up and one cast and it was a done deal,” Robb said, declining an invitation to imitate the noise the gator made.

“That’s a trade secret, buddy, sorry,” he joked with a reporter.

The hook, about the size of a fist, snagged the gator by the base of the tail.

“I kind of just grabbed hold of him and then we tied him up and taped him up,” Robb said.

His strategy was to hook the gator somewhere on his body and reel him in. There was no bait involved.

“The second I put my hands on him the hook fell out,” he said, noting the hook didn’t break the gator’s skin or harm the gator in any way.

Asked if the gator tried to bite him, Robb responded, “He tried to defend himself, yea.”

Robb, exhausted, planned to take a nap Tuesday.

“I need some sleep dude for real,” Robb said after the news conference, noting he’d been up for nearly three straight days.

Iris, 3, and her alligator were at Humboldt Park on Tuesday.
Iris, 3, and her alligator were at Humboldt Park on Tuesday.
Mitch Dudek/Sun-Times

A city spokesman declined to say how much the city paid Robb to capture to gator, or how much it cost to staff the lagoon with extra city workers and police during the hunt.

The numbers, he said, were still being crunched.

Lightfoot, who had concerns the gator might pose a safety risk to residents, said news of its capture was music to her ears during an unrelated conference call with reporters Tuesday.

“I have to tell you I was very relieved. I went to bed last night not knowing what the outcome would be...when I woke up this morning to all the good news, I was incredibly happy,” said Lightfoot.

“I just want to know who’s wearing the red bow-tie of the gator now,” Lightfoot joked before wrapping up a conference call from New York, where she is attending the Bloomberg Harvard City Leadership Initiative.

But not everyone was jovial. Several onlookers at the lagoon on Tuesday lamented the alligator’s capture.

“I’m sad to see him go because it was actually pretty nice to have him here,” said Enoch DeJesus, a member of the Humboldt Park Fishing Society.

A person walking a dog near the park Tuesday had a decidedly different take: “Good. Now we can have the park back.”

“It’s good but also sad,” said Pablo Pizarro, who heard news helicopters over the park and sauntered over with his family to investigate. Pizarro and Jamilet Fonseca had been going on thrilling daily walks around the banks of the lagoon with their twin daughters and 5-year-old son.

“Watch, there will be a copycat now,” DeJesus said of the chances another gator turns up in the lagoon.

Gandurski and Chicago Park District Supt. Mike Kelly, apparently also concerned about the possibility, reminded people it’s illegal to dump unwanted pets, like alligators, in the lagoon.

Contributing: Sam Kelly