HUMBOLDT PARK — The mostly sleepy waters of the Humboldt Park Lagoon are riveting Chicago and beyond as the search for a wayward alligator stretched well into Day 2 — with plenty of sightings to keep people buzzing.
Early Wednesday the now-famous “Alligator Bob,” a reptile expert with the Chicago Herpetological Society, hopped in his canoe and began his second day of searching for the elusive reptile.
As of 3:45 p.m., Bob, who has declined to provide his last name for fear reporters will show up at his doorstep, had come up empty.
But there were plenty of sightings throughout the day to keep the dozens of onlookers entertained.
The reptile was spotted at least three times, his snout surfacing over the water for mere seconds.
Bob tried to rescue the animal, but each time he’d lose sight of it. What’s interesting, Bob told reporters, is all of the sightings on Tuesday were near the boathouse, but on Wednesday, the reptile had made its way all the way to the easternmost side of the lagoon, which either means, Bob said, the animal is getting more comfortable in the lagoon or he’s scared of the commotion.
“It’s still a hunt and fish and it’s a perfect body of water for him,” Bob said. “Baits aren’t going to do any good until we know he’s eating them.”
Bob said he’s planning to set up more traps when night falls, which is when alligators are typically more active. Meanwhile, police put caution tape around the perimeter of the lagoon Wednesday afternoon, along with signs warning passersby that an unusual (for Chicago) creature is in the area.
When the alligator wasn’t showing its snout, onlookers found ways to keep themselves entertained.
Someone brought out a giant stuffed animal of an alligator, declaring the reptile caught. At one point, a Chicago Police officer started blasting the “Jaws” theme song from his squad car, eliciting laughs. Others argued over what to name the animal. Some cooled off with shaved ice from a local cart vendor.
Gator Intrigues Chicagoans
The gator’s become a city mascot of sorts, an innocent animal graciously announcing himself in the middle of a quiet lagoon in the middle of a Chicago summer.
Illinois Gov. JB Pritzker tweeted about the gator Wednesday afternoon, suggesting that the creature be named Croc Obama. More than 400 people weighed in on what to name the gator Wednesday.
Tuesday evening — after Chicago Police confirmed what witnesses first told Block Club Chicago, that there was a large reptile in the water — the curious flocked to the lagoon, hoping to get a look at the four- to five-foot alligator, which experts presume was dumped in the inland waters by someone giving up on it as a pet.
As reptile rescue experts readied traps to catch the alligator, one spectator tried to take matters into his own hands, dangling a supermarket rotisserie chicken from a string over a lagoon bridge.
But it was bait and splash when the chicken quickly slipped off the string and into the water, leaving just a dangling drumstick, which did not attract the alligator.
The sightings of the reptile began Tuesday morning. Humboldt Park resident Charlie Rizzo, who was taking a walk in the park, said a man who appeared to be living in the park excitedly pointed out the animal to him. Rizzo, who saw it clearly, alerted a Chicago Park District employee in the park. “Oh my god,” she told him.
Also that morning, photographer Ren Horst-Ruiz, in the park for a sunrise photo shoot, spotted the alligator. She made the catch of the day by photographing it moving near the park’s boathouse.
News crews fired up their vans and helicopters and headed to the park. The Chicago Police also sent a helicopter. A press conference was held, warning people to be careful.
Meanwhile, “Alligator Bob” tried to try spot, confirm and catch the alligator.
A Block Club reporter talked to Animal Control officials who said Bob doesn’t go by “Alligator Bob” in his professional circle. One said he goes by “Bob The Snake Man.”
Asked directly about the nickname, Bob said when he rescued an alligator from the Chicago River about a decade ago an ABC7 reporter dubbed him “Alligator Bob” and that’s the origin story.
“If you want to call me Alligator Bob — call me what you want,” Bob said.
Bob, who only gives out his first name, in part, so people don’t inundate him with alligator adoptions, speculated it was probably just a two- or three-foot gator in the water, if there was anything at all.
Block Club showed him Horst-Ruiz’s photo, however.
“Whoa,” he replied.
He later spotted the reptile himself and made a plan. Set traps when it got dark and quiet and hope the reptile would go quietly.
The Waiting Is The Hardest Part
On Tuesday night, onlookers were enthralled.
Over 100 people gathered on the boathouse overlook, lagoon shoreline and bridges to try and get a glimpse of the animal. Some fishermen kept casting lines despite the crowd scaring fish off with their noise and the alligator hiding in the water.
Alli Eck and Katie Bellamy had headed out to the lagoon to hang out and see if they could catch a glimpse of the rouge alligator.
“When I first heard about it I was like, ‘Y’all have never seen a stick in the water before?,” Bellamy said. “But after I realized it wasn’t a practical joke then I was concerned, because how does this happen?”
While they looked out into the water Eck speculated that maybe it was a pet that someone didn’t want anymore.
“I’m sure he’s so scared. I just keep on wondering how he got here,” Eck said. “But I’d like to see the gator. That would be really cool.”
As sunset neared, Alligator Bob fielded questions about the gator’s ability to survive in the lagoon.
He said the health of the gator before it was released, the algae in the water, the water temperature and more could impact its ability to survive. It also may not know how to fend for itself in the wild, he warned.
Colder weather, like what Chicago experienced in June, could also hurt the alligator and it definitely would not survive the city’s chillier seasons.
Bob said when the sun was out he had a better chance of seeing the gator’s shadow through the water. But with the park and street lights reflecting off the water’s surface at night it’s harder to spot it unless it surfaces.
Bob said he’s mostly spotted the alligator at the southern part of the lagoon, near the boathouse and the lily pads just to the west of boat launch. He thinks it’s likely whoever released it did so from the boat launch area and that’s why the alligator keeps coming back to that part of the lagoon.
“Right now he’s scared,” Bob said at about 7:45 p.m. The animal is not large enough to consider humans prey, and Bob dismissed notions it would attack and drag a bystander into the water like a horror movie.
The alligator is likely afraid his new environment as well as all of the humans and the noise they’re making, Bob added.
The combination of bait traps and nets, set when the crowd dies down, is the best bet at catching the animal, he said. All of the noise from the news vans, people chattering, fishermen and even helicopters hovering over the park earlier in the day were likely causing it to go underwater.
Alligators are typically more active at night so Bob planned to set the traps in private around the time the park closed at 11 p.m. so no one knows where the traps are and steals them. To that end, Bob decided to take a break from looking for the alligator for a few hours and packed up his canoe at about 8 p.m.
Reporters and onlookers spotted the gator a few times before heading home for the night. The alligator first slowly crept towards the western boat launch, and then towards the lily pads just west of the boat launch before diving underwater again at about 10:20 p.m.
Someone driving a car over the western bridge that crosses the lagoon yelled, “Yeah f—— alligator woooo!”
At about 11 p.m., Alligator Bob returned from his break and loaded the bait traps in his canoe. Each trap weighs about 30 pounds.
“Alltogether they’re only like 100 pounds, so like having another human [in the canoe],” Bob said.
As he rowed out with the traps to where the alligator was last seen. Because it was 11 p.m. park district staff asked people to leave the park.
Jason May’s been fishing at the Humboldt Park lagoon for the past few years. He was skeptical about the gator.
“I just figured today I’d go for a walk and came out,” May said. “I’d seen a picture online earlier about the alligator but thought it was some kind of joke while I scrolling past it.”
Once he was at the lagoon with his fishing rod though, the large crowds and news vans made him realize there was actually something in the water.
“When I started walking I saw three news helicopters over the park and at first thought they were just looking at traffic. I grew up in the city so I’m used to that,” May said. “But when I got further in towards the lagoon some girl passing by on her bicycle asked me if I was looking for the gator. That’s when I was like, ‘So it is true.’”
He got a hold of his friend Jessica Jackson and figured it since the weather was so nice they should see if they could spot the wayward reptile.
“This is a perfect night to be part of this Humboldt Park history going on,” May said. “It’s a beautiful park regardless, so on top of that if I can see a gator, awesome.”
“I was just in Costa Rica and we saw a ton of alligators,” Jackson said. “So it was kind of at first, no big deal. But then it being in Chicago, well that’s pretty exciting.”
Jacob Lucas lives a few blocks away and arrived at Humboldt Park at 9 p.m.
He’d walked around the perimeter of the lagoon trying to catch a glimpse of the alligator with a friend but wasn’t able to see it until it poked its head out of the water until 10 p.m.
By then he was sitting on the western boat launch peering into the dark water as the snout and then eyes of the alligator broke the surface of the water.
“I stand in solidarity with the gator,” Lucas said. “I see his eyes, that’s incredible. I love him and I want him to stay and be our mascot.”
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