Second alligator seen in Chicago River

August 23, 2010 at 10:22 PM

CHICAGO (AP) - The next time you feel like dipping your toes in the Chicago River - beware.

A second alligator has been spotted this month on the northern branch of river that also winds through parts of Chicago’s downtown. On Monday, the American alligator drew a crowd of children, their parents and dog walkers who gathered to catch a peak of the gator near the river on the city’s North Side.

The 3-foot-long alligator’s eyes peaked above the water as a group of children peered through binoculars to get a better look at the gray-and-gold scaled reptile that could easily have been mistaken for a rock or a floating log.

“It’s not scary,” said 8-year-old Caleb Berry, who climbed over a bush to see the alligator. “It was a baby and it wasn’t eating anything.”

On Aug. 6, a volunteer alligator hunter with the Chicago Herpetological Society captured a 2 1/2-foot alligator nearby on the river. City animal control experts say they believe both alligators are abandoned pets.

“I think it’s kind of cool,” said Chicago resident Margo Innocente, 48. “I come down here to feed the ducks, so it’d be kind of weird to throw the bread in and have an alligator come out.”

Cherie Travis, executive director of Chicago Animal Care and Control, said the alligator does not pose a threat to people, and unless cornered, it will most likely run away. True to word, when a duck swam close to it on Monday, the alligator swam away.

But the reptile could harm smaller animals including dogs and area wildlife, Travis said.

It could also die if it isn’t caught soon enough, because it might not be able to feed itself, she said. Travis thinks somebody kept the baby alligators as pets and then released them when they grew too big.

Alligators cannot naturally survive in Chicago, so there is “no other possible explanation,” Travis said.

“I have to assume,” she said. “There’s no way that alligators survive Chicag o winters when it’s 4 degrees out.”

A member of the Herpetological Society set traps baited with chicken for the alligator with hopes of catching it on Monday evening when fewer people would be out on boats and on the walkway near the river. Travis also said alligators were nocturnal and easier to catch at night.

The traps are designed to capture the animal so the group can ship it to places like Florida, where alligators naturally breed.

Travis suggested that people who own exotic pets and want to give them up should bring them to animal control - but she cautioned against keeping an alligator as a pet.

“No one in Illinois needs to own an alligator. Period,” Travis said.