By Jenna Johnson
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, June 6, 2008
In Florida, the report would have been routine: an alligator in a pond. But in Glen Burnie, reports of a baby gator in a lily-pad-covered pond near a miniature golf course prompted a six-day hunt.
Anne Arundel County police first learned of the creature Friday, when a resident reported seeing a tiny alligator floating in a pond near the Arundel Golf Park, which features miniature golf, batting cages and a driving range. Animal control officers set a trap baited with food; the alligator, assumed to be an abandoned pet, showed no interest.
"We didn't know anything about catching alligators or what they like to eat, so I used cat food and dog food," said Officer Glenn Johnson, a 20-year veteran of the animal control unit who is assigned "all the weird stuff."
The gator played hard to get, and at times Johnson doubted that the little fellow existed. Other nonbelievers included instructors at the Arundel Golf Park.
"We all thought it was a big bullfrog or something," said Ron Jefferson, an assistant professional at the range.
Although he stopped by the golf course nearly every day, Johnson never spotted the gator. But sightings began to pile up, including one from an off-duty police officer who nearly hooked the gator while fishing in the pond.
Determined to make a catch, Johnson arrived at the pond Wednesday morning with fishing poles and treble hooks, which a wildlife expert in Florida had told him could be used to safely hook a gator's scaly skin. By mid-morning, Johnson had caught a few glimpses of the gator.
"I was waiting for my boss to get all of these calls that there was an on-duty officer in uniform with his big animal control van fishing on the job," Johnson said.
By lunch, Johnson was frustrated. But, as he sat beside the pond for a quick bite of fast-food fried chicken, the gator began to glide his way. Johnson grabbed a fishing rod and quickly hooked the gator.
Now, as Johnson tells it, this is the point in the story where he would like to claim he wrestled the gator to the ground, avoiding chomping teeth and death itself. But the gator was only 18 inches long, and Johnson was able to simply grab him behind the neck and place him in a cage.
The gator appeared none too happy in the cage or in an aquarium back at the office. But he was a hit with the officers who stopped by to snap photos. The police public information office sent out a news release announcing the capture: "The alligator is available for interviews. lol."
The Catoctin Wildlife Preserve and Zoo near Frederick invited the gator to live in their "Louisiana Bayou" with a dozen other alligators, and Johnson delivered the animal yesterday morning.
Officials at the family-owned zoo say the gator is in quarantine so he won't infect his future roommates with any pond ailments. He will need to see a veterinarian, as he is a little thin and his left back leg looks as if it was attacked by a wild animal. And he still doesn't seem very happy.
"He'll need some time to adjust to yet another new environment," said June Bellizzi, the general curator at the zoo. "It might take him a little while."