Chucky, the most wanted fugitive out of Gulf Shores, Ala., proved yesterday that you can go home again. At least you can when you're a 12-foot-long, 1,000-pound American alligator.
After creating a national stir when he disappeared last week during Hurricane Ivan, the Alabama Gulf Coast Zoo's star attraction was found Tuesday night in a sludgy drainage ditch inside the zoo grounds. A team of gator trackers captured him with a noose and heavy duct tape. State troopers and local police officers then helped haul him to a bear pen, before returning him to the shallow pond where he has spent the past 15 years.
"He was lost and scared, the poor guy," said Tim Williams, a gator wrestler and spokesman for Gatorland, an Orlando park that sent a team of experts to search for Chucky. "He's happy to be home."
Chucky is accustomed to daily hand-fed chicken lunches, but he had an enormous meal before the hurricane, and gators can endure long periods without food. Zoo officials were less worried that he would starve than they were worried that he would eat; Chucky has learned to associate people with food.
"We're glad he's home, and we're glad he's no longer a danger," said zoo director Patty Hall. "Tomorrow he'll get his chicken again."
Ivan severely damaged the nonprofit zoo, knocking down fences and oak trees and destroying refrigerators, lawn mowers and cages. Hall said she does not know whether the zoo will be able to reopen, but she has received donations from people all over the country who heard about Chucky's plight. His fence is back in place, and two of his smaller pals are being held at a nearby attraction called Alligator Alley.
Hall returned several large cats to their concrete houses yesterday, but she is keeping 257 other animals -- including kangaroos and yaks -- in trucks parked at her home in nearby Elberta. None has died, but the smell and the noise are not ideal for a residential neighborhood. Hall jokes that it's not even accurate to call her yard a zoo; it's more like a three-ring circus.
"We've been devastated by this storm," she said. "But we're so excited about Chucky. He's just basking in his pond. It's good to be home."