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Alligator clipped: They say they've got Reggie

City workers nab what's believed to be the elusive gator that has plied Lake Machado since 2005. But some doubt it's him.

May 25, 2007|Steve Hymon and Ashraf Khalil | Times Staff Writers

A 6 1/2 -foot alligator believed to be Reggie -- the elusive reptile that has been the subject of a closely chronicled "gator watch" since being illegally let loose in 2005 -- was captured and subdued by city workers Thursday afternoon on dry land beside Lake Machado in Harbor City.

The creature, after being wrestled down and tied to a gurney, was whisked off to the Los Angeles Zoo for a brief physical and quarantine for 30 to 90 days.

The Reggie adventure was capped by an almost O.J. Simpson-like media spectacle, with the reptile being taken away in an animal control truck, its lights flashing, and surrounded by a phalanx of five other vehicles, including park police. Meanwhile, TV news helicopters stayed in close pursuit, and footage of Reggie's motorcade was broadcast live.

At a news conference at the zoo, City Councilwoman Janice Hahn told reporters that she was in a 3 p.m. meeting with parks and recreation officials to reassess their strategy for capturing Reggie when they received the news that the alligator had been caught. They had gathered in Hahn's San Pedro office -- her district includes the park where Reggie had been living -- to prepare for next week's planned arrival of associates of the late "Crocodile Hunter" Steve Irwin, who were invited by Hahn to help out.

But when the news from Lake Machado arrived, "we all jumped up and raced to our cars" and headed to the scene, Hahn said.

Reggie had emerged from the lake and made his way into a chain-link enclosure -- a big trap, actually -- that had been set up by zoo and parks and recreation workers Tuesday. He was caught by Ian Recchio, a reptile expert at the zoo, with a long pole-and-loop device used to catch dogs.

Workers duct-taped the alligator's mouth shut, wrapped his head in a T-shirt and strapped him on a gurney for the journey to the zoo.

"It was an unbelievable day -- and at the end of the day it was city of L.A. employees who caught him, not alligator wranglers from somewhere else," Hahn said. "Who said we don't do gators?"

The councilwoman said she was convinced that the city had its fugitive gator. "He looks like Reggie to me," she said. "We were petting him, talking to him.... I feel like I know him."

Not everyone was so sure, however, that the alligator at the zoo is the same one that surfaced and became a local sensation in 2005.

Ed Boks, general manager of Los Angeles' Department of Animal Services, whose staff was not involved in the capture but whose office provided the truck for the gator's transport, said "a number of experts" are skeptical.

"The size of this alligator is somewhat larger than Reggie, and there would not have been enough time for Reggie to grow to that size. So maybe instead of Reggie One, this is Reggie Two," he said.

Boks noted that all urban lakes and parks are dumping grounds for unwanted exotic pets. And Gregory Randall, a wildlife specialist with the city agency, added: "It's not like Reggie was tagged. There's no way to prove definitively that this is the same Reggie. That water is not exactly high-quality water."

Still, most officials proceeded as though they had the right critter. The gator presumed to be Reggie promptly received a medical exam at the zoo.

"We want to make sure he doesn't have any cuts or abrasions, and if he does, we'll treat them. We're not doing an extensive physical. He's already been through too much stress today," said Dr. Curtis Eng, the zoo's chief veterinarian.

Asked how he would examine a 6 1/2 -foot gator, he replied: "Carefully. I'm sure he'll be restrained."

Initial reports were that the animal was in good shape.

One of the main heroes in the capture was Kevin Regan, an assistant general manager with the city's parks department, who came up with a plan to nab Reggie. As Regan explained it, he visited the lake Sunday and deduced that Reggie would periodically come ashore by a particular cove, apparently to sun himself.

"I went down there and found the area he was coming through," Regan said. "All of the vegetation was matted down, and I found this one pathway that it seemed like he was using."

So on Monday, Regan asked for permission to build a big enclosure with chain-link fencing near the lake's southwest shore -- with a 10-foot opening facing the water where Reggie could be lured in, and a swinging door that could be slammed shut.

The work was finished Tuesday, but Reggie wasn't drawn inside right away. He spent Wednesday floating around the lake.

But about 2 p.m. Thursday, Reggie made his big mistake. As a parks staffer watched, Reggie headed in -- and the door was closed on his nearly two-year adventure.

"We knew with the weather heating up and his tendencies that this could happen and, in fact, it happened real quick," said Jon Mukri, chief of the city's Recreation and Parks Department.

City officials, including Hahn, have said the alligator needed to be removed from the lake to protect parkgoers, but not everyone was pleased by Thursday's developments.

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