HUMBOLDT PARK — After six fruitless days of searching for an elusive alligator in the Humboldt Park Lagoon, the city announced it’s bringing in an expert from Florida and shutting down part of the park in a stepped-up effort to trap the gator.
The orders came from the top — Mayor Lori Lightfoot, according to Ald. Roberto Maldonado (26th).
The city’s Animal Care and Control Department said it “is grateful to the Chicago Herpetological Society for its onsite assistance,” and said early Monday they would continue to consult with the group, but their volunteer known as Alligator Bob would not be running the rescue operation.
Alligator Bob has toiled in the lagoon for six days, morning and night, baiting traps and paddling his canoe around looking for the gator. He was on the job Sunday, but later packed up his traps and left the park.
Enter Frank Robb, owner of Crocodilian Specialist Services of St. Augustine, Fla.
He was hired by Animal Care and Control “to ensure a safe and humane capture of the alligator as well as to protect residents.”
He arrived Sunday “and immediately began assessing the park and lagoon,” Animal Care said in a statement.
In addition, the Chicago Park District, Chicago Police Department, the Office of Emergency Management and Communications, Streets and Sanitation, Chicago Department of Transportation and the Illinois Department of Natural Resources are involved in “making the park as calm and quiet as possible, which will increase the odds of successfully capturing the alligator.”
Kelley Gandurski, executive director of Animal Care and Control, said the crowds coming out to see the gator could be scaring it.
“The City of Chicago is taking the necessary steps to safely and humanely capture the alligator, which means keeping the lagoon and surrounding areas as calm and quiet as possible,” Gandurski said.
“It is likely that residents who have been watching from the lagoon banks and paths in the park have been influencing the animal’s behavior. We are taking these steps to in an attempt to create an environment that lends to the animal’s safe capture so we can quickly re-open the entire park to activity.”
A section of the east side of the park is being shut down. The western half of Humboldt Park will remain open, including the swimming area and the field house, the city said.
Ald. Roberto Maldanado, whose 26th ward includes the sprawling park, its lagoon and the rogue gator, said the closures would begin at 9 p.m. Sunday.
A stepped-up police presence could be seen at the park Sunday evening.
The parking lot outside the park’s boathouse was scheduled to close at 9 p.m.
Beginning at 11 p.m. Sunday, all pedestrian paths within the park and bounded by Humboldt Park Drive, Division Street, California Avenue and North Avenue will be closed until further notice.
Also at 11 p.m. all access to North Luis Munoz Marin Drive east of North Humboldt Drive will be closed off until further notice.
It’s not clear if the closures will stay in place until the capture of the alligator, dubbed Chance the Snapper by Chicagoans. Experts believe Chance was someone’s pet before it was dumped in the lagoon, though keeping a gator as a pet is illegal in Illinois.
The alligator was first spotted Tuesday morning, first reported by Block Club Chicago, and it quickly captured the city’s fascination. Hundreds of people packed the park last week, hoping to catch a glimpse of the elusive creature.
As it continued to swim around and avoid capture, interest in the alligator swelled and became a national story.
When it wasn’t seen for more than 48 hours, there were concerns for its health. But one witness spotted it alive Saturday afternoon. Alligator Bob said he has not independently confirmed that sighting.
On Sunday before the park was shut down, more crowds flocked to the boathouse.
Jessica Figueroa, 32, brought her toddler Hank out to see the gator. The 2-year-old has alligator sheets on his big-boy bed and a stuffed gator his family just calls “Alligator,” she said.
On a pre-nap stroll near the lagoon, Hank said, “I wanna see the alligator.”
Alligator Bob did as well.
Sunday was Day Six of the gator hunt, and Bob said he usually catches them much more quickly.
While he spoke to people passing through the park Sunday, he mentioned there were six traps set in the lagoon. But by the end of the night, at least some of the traps had been removed. Bob packed up his canoe and left for the night.
Through the afternoon and into the evening, police officers began to widen boundaries around the lagoon.
Sarah Zinsmeister, 38, said she was on the northern side of the water when police began to move people back from the water. She said she saw Bob stacking traps in his shortly before leaving for the night.
On his way out of the park, Bob stopped to talk to members of the Kasnick family picnicking in the grass not far from the boathouse.
Bob asked the group earlier in the afternoon to keep their eyes peeled for the gator as it would help narrow down where it is in the water. The water was sectioned off into three zones using fencing, he said.
“I’m praying for a new sighting,” he told the group.
Priscila Santoni, a 36-year-old visiting from Jacksonville, Fla., said she’s seen a gator attack before and thinks the precautions in place to keep everyone away from the water is smart. She’s been in Chicago for 12 days visiting a friend.
Onlookers showed up early to the boathouse Sunday morning and continued to trickle in throughout the day.
Harper Dotzel, 28 and a resident of Humboldt Park, was standing at the lagoon for the second day around 9 a.m. Sunday.
“It’s going to be a piece of Chicago’s history, I think,” she said. “Feels cool to be here for it.”
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