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Keeping An Alligator As A Pet In Chicago Is Not Only Illegal — It’s Cruel, Experts Say

After three gators were found in Chicago in the last month, experts are urging Chicagoans to avoid adopting the creatures, which suffer when held in too-small tubs or tanks.

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CHICAGO — All the gator news coming out of Chicago might be cute and fun to follow from afar, but for the animals themselves, life in captivity in the wrong climate can be miserable.

On Monday, an alligator was rescued from a home in Irving Park by police who also found drugs and guns in the residence. This is the third gator to pop up in Chicago in the last month, following the capture of the now-famous Chance the Snapper.  

While the city loved Chance and came together during his rescue, life before the Humboldt Park Lagoon was bad for him.

“His nose is bent very far up in the front from being stuck in a container his entire life,” rescuer Frank Robb told WGN. “And his eyes are real light colored because he was always in the darkness.”

Now Animal Care and Control officials reminding people that there are plenty of cats and dogs in Chicago that need homes — and not only are gators illegal to own, but they don’t want to be your pets.

Credit: Chicago Animal Care and Control
Police arrived at a home in the 4000 block of North Troy Street with a search warrant Monday night and recovered an alligator, authorities said.

“Alligators should not be kept in a tiny tank or a tub,” Animal Control spokeswoman Jenny Schlueter said. “Our partners report seeing vitamin deficiencies, weak jaws, splayed or missing teeth, inflamed gums, eye issues, stunted animals (typically a large head and small body) and upturned noses as signs that the animals were kept in small cages and were not fed properly.”

The right combination of space, diet, heat, light and water are essential for a healthy animal and someone keeping an alligator in a home, like the one found in Irving Park, likely doesn’t have access to everything the animal needs to stay healthy.

While an alligator may seem like a carnivorous predator, dumping it outside its habitat is inhumane and a terrifying experience for the animal, according to Alligator Bob, who worked to rescue Chance for the first few days the beloved gator was in the lagoon.

“It’s a shame,” he said.

Credit: Provided
Chance the Snapper.

Once police turned over the Irving Park alligator to animal control, the department started work on placing it with a rescue group.

“Thankfully, we have great partners who have outlets like sanctuaries in South Carolina and Texas if they need assistance,” she said.

And though it’s illegal to own an alligator in Illinois under both the criminal code and the Humane Care for Animals Act — with penalties ranging from a stiff fine all the way to jail time — dumping an illegal pet is an additional crime.

During the hunt for Chance the Snapper, an animal control officer told Block Club that if someone owns an illegal pet, they should call Animal Care and Control and “tell them they found an illegal pet.”

The officer, who asked to remain anonymous, said that he would rather relocate the animal safely than pursue charges against people who “do the right thing.”

On July 27, a man claimed he caught a different alligator at the Humboldt Park lagoon. In a series of Facebook videos, a man holding a 3-foot-long alligator with its mouth taped shut tells a group of people he caught the animal while fishing.

While one of the videos showed the man handing the alligator off to police, whether the gator was actually caught in the lagoon remains unknown. In a follow-up video, a man filming says the fisherman with the alligator and another man were taken by police for more questioning.

The second gator recovered from the lagoon is currently at Wildlife Discovery Center in suburban Lake Forest.

“She is doing well in quarantine. All alligators are quarantined there for 90 days. They are waiting for blood work to come back but anticipate that it will look be okay,” Schlueter said.

While in quarantine, the gator is living in a nice big pool and basking area with a heat lamp and a sunroof, she said.

Credit: Facebook
A man claimed to rescue another gator from Humboldt Park, but officials were skeptical.

“The facility is planning to build a new pond and enclosure so that next summer she can go on display outside,” Schlueter said. “They guesstimate that she is between five and eight years old.”

Wildlife Discovery Center is no stranger to exotic pets. Back in 2013, actor Nicolas Cage donated his four-foot-long lizard, a speckled Asian water monitor, to them.

“You can actually get a permit from the Illinois Department of Natural Resources to keep an alligator legally. But to have that permit you have to be extremely competent,” said Rob Carmichael, curator at the Wildlife Discovery Center.

To qualify, potential alligator owners must have documented hours of working with alligators and a hefty insurance policy, among other things.

“But the good thing is people who are getting the proper permits are taking care of the animals,” he said. “It’s the people who get the animals illegally that are the problem.” 

Carmichael said he has no issue with someone keeping an alligator if they can properly care for it. But to do so requires time and money most illegal owners do not prepare for.

“They grow a foot a year and while they may start small, in a short amount of time they’ll outgrow any commercially available tank,” he said. “Think of someone who owns a really, really big dog for example. Most people are not equipped to take care of one if they don’t have the space.” 

Over the past year, the Wildlife Discovery Center and Chicago Herpetological Society have together rescued 15 alligators from people giving them up or through confiscation, Carmichael said.

“Most people are not in it for the long haul. Hopefully they’ll call the zoos, but the zoos don’t want them because they already have so many of them,” he said. “Which can lead to an owner abandoning the animal like we’ve been seeing in Chicago.” 

To surrender an illegal pet, contact Animal Care and Control by calling 312-747-1406.

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