Forest Preserve District Wildlife Biologist Glen Buckner poses with the gator after it was pulled from the waters of Lake Renwick in 2008. (Photo courtesy of Joel Craig)
As the crowds continue to converge on the Humboldt Park Lagoon and cause a commotion while officials search for an alligator, it's probably best for the public to pack up and let the process quietly play out.
Ditch the salsa music. Give it some space. And come back in the morning, because with the frenzy surrounding the lagoon, it's most likely going to take the bait in a trap at night and be found first thing in the morning.
You see, we have a little bit of experience in this area, having trapped an alligator at Lake Renwick Preserve in Plainfield in 2008. After it was first spotted by freelance photographer Joel Craig on July 12, it took five days for the alligator to be captured.
Craig just happened to be at the preserve for a bird viewing program and was walking down the trail when volunteer Rita Renwick said she thought she saw an alligator on the island. With camera in tow, Craig went to check it out.
"Sure enough, it was out there sunning itself on the log," he said. "After that, the whole thing kind of blew up like it is now."
Just like now in Humboldt Park, "Alligator" Bob (he never reveals his last name) was on the case at Lake Renwick along with Forest Preserve District Wildlife Biologist Glen Buckner.
"The funny thing was that Glen had just started working for the District the week before and he had just moved up here from Florida," said Craig, who now volunteers with the District. "He had gotten away from alligators and then his first big job was to try to catch an alligator here."
While officials believe the Humboldt Park gator is someone's illegal pet that was let loose in the lagoon, the same was true of Lake Renwick's visitor.
When it was captured, it was fairly clean, meaning it hadn't been out there for very long. Plus, when Buckner would walk out into the lake with a chicken leg, Craig said "the thing would start to swim up to him," meaning it was acclimated to humans.
It just took a little bit of time to catch the gator. Buckner said it set two traps near the shoreline where it was spotted.
"Near the shoreline is where we put them because they're lazy," Buckner said. "We made a big v formation and put nets to funnel him in."
The chicken used as bait got more attractive as it rotted and the gator got hungrier the longer it was out there.
Buckner said he'd check the traps three times per day at 1 p.m., 10 p.m. and 4 p.m.
Once it was trapped, the gator was transferred to the Chicago Herpetological Society. The plan was to eventually release it into the wild, but that never happened.
"They tried to rehabilitate it and it never got past being imprinted by humans," Craig said. "It never became wild again. Last we heard, it was in a zoo in South Carolina."
And while following the Humboldt Park alligator situation may be entertaining for some, there's a much more serious side to it.
"It’s sad because you have this creature that has been released into a foreign environment and it will never be able to be a wild animal because somebody thought it would be good to have an alligator in their house," Craig said. "Here’s an invasive species here that can’t take care of itself."
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