As the search for the Humboldt Park Lagoon alligator stretched into its third day, the crowd of onlookers endured — and commercialized.
Chicago Bulls mascot Benny the Bull showed up. So did two people promoting a new horror movie — about alligator attacks.
Neighbors are adapting, too, with a day camp in the park working alligators into their nature lessons.
But the good humor and natural curiosity have a dark underside — the abuse of animals, the risk to others and the lawbreakers who insist on keeping illegal pets.
“This is a wild animal doing what wild animals do,” said “Alligator Bob,” the volunteer reptile expert who has set traps and been trying to catch the alligator since Tuesday.
“This animal, for his entire life, has been raised in an aquarium tub or a bathtub or something. And suddenly he’s in this huge lake.”
He’s “scared” and likely hiding, especially during the day, given all the onlookers and commotion, Bob said.
Authorities believe someone likely dumped the gator once it became too big to keep as a pet.
“People have exotic tastes in pets, and then the pets get big,” Mayor Lori Lightfoot said Thursday. “And then they lose their interest. So I think the larger conversation that we have to have is about people being realistic about the kind of pets that they can bring into their home.”
“Alligators can be very dangerous. They can travel on the land at great speeds. And we want to make sure that nobody in that community was injured.”
No injuries. Just lots of activity.
Elana Porat teaches about nature at the Tinker Garten day camp in the park.
“We were going to sing a song about sparrows. So we added a verse about alligators,” Porat said Thursday.
They also had planned an activity about frogs but made it about alligators instead.
“It’s about getting kids excited about nature,” Porat said. “There’s nothing like a local phenomenon to bring people together at the park.”
And then there were Cassidy Platte and Madison Becnel, sent to the park to hand out free tickets to “Crawl,” a movie about people being menaced by alligators during a hurricane.
As Alligator Bob remained “on the case,” as the mayor put it, Lightfoot maintained a sense of humor about a hunt that has captivated Chicagoans and become social media fodder for animal lovers all over.
“I’m following Gator-gate, yes. And my hope is that we’ll be able to locate the alligator and make sure that people in the surrounding communities are safe,” the mayor said.
“It’s always an urban myth that there’s alligators here, there, climbing out of toilets and things like that.”
Alligator Bob has been at the lagoon for hours on end since the reptile was spotted. A carpenter by trade, Bob — he doesn’t give a last name — has been a volunteer since the 1970s with the Chicago Herpetological Society.
The Block Club Chicago news website has spearheaded a naming contest, but Lightfoot isn’t entering.
“I don’t have an opinion about the name,” the mayor said. “I just hope that the alligator is found and that no one is injured and that we relocate it to a zoo or some other proper venue.”
The alligator was first reported to authorities about 7:20 a.m. Tuesday, said Jenny Schlueter, a spokeswoman for Chicago Animal Care and Control.
Five traps have been set in the water, baited with chicken, rat and fish.
Alligators are not to be bred, sold or offered for sale in Illinois, according to state law. Possession is allowed only with a special use permit, and permits are intended only for alligators that are used “for bona fide educational programs, following an inspection and approval of the proposed facilities.” Violation of the law is considered a Class A misdemeanor.
Abandoning an animal also violates state law and is a Class A misdemeanor for a first offense; repeat offenses can be treated as a felony.
“I would like to call the owner an idiot,” Alligator Bob said Thursday.
Alligators, he said, can live 60 to 80 years — but they can’t survive a Chicago winter outdoors.
“This is not a hamster or a gerbil or a goldfish that’s dead in a couple weeks and you flush it down the toilet. This is an animal that can live as long as a human being, so we’re doing our best to help it.”
Contributing: Fran Spielman, Tom Ackerman, Annie Geng, Nader Issa, Dave Struett.